Knowledge Centre

CSR Communications 101: You won’t win a fight against the truth

#Truth is King in #CSR communications. When attacked, becoming defensive usually loses. Look deep and hard for their truth.  Be thorough. Be humble.

When it comes to CSR communications, the best defense is to not become defensive.

It’s not unusual for CSR projects to come under withering criticism – even the best projects, and often at the earliest stages of planning.

For example, activist groups may protest or raise concerns about past company practices and try to make a case  about why those practices disqualify them from any sort of investments going forward.

In this day and age, a little protest can go a long way. All it takes is one viral post to generate bad press that spreads like wildfire – regardless of how much it’s exaggerated.

It’s natural to panic and go on the defensive when you’re facing a backlash inspired by a past action – even if the allegation is fueled by an exaggeration. But before you do anything stop, keep your head, and consider the best way forward.

More often than not, the most advisable move is also the least expected: acknowledge, apologize, and look for common ground to build on going forward.

Of course, there are times when there simply isn’t enough truth in the allegations to find anything to acknowledge and apologize for.  In those cases a different strategy, one based on fact, value, humility and collaboration, and sometimes even silence, is appropriate (See Sometimes Silence Speaks the Best).  But, before you get there be humble and thorough in your search for truth in your attackers accusations.

The truth is, sometimes, companies do mess up. Maybe times changed, and the shifting geopolitical climate left your business on the wrong side of history; maybe there was a miscommunication somewhere down the line that caused a series of decisions that shouldn’t have been made; or maybe someone just made an error in judgment. These issues can range from irritating to catastrophic, but they happen.

The instinct is often to bury these sorts of controversies, or, even worse, go on the defensive. If you’re wrong, and you know you’re wrong, doubling down is never a good idea. It alienates your clients, and sends a tone-deaf message that you’re just another faceless corporation refusing to take responsibility.

So confront the problem openly and honestly. If you messed up, acknowledge it, and tell the public how you’re going to do better. I don’t mean some happy-go-lucky, dreamy social message—your goal, at the end of the day, is to maximize profits, and your clients need to know this. So you need to be frank and deliver a rational game plan that addresses concerns.

Don’t dwell on the past. Instead, consider how you’re going to move forward.

Most of all, for success in CSR, you need a healthy dose of humility. At the end of the day, you’re accountable to your stockholders and your clients, not your own personal pride. So forget the grandstanding and come to the table ready to talk, listen, and compromise.

Don’t let your CSR communications end up being a defense of your stand. If you are too defensive—and often, even a little bit defensive is too much—the rest of your message will get lost in the noise.

As always if you have any questions about this article or would like to know more about how we can help your organization realize the benefits of CSR to your future business growth, please send me an email.

Prof. Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global sustainability expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and advisory service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.