Last year I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Canadian Public Relations Society’s (CPRS) AGM to share my public relations CSI experience on the African continent. This is my story….
Before we get started let’s clarify the definition of CSI and CSR, which are sometimes used interchangeably. CSI, or corporate social investment, is the organization’s contributions (either monetary, employee time and resources, or gifts in kind) which bring benefits over and above those directly associated with the core business activities. CSR, or corporate social responsibility, on the other hand is a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing such as companies “going green”.
Companies need to invest in CSI as it ensures their contribution towards building and enhancing the quality of life for the people in the communities that they operate in, both internally and externally. When companies involve themselves in CSI programs it improves the recognition of their brand and can contribute towards brand loyalty.
CSI provides a social return on investment
Corporate social investment is more than just financial spending; it can also intensify a company’s commitment to its own mission. Global pharmaceutical company, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), for example, launched the “Secure the Future” program in 1999 offering grants to countries in Africa for women and children living with HIV/AIDS. To date, this has made a positive and lasting difference in the lives of more than 1 million women and children. The information that BMS has access to in the pandemic, as a result of their social investment, may also prove to be helpful in their on-going research and product development.
CSI initiatives have to be sustainable to be effective
In order for a CSI initiative to be sustainable, it needs to be treated like a business initiative. It cannot merely be an investment with no financial return. Even the most innovative, well-received CSI initiatives will eventually fizzle out if not directly tied to the business motives of the company. It will only continue for as long as the company has the appetite for spending money. As soon as the economy suffers or profits drop, CSI will be the first thing to be cut from a company’s budget. CSI program stand a much better chance of survival if they are tied to the profitability and sustainability of the company itself. Therefore, due diligence should be performed on all CSI initiatives: there should be a strong business case, and like all businesses, there should be a business plan with clear, measureable outcomes.
One company that has succeeded in proving a sustainable CSI campaign that is tied to its organizational goals is McDonald’s McHappy Day. In South Africa, for instance, this is a global charity event that aims to raise money for HIV/AIDS orphanages in South Africa. In the past, celebrities have enthusiastically worked at McDonald’s restaurants nationally over one weekend to raise the targeted amount of money while customers flooded the restaurants to meet their local celebs and to buy a meal.
CSI campaigns have to be authentic to survive
CSI activities cannot be a smokescreen for an organization’s real social or environmental impacts. For example, a company that sells designer clothes that runs an excellent CSI programme aimed at looking after HIV orphans, while most of its clothes are made through child labour in textile factories that use and pollute water unsustainably and foster corruption, is not accomplishing anything but setting themselves up for scandal.
While companies can contribute through CSI initiatives, the impact is far more significant if it is integrated into its core business at a local level, such as its procurement and employment practices.
At the end of the day, a well thought out and executed CSI campaign can work wonders for one’s brand identity and help the brand achieve PR exposure far beyond their expectations. Combined with public relations, a good CSI campaign can take a company to a completely new level and even establish it as a leader and innovator in its industry. As such, companies should consider investing in a reputable CSI campaign to share the love, spread the love and organically boost their brand identity too.