Archive for the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Category

Kristina Halverson interview about content strategy.Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the frontrunners in content strategy. As a consultant in content strategy, Halvorson helps companies create a holistic plan for their content across communication channels. What this means is that she helps map out a content strategy to deliver information that a user really wants instead of, for instance, focusing exclusively on pushing the product or service on a user.  In 2009, Halvorson founded the first Content Strategy Consortium to kickstart a national conversation about content strategy.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Halvorson over a phone interview from Chicago after an introduction from Molly Wright Steenson, a content strategy thought leader and professor at The University of Madison.

So, let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me a bit about your work in content strategy?

I’m mostly doing work right now with VP’s focusing on enterprise and organizational content strategy after focusing on writing and conferences for awhile. My early career was in web copywriting. At that time I was feeling frustrated with how companies were approaching the planning and creation of their content. I hired a few people to refine how I was developing copy for companies and found myself a consultant.

What problems did content strategy initially seek to solve, and how has this changed? 

Initially content strategists like my colleague Steenson were working with content that had a customer service rubric. Now it’s more about broadening this context for customer-driven content across the organization.

What’s the biggest challenge of content strategy?

A lot of content strategy work right now is about scaling down content because there’s a lot out there in the consumer’s way or it doesn’t address their needs. The twist is that when we work with companies to scale and refine their content, there isn’t a lot of leadership within organizations to guide the creation of a content plan. The consulting that we are doing right now is working in between departments to help create some organizational change — this is where I’m helping drive conversations.

When companies want to draw their content to their bottom line, it loses appeal to the user because it can come across as salesy. My conversations with marketing departments where content is often developed get push-back from tech communication and user experience designers because they feel it’s not just about pushing the sale. But I feel like my own interests and experiences are going to marketing because they are still shaping the content.

Where do you see the evolution of the content strategy agency?

Agencies are scrambling to consult and develop content for user/customer experience design. They are playing catch-up with mobile and balance out other stuff with social and SEO. But content strategy is still foreign to a lot of their clients.

Because of an agency mindset for the last 60 years, clients are concerned about content and not consultative services. And so agencies, in their defense, have to buy the content development process from them to integrate it into the content plan, and this can become a sales pitch. The strategy can get lost in the sales of deliverables.

The agency doesn’t always want to be a producer, they want to be a strategist. But many clients are marketers and numbers are based on activity instead of creating new efficiencies.

The thing about agencies is that they are always looking to use the next thing, and so it’s a matter of do you want to sell a new product or do you want to sell new products and services that are strategy? This in the end will make the company operate better. The strategy is just as important as the content.

Do you see a role for corporate responsibility in any of the major recent developments in content strategy?

With corporate social responsibility comes a different approach to positioning, identifying channels to engage with the user, and creating content —  it’s about a different topic that meets the user’s needs in a different way. So that’s great. Corporate responsibility campaigns are kidding themselves though if they aren’t aligning themselves with the brand, values, and company’s bottom line.


Check out more about content strategy in Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web, one of the leading frameworks for content strategy today, by going here. Feel free to email me at annawattsholcombe(at)gmail.com if you are in the Chicago area and want to chat content strategy.

Thanks, Kristina!


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trust falling image

I recently caught up with Shelli Difranco, Senior Account Executive for Business + Social Purpose, with my curiosity to understand the moving parts in engagement that drive PR agencies connecting brands with meaning. Shelli has the perspective of working from the agency-side for Edelman which annually publishes a report on consumer trust, the Edelman Trust Barometer. Trust is where cause-campaigns can have the most impact in developing a relationship with customers.

Q: What role within CSR does a PR agency play?

A: A communications agency can assist in several ways with a corporate social responsibility program.  At Edelman, where I work, we are involved in various stages – from initial audits and discussions on where to begin a CSR journey through a program’s launch and execution. We work with our clients to develop and evaluate programs and initiate fresh ones to fill any program gaps. We also help clients tell their CSR story to a broad audience, employing traditional media and conference opportunities as well as owned and social media channels. We further help them engage with relevant influencers and create linkages that benefit all parties. In truth, there really isn’t a role a PR agency can’t play within CSR.

