The 5 Ws of a Successful CSR Initiative

Columbia College’s Sandra Allen, who is a long-time friend and PR colleague, invited me to speak to her Social Change Communication class yesterday.  Her students are focusing on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and they clearly have been giving a lot of thought to the subject.

We discussed the evolution of CSR from over the past 30 years, which allowed me to touch on key CSR programs at my corporate alma maters–Eli Lilly (orphan drug program and community healthcare initiatives), Sara Lee (support for the arts) and Sears (the American Dream Campaign; support of home ownership opportunities). 

Since I spoke without notes, I forgot to mention the importance of doing a SWAT analysis before embarking on a CSR initiative.  Here are my 5Ws:

  1. Who is driving CSR in the enterprise?
  2. What is the company currently doing?  What is the competition doing?
  3. When is the best time/place for a program?
  4. Where should you focus?  Where is the gap that needs to be filled that doesn’t exit in current CSR initiatives?
  5. Why? 

All truly successful CSR programs have full support of the top person in the organization, usually the CEO.  But, I also thought of a great example that has grown more successful over the years and involves the City of Chicago. 

JPMorgan Chase and others joined Mayor Daley, who wanted a city-wide program that encouraged bicycle use in the city.  (The Who).  Up to that point, nothing much was happening but a lot of bicyclists and the Mayor (an avid bike rider) wanted safer paths and places to park their bikes.  (The What).  The When answer was clearly Spring/Summer when people are especially focused more on biking.  Where:  Initially, central city/high visibility areas that would get people thinking about the biking alternative.  Why:  It promotes a green and healthy city–two points being mentioned prominently in the city’s current effort to win the 2016 Olympic Games. 

Yes, there are CSR-related jobs, which I’ll cover in a future post.  Unfortunately, CSR isn’t a growth sector within PR since many companies cut back on initiatives that don’t directly improve their bottom lines.  Some companies, however, are finding that CSR programs–especially in the environment–can help them reduce their own costs, which is a win/win for everyone.

2 thoughts on “The 5 Ws of a Successful CSR Initiative

  1. If CSR isn’t a growth sector why have Ogilvy recently launched OgilvyEarth?

    You’ve missed the point and the fact that the agenda is evolving rapidly into a leaner, more strategically aligned ethos.

  2. I agree, David. Companies are becoming more strategic with their CSR investments.

    While corporate philanthropy budgets have been cut (The Economist, 5/14/09), green initiatives seem to fare better since they sometimes can contribute more quickly to the bottom line–or receive government incentives.

    As more companies discover ways to convert good deeds into profits, more CSR opportunities will be created. Until then, there will be scattered pockets of opportunities, and perhaps OgilvyEarth has found one.

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