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Last year, the Better Business Bureau hosted an event titled Good Business 2010, where the day-long agenda was to analyze the increasing confluence of public relations (PR) and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Here’s what I wrote then on Vault’s CSR blog:

A Belief System For Your Company

Edelman’s EVP for CSR-New York, Michael Holland while highlighting his firm’s approach, emphasized that corporate responsibility was emerging increasingly as an indelible part of brand management for companies, although North American companies, while initially slow to embrace it, were quickly getting on board.

Defining CR as “A belief system for a company” he broke its significance for companies into three segments: 1) the social and legal aspect; 2) its immersion into the operational model; and 3) how to leverage it for competitive share in the marketplace.

What is the ROI for corporate responsibility?

Citing a recent survey conducted by McKinsey, Holland said that the business case for corporate responsibility had never been clearer for companies. “Companies that paid attention to CSR in the last three years reported an increase in their share price of 43% against a 12% increase for those who didn’t.” At the same time, profits for the first segment of companies increased by 16% versus 7%. I’ve often noted that metrics and numbers speak louder than words. These then, need no further explanation. See more results from the McKinsey survey.

Noting that the pressure for accountability was no longer the voice of a few dedicated advocates and had shifted to mainstream demands from all stakeholders for a company, Holland stressed that the tipping point was already here: “CR cannot be ignored any longer. Shareholders, employees and clients are demanding it.

What is corporate responsibility all about?

Holland, interestingly, chose to answer this by focusing on the key misconceptions about corporate responsibility. Funnily enough his counter-intuitive tactic worked, bringing up several questions from the audience. He put it like this:

CSR ≠ Green
CSR ≠ Strategic Philanthropy
CSR ≠ Public Relations

CSR isn’t PR, it’s About Your Business Strategy

I have discussed in the past the huge difference between conducting brand management and reputation-building and immersing CR as a culture of change into your company’s strategy. I asked Holland how he advises clients to walk that fine line.

“First of all, it needs to start from the top. Secondly, it needs to part of a company’s communication strategy. And finally you need to define what it means to track the progress of your corporate responsibility. The problem is that the marketplace believes that CSR is cause marketing and philanthropy. Our task is to overrule that and teach them that actually it’s about business strategy.”

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Now, with several communications firms announcing CSR practices, where are we headed with the confluence of PR, brand management and CSR? I turned to the latest entrant in the field, Ruder Finn. Take a read.

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