Q: What interested you in developing CSR programs for businesses at a PR agency?  
A: Within our team at Edelman’s Chicago Business + Social Purpose practice, we represent a variety of work experiences – from nonprofit design studios to a state legislature to international relations. The main thread connecting us is a passion for social purpose and an ability to communicate what our clients are doing in that regard with clear, concise and compelling language. We understand how increasingly important it is for companies to believe in the social good and not just the traditional bottom line. We also know the value to companies when they connect with their employees meaningfully, allowing them to give their time, money or expertise in ways that resonate with them.

Q: What’s your favorite part of your job?
A: I truly am excited about coming to work each day, and several reasons explain it. Something new and stimulating seems always to await me. In my first year in this role, no two days have played out the same way. It’s also rare that you can work with a team of people so dedicated to our clients and our mission to assist brands, corporations and NGOs unleash the power of business plus purpose for commercial success and social impact.

Q: What is the most recent exciting development in CSR?

A: Over the past few years, a shift has occurred in how people view companies and government. Edelman conducts an annual global study called the Edelman Trust Barometer. It measures people’s views on a range of issues that deal with trust – from managing employees, the environment and transparency of communications. We’ve seen a true change in who people trust most and how they instill that trust.  As consultants and authorities in this space, we consider it imperative to share these findings and help companies, governments and organizations change with the times.

Q: What sectors employ CSR in the most innovative ways?
A: I see companies taking responsible actions with the products they manufacture and/or market.  Many electronics companies are voluntarily taking charge of their own and their consumer customers’ waste streams. Consumer packaged-goods companies are embarking on often-radical, large-scale waste-reduction campaigns. It’s inspiring to see such innovation and commitment.

Q: What role are Millennials playing in developing the CSR field?
A: I would like to think that I and my fellow Millennials are doing a great deal to prod corporations and organizations to be more responsible citizens through:

·         Social media campaigns (pushing change from the outside)

·         Collaborative environments (encouraging change from the inside).

We also are choosing where to spend our money – whether it’s purchasing eyeglasses from companies such as Warby Parker (that donates a pair of glasses for every pair bought) or getting our cleaning products from companies with a commitment to a sustainable future. We are using our skills and our discretionary income in ways that those before us may not have when it comes to protecting our planet and doing good. This gives us considerable clout.

Thank you for sharing, Shelli!

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I recently took a hiatus from posting on my blog (except for last month’s interview with Claire Diaz-Ortiz, head of social innovation at Twitter) because I landed an awesome new job coordinating social cause campaigns at Groupon on the G-Team.

While I’m pretty ecstatic about using Groupon’s platform in my journey through the cause world, I’ve also been thinking about how causes have a tendency to make people feel guilty or defensive.

It’s the artist in me who likes to think of coordinating cause campaigns kind of like how an artist produces a piece of art. Art can break up how we see things by offering new ways of seeing the world.

This is why I want to give a shout out to a cause-campaign bursting with creativity here in Chicago- Tour de Fat. Here are five reasons why Tour de Fat’s annual tour through Chicago makes me loopy, unable to sleep, and all ga-ga about the cause world:

1) My friends, this is a good excuse to ride your bike. So let’s just state the obvious first and elaborate later.

2) In every city where Tour de Fat stops, one person ONLY gets chosen to exchange their car for a custom made touring bike. Check out the above video of the lucky guy at Chicago’s Tour de Fat this summer who dodges doors for a “door prize.” Ha!

3) 100% of the proceeds of your graceful, crazy-indulgent biking and drinking on a summer day in Chicago will for one day benefit a local bike shop, West Town Bikes. Tour de Fat raised $20,000 for West Town Bikes this year.

And let’s be real by asking the very important question, who could have drank that much beer and raised that much money alone?

3) My favorite form of theater, Commedia dell’arte, comes alive every year with Tour de Fat. Commedia dell’arte was connected to traveling carnivals in Italy during the 14th through 17th centuries. While Tour de Fat challenges social mores like the idea that cars rule the world, Commedia dell’arte made fun of the social order like the upper-class. It used stock characters like Pinochet, who made a wealthy man slip on a banana peel.

3) Tour de Fat celebrates sustainable technologies.

4) Families with kids who love bikes hang out with people who don’t have kids and who like bikes. Lots of different people at Tour de Fat makes this event fun for everyone…

5) My friend Phil is last, (yet not least), in my five reasons why Tour de Fat is my biggest crush this summer. Phil manages to bedazzle adoring fans every year by wearing a cape every year and soliciting signatures from hundreds of people at Tour de Fat, all without pausing between drinking a Fat Tire and a 1554 beer.

