Survey Finds Companies Must Improve Communication of CSR Accomplishments

Companies need to be more effective when communicating the results of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, finds a new survey from PR and marketing agency Cone Communications. The survey, which polled a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,019 adults, found that 86% of respondents wish companies would share more about the results of their CSR efforts.

Consumers also indicated that communicating CSR results, and not just good intentions, is essential for driving sales. Only 31% of respondents said they are more likely to buy from a company that talks about its CSR purpose or mission, while 69% are more likely to buy from a company that talks about its CSR results.

Moreover, 86% of respondents said they are more likely to trust a company that communicates the results or impact of its CSR efforts, and 84% said that companies that make CSR commitments should be held accountable for producing and communicating results.

"Purpose is no longer enough, and successful campaigns must demonstrate return for business, brand and society," said Jonathan Yohannan, Executive Vice President at Cone. "'Proving purpose' is the new mantra for effective CSR."

Yohannan added that companies need to build in ways to measure outcomes and results as they develop a CSR campaign and then track how the campaign affects business, brand and society.

A full 40% of respondents said they will not purchase a company's products or services if it doesn't communicate the results of its CSR efforts. "With the stakes so high," said Yohannan, "measurement can't be an afterthought or add-on."

Craig Bida, also an Executive Vice President at Cone, echoed this sentiment. "Stakeholders play more powerful roles than ever in a brand's overall success or failure, and they must be consistently engaged in a company's CSR efforts and results from the outset," said Bida. "They need to feel a benefit. This mutual return will become the new table stakes for differentiating CSR efforts."

The survey also indicated that consumers are holding companies to increasingly high standards of responsibility. 90% of respondents believe companies should tell consumers more about the results of their CSR efforts than just the amount of money they donate or invest, and 91% said companies should not only invest socially but also operate responsibly.

Still, a great deal of confusion remains around which companies are in fact operating responsibly. While 82% of respondents said they are more likely to purchase a product that clearly demonstrates the results of its CSR initiatives than one that does not, 55% said they do not understand the impact they are having when they buy a product from a company that claims to be socially responsible.

Moreover, 63% do not know where to find information about a company's CSR efforts and results. Nearly every company with a CSR program (and even some that do not) has a section of its corporate website dedicated to CSR, indicating that consumers are unaware of companies' CSR web pages.

Cone, which represents major brands including Avon, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, and Pillsbury, was recently named Midsize PR Firm of the Year by PR News.