Public Relations: After-the-Fact Corporate Social Responsibiity

Not one but THREE full page color ads in The Globe and Mail national newspaper on August 7. Two were Public Relations-type ads and all 3 reflect band-aids or after-the fact attempts to address a shortfall in corporate ethics or actions. Wish someone had advised the firms sponsoring those ads how much cheaper & more efficient it is to build Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Communications into everyday activities rather than wait too late and try to remedy things. The 2 PR ads were:

  1. Enbridge: ‘The Facts on Pipelines” arguing that their pipelines very rarely leak- tho they’ve had a bad spell lately- in Kalamazoo last year, Chester WI this year, and now Toronto’s exposed pipelines next to open creeks. Enbridge is vying for approval now for a Northern Gateway line crossing pristine Northern Alberta and B.C.
  2. Agusta Westland (makers of Cormorant helicopters) touts “10 Years of savings lives in Canada”, saluting ‘thousands of missions, thousands of lives saved’. This is the same A-W that greased the palms of ORNGE’s discredited exec’s Chris Mazza, and his water ski instructor wife (sorry, ‘Vice President’), Kelly Long, then complained the now-ousted dynamic duo failed to drum up as much business as they had hoped.

 

These firms left their messaging a bit late. Prevention is more reliable & cheaper than after-the-fact full page fix-its. But prevention demands ethical, responsible, fair conduct everyday. Prevention would require a firm…

  • inspect & update pipelines proactively & invest in 24/7 spill monitoring (versus Enbridge’s 17 hr lag after a spill, to turn off the  flow)
  • not hover too close to accusations of bribing officials (ahem-attention A-W)

 

I recently taught students that organizations should practise Corporate Social Responsibility since it adds to a company’s value, but that is long-term value. Most CEO’s are only in place a few years; they may be tempted to squeeze a firm for short term gain, at the expense of long term gain.

Are today’s firms more responsible than consumers or in the ‘Robber Baron’ era of the late 1800′s? Undoubtedly. But are they really more ethical or responsible to shareholders, employees, business partners, consumers or the environment, than firms of a few years ago?

What has changed, is the growth of Social Media. The Vengeance agent.

Social Media instantly exposes Corporate Social Responsibility infractions.

Both Enbridge and A-W have been exposed, repeatedly. Maybe they realize how much more effective & efficient it is, to invest in CSR in advance.

A final note: CSR & PR ads don’t work as well on complex issues. This same newspaper carried a full page Cogeco ad arguing that Bell’s takeover of Astral media is bad for consumers, as it reduces competition. Canada has long ‘protected’ its citizens from foreign media (when the CRTC created those rules in a era of world wars & nation-building, it made sense; now, less so). Cogeco’s ‘Say No’ ads face a hard climb: this is a complex issue, not a simple one. Tough to get the public to fully understand a complex issue- yes, Bell is being a ‘regulatory hypocrite’, asking on one hand that the Feds deny Canadian consumers’ demands for American TV programs- that would increase the dominance of big players and mass-popular programs, at the expense of niche custom Canuck programs. On the other hand, they ask the Feds to OK their takeover of smaller domestic broadcasters eg Astral though that too will surely lead to less competition! http://saynotobell.ca/open-letter

 

Steven Litt