Putting Phil’s red cape aside, I think there is a tenuous balance between having fun, watering down a message, and making people feel guilty about causes. Tour de Fat seems to walk the tightrope between these things quite handsomely, balancing them on its shoulders, and this makes me want to swoon. This crush o’ mine reminds me that I would rather blush and stumble on my words around cause campaigns like Tour de Fat than adore campaigns which sit in the cogs and wheels of other less inspirational cause-campaigns…

What is your most fabulous crush in the cause world?

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I had the pleasure of meeting with nationally recognized corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultant James Epstein-Reeves a few weeks ago for one of my informational interviews that I do as a part of my job search and my ongoing professional development about causes connecting with profit.

Ever heard of Burt’s Bees Zero Waste goal by 2020 or eaten a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (you know you have) knowing that all of their flavors will be sourced Fair Trade by 2013? These brands, owned by Unilever and Clorox respectively, might not be owned by the ideal face of America to some, but they embody a movement to providing consumers with what they want. And that’s what corporate social responsibility is geared to- meeting the demands of the market (us- the consumers)- and having a signficant  impact on society, the environment, and profit.

It’s triple bottom line economics- people, profit, and society- that drive this effort.

James, a CSR consultant here in Chicago, helps companies address the triple bottom line. He comes from the Washington D.C. think-tank world, beginning his research about CSR and public policy there, before becoming Director of Community Affairs at OfficeMax. He is now founder and president of Do Well Do Good, LLC, a CSR, corporate philanthropy, and cause marketing consulting firm here in Chicago. James is a writer for the Forbes.com Corporate Social Responsibility blog and a video commentator for CSR Unscripted through 3BL Media.

He agreed to a more formal interview beyond our early morning, “No, I”m really wide awake.,” cup of coffee and informational interview. I’m delighted to share his insights about this growing part of American business. It is increasingly a part of some of America’s most highly sought after business schools like Harvard which is preparing the Millenial generation’s future business leaders.

Here is the interview.

As I talk to more people about cause marketing,  I learn more about how it’s just one part of a larger paradigm shift in how companies are “doing good” in their day-to-day operations. For example, I met a woman at the Cause Marketing Forum here in Chicago last year who directs a hip-hop clothing company’s employee volunteer program by connecting employees with volunteer opportunities.

I know that you lead in getting OfficeMax’s employee volunteer program off the ground. Can you talk a little about the role of volunteerism and employee philanthropy in CSR?

Thanks, Anna. This is a great question as it hits on a number of issues. There are a lot of business opportunities in engaging your employees in the company’s CSR efforts. But first, it’s vital to draw a distinction between volunteerism and philanthropy and CSR. A lot of people get confused by this, but CSR is basically a synonymous term with sustainability.

I define CSR as a set of actions a company takes to change business operations to improve, maintain, or mitigate a company’s impact on society and the environment.

Yes, this includes volunteerism and philanthropy as one of many tools to do this – but volunteerism and philanthropy by themselves do not constitute a CSR program. CSR also includes issues such as procurement policies, human rights screenings of overseas factories, conflict of interest policies, diversity & inclusion, carbon footprint analysis and reduction, the management of landfill waste, materials used in manufacturing, and stakeholder engagement – to name only a few.

So having said all of that, yes, a key business driver of a company’s CSR strategy is to get employees involved. And indeed getting employees involved in their communities and in causes they care about is a terrific and rewarding job or career path.

It was a team effort when I was at OfficeMax and we did many things that effectively engaged our employees such as marrying the company’s philanthropic activities with the volunteerism from employees. The company also matched employee donations through the annual employee giving campaign.

But what was most exciting, rewarding, and what had the largest impact was A Day Made Better. This single-day event was the company’s flagship community & cause-marketing effort. It united the company by surprising, on one day, usually at 10 AM in each time zone, a deserving teacher with essentially a year’s worth of school supplies. Oh yea, by the way, we did this times 1,000. The surprises were Publisher’s Clearinghouse-ambush-style – balloons, flowers the whole bit!

The company did this because teachers spend on average over $600 of their own money on school supplies. This is wrong and OfficeMax decided to do something about it by engaging its employees and bringing the media’s attention to the effort to “erase teacher-funded classrooms.”

