The biggest challenge for the public relations industry in relation to the mandatory CSR contributions under the Company Act 2012 will be to build CSR services delivery into their offerings.
Aniisu K Verghese, who leads corporate communications and CSR for Tesco HSC advises that, “The best way for PR firms to incorporate CSR service delivery into their offerings is by measuring a brand’s contributions to the betterment of society, whether CSR forms a crucial part of their mandate and to what extent have their efforts added value to communities. These agencies are best positioned to provide market insights as they have a pulse of what CSR initiatives different companies are practicing and so on.”
Aniisu says that with the introduced mandate, focus has shifted to CSR. Tesco HSC will be participating in the ‘Joy of Giving Week’ in October as well as offering support to disaster relief efforts for the flood-affected regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
The India findings of MSLGROUP’s latest report, titled, “The Future of Business Citizenship”, and drawn from interactions with 8,000 millennials in 17 countries, including India, shows that over 90% of millennials interviewed in India want businesses to be involved in solving issues that matter to society.
Scott Beaudoin, global practice director, corporate and brand citizenship/Purple, MSLGROUP, believes that PR is best positioned to craft CSR strategies’.
Scott says that, “Effective CSR needs three actors’; government, industry and NGOs, and those with relations with stake holders and strong public affairs components will easily be able to incorporate CSR practices. PR professionals are uniquely capable of understanding what people care about, what society is ready for and how to develop CSR strategies that are relevant and that will resonate with audiences.”
Rakesh Thukral, chief operating officer, Edelman India says, “We believe that firms that offer broad engagement with varied stakeholders, including consumers, employees, policymakers and investors, among others, will be able to help companies plan and strategise their business and purpose effectively. It is not just about communicating CSR programmes for companies but also helping them manage the engagement surrounding the social ecosystem of a company’s CSR programme.”
Edelman spelt out its vision for CSR in India in the following infographic:
Aniisu believes that the challenge in-house is to ensure, “Synergy between marketing and communication teams. Unfortunately, several organisations operate with individual teams on CSR which proves futile as there is no interconnectedness, alignment or integration. Stakeholders are often informed of businesses planning brand communication strategies that demonstrate business with a purpose much after the thinking and approach has been formalised.”
“Within the broad ambit of business, the focus on CSR must cut across all departments in order to champion the overarching cause: business with a purpose.”
Carol Cone, global chair, Business Social Purpose Practice, US Practice B+SP, Edelman feels that, “There is a clear need for all companies to not only understand stakeholders who are directly and indirectly impacted by their business but also to be aware of their needs and concerns. Companies today are increasingly realising the importance of working closely with their key stakeholders to be able to successfully achieve the new approach of putting the welfare of society at the centre of their business strategy.”
Indian law doesn’t link brand building with CSR
While the Company Act 2012 says that, “Companies with a net worth of Rs 500 crore or more, a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or more, or a net profit of Rs 5 crore or more will have to set aside two per cent of their average net profits in the preceding three years for “corporate social responsibility” activities”, it doesn’t specifically provide for using CSR activities for brand building. This could prove to be a stumbling block for PR consultancies when getting firms to commit to PR led CSR activities.
Aniisu feels that this may not be a hurdle. He says, “In my sense of thinking, businesses with a conscience and those keen to make a positive difference to society will continue to be good and do good, whether or not there are mandates and laws in place directing them to do so. What the Company Act will do is spur more and more organisations to discover to the best of their capacities different ways of giving back to society and being more responsible. Research reports indicate a close link between CSR and positive brand value which is driving more firms to become socially conscious.”
Scott says that while over the years there has been a paradigm shift where companies and brands are using CSR as a tool to build their brand image, the change is taking shape at a snail’s pace. Scott believes there would not be, “An immediate effect on the CSR programmes in India. We believe a purpose-led brand agenda will ultimately lead to a stronger brand without commercialisation. “
Scott adds that, “Around the world not enough PR investment is made in purpose-led brand building. It's clear from our millennial study that needs to change. The younger generation is looking for a brand's societal actions. PR must lead in creating narratives and storylines that authentically and transparently bring them to the surface.”