So I was sharing with a friend my desire to do good works and promote volunteerism and CSR. He scoffed, “You’re in the wrong industry, and probably the wrong country.” Maybe he has a point about the latter seeing as a recent report showed that locally listed companies scored poorly where CSR was concerned.
I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised.
See, my biggest ‘failure’ as I think of it at The Mag was not being able to push the whole concept of CSR within the organisation. Oh, we were happy to ‘support’ our clients’ CSR pushes by writing pithy articles and politely feigning interest. But it was always about the money, the bottom line, the next thing to keep our clients advertising.
It’s hard enough trying to make ends meet in the industry without promising coverage and time to, say, a charitable foundation. The most I could ever go was write about causes that mattered or making the odd snarky reference in my editor’s note. As far as I could get away with it, I let others write advertorials while I wrote meatier features on Net Neutrality and other topics I felt mattered more than megapixels.
But it always bothered me – that nagging little feeling that I could do more, and be more. I tried working for the UNHCR and found quickly that though I loved the refugee cause, I could do more for it outside than inside the organisation. Leaving the UNCHR gave me more opportunities to speak about refugee issues than I ever had while I was working for it. There was too much red tape, too much worry, too much stress and strain.
Does social responsibility have a place within the ‘flack’ industry? Weber Shandwick makes interesting points about why organisations can’t afford to ignore CSR:
“CSR is not easy. It isn’t a product you can just buy, which is why that email I received was so revealing. It is a state of mind and must form part of the "core DNA" of a company if it is going to be worthwhile. Ideally any company’s commitment to corporate responsibility will be endorsed and owned by those at the very top of its leadership.
CSR is a particularly difficult area for the PR industry. Ask most CSR practitioners or NGOs and they will tell you categorically, even scornfully, that CSR is "not about PR". In a sense it is a fair point. There must be substance behind the spin. If it is a half-hearted attempt to keep NGOs at bay, it will not generate value for money or raise profile. In that sense there is no point in using PR if there is nothing substantial to communicate.
On the other hand, all substantive actions will be wasted if companies do not hire the best in the business to communicate their CSR work loudly and clearly. In addition to its societal benefits, CSR is providing entirely new angles for businesses to communicate with their audiences.”
My strength, and weakness, is my idealism. No matter how cynical I may seem to some people, I really do believe that doing good matters. If everyone stopped, gave up, and just wrote off good works then there would be no one to fight for the poor, the disenfranchised, the disabled, the helpless, the voiceless.
What I hope for might not be realised in this lifetime, but I can cling to the hope that it might be realised for my grandchildren. Whether or not I have any is immaterial; I want to make the world a little better for my having lived in it. That’s my only dream that has remained through all the years of heartache and disappointment. So don’t shatter it for me, please?