. The Transom .

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

CSR gets lots of attention, little respect

It's very popular to have a CSR strategy (corporate social responsibility) in place these days. Companies are touting how charitable they are, or how green they are becoming. Green has even emerged from the CSR umbrella to form its own strategy. It used to be not too long ago that being green was the environmental part of CSR. Now it's too popular not to be it's own buzzword.

Citigroup announced today that it will be spending $50 billion (yes, with a "b") over the next ten years on CSR initiatives. Bank of America has committed $20 billion over the same period. That's a lot of money. But what does it do for these companies. Well for one thing, it gets great press. Who doesn't want to be known as environmentally friendly or have a reputation for giving back to the community. Well, I don't.

Giving back to the community implies that you first took something. Would I celebrate the character of a man who took $100 from my wallet, but came back and gave me a buck? Gee, thanks. Companies need to be doing these CSR initiatives because it's the right thing to do - for the environment and for the stakeholders. Let's not pretend that corporations, even in CSR initiatives, don't have stakeholders to answer to. It's fine to tout our CSR plan, but it better be reflected positively somewhere in the bottom line.

I'm happy we've discovered ways to be CSR-friendly AND make money in the process. Because if we hadn't, no one on Wall Street would be throwing money at it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An example of how not to make a point

There's no need to read between the lines when people make poor quotes in the media. Whether you're a CEO or resident expert, no amount of "it was taken out of context" can help your case when you botch an interview. That's why preparation is so important and why media training should be a required course for any company spokesperson. Take the following example by St. Louis Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty. Commenting on the suspicion of alcohol in the very unfortunate death of pitcher Josh Hancock, Jocketty said:

"We're not trying to cover up this thing. A lot of stuff is unfolding, and we're learning it as it comes out. But we're also trying to respect the family and their wishes. Once the entire investigation is done and we get the facts, then we'll be able to react to it and determine what we have to do, and what we have to say."

Translation: We're trying to cover up this thing until we can figure out how to protect ourselves.

In all honesty, you can't blame Jocketty. It's his job to play defense for the organization in times like this. He could have come off much cleaner, and more sincere, if he had been more honest and direct and said something like, "At this point, we're cooperating fully with the authorities in this investigation. Once we know what really happened we'll be in a position to respond. Out of respect for the family and the organization, it would be inappropriate to speculate what may or may not have happened."

Unfortunately, many executives only look to the counsel of their public relations staff when they want to boast about something good. But communication is a two-way street. Take advantage of it in the good times, and in the bad.