Through these efforts, we got over 4,500 associates to volunteer nearly 11,000 hours. It was a massive initiative and truly helped get employees engaged in their local communities, and engaged every part, department, and location of the company.

Beyond companies engaging employees in volunteer projects, what do companies and nonprofits often ask you about when they sit down with you to develop their corporate social responsibility programs?

It depends on the company and nonprofit. But usually it’s about how to bring their existing efforts to the next level. Sometimes it’s a matter of just having a fresh perspective, sometimes the work involved in the project is working hand-in-hand with the client to galvanize internal support for a new direction, and sometimes the project work might be just rolling up the sleeves and getting the hard work  done to help advance “the cause.” That’s one of the most exciting things about a consulting job – you fulfill many different roles. One of my favorite roles is to do research and benchmarking and we’ve really done some cool things. The research we conduct ourselves and don’t involve confidential client information, we make available for free on our web site.

Your background is in working for a think tank in Washington D.C. Are there any ways of conceptually framing corporate social responsibility that you discovered in academia which you find are helpful as a consultant working with companies on these issues now?

Interesting question! Certainly a lot of analytical skills have crossed over from my “think-tank days” to the business world. I would say the research skills have been particularly helpful in both lines of work as well. I think one of the best ways to frame CSR is to fundamentally look at what are the expectations of businesses. Through some research we’ve done, we’ve uncovered some interesting set of consumer expectations of companies in CSR in a public opinion survey we released in December. In short, 88% of consumers think companies should try to accomplish their business goals while improving society and the environment.

This is really important and its something I’ve been pretty black and white about: companies exist to make money. That makes some people uncomfortable, but it’s undeniable. Without a profit motive, our society wouldn’t function. The trick about CSR and sustainability is that it understands the profit-motive, but looks to identify a different means of achieving that same goal.

Is CSR going to save the world? Absolutely not. Companies aren’t either. But businesses do have a responsibility to society and the environment beyond meeting the minimum legal expectations. Moreover, sustainability can be a contributing factor to provide the long-term thinking that helps companies achieve stable growth.

Are there any programs in the world of CSR that you think are spectacularly awesome?

There are a lot of examples, a ton actually. One of the things that’s been really neat to see as the field has developed over the past decade or two is the depth and breadth of companies engaging in these issues.

More specifically, I think Walmart is the “sleeping giant” of sustainability from the consumer’s perspective. Few consumers understand the fundamental shift Walmart is going to cause through its efforts in the Sustainability Consortium. The company is leading the effort to quantify the sustainability impacts of products at the individual product or unit level. This will likely be a huge shift in the information available to suppliers, consumers, and companies and could wind up being a game-changer for all businesses beyond those that supply Walmart.

Otherwise there are a ton of examples of companies doing incredible things. I’m a big fan of companies that announce goals related to CSR/sustainability: Walmart is moving to zero waste by 2020. Both Coke & Pepsi have amazing efforts behind their Live Positively and Performance with a Purpose programs, respectively. P&G is working toward a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, water usage, and disposed waste.

Note, these aren’t “hippies” and these aren’t marketing fluff promises. These are real deal, capitalist companies that have the “Wall Street street cred,” but are making significant changes to their business operations that go beyond “feel good” and corporate programs that are the “right thing to do.”

Any advice that you would give to someone like me who wants to work in areas where social causes are connecting with profit? For instance, are there any trends in CSR that you think will lead to a significant amount of more jobs and responsibilities in the near future?

Another good question. I think one mistake I see people make when they try to enter the field is to argue for CSR from a moral or principled standpoint. True, that’s a part of my perspective as well, but you have to find the ways to influence an organization beyond taking a moral stance. That’s where business acumen really comes into play. If you can speak the language of business and if you truly understand your company’s operations, it’s going to be much easier to create the change needed in a company.

I think green energy is the trend to latch on to. I just can’t imagine that field not taking off more than it already has.

But the best advice is to just do it. Seriously, don’t just wait around and try to connect with a mega-conglomerate company to “see the light.” Start your own company and create the change you want. Sure it’s hard, but that’s the best way for you to truly ensure that the future of business looks to improve society and the environment.  If starting your own business isn’t your thing – focus on getting involved. Net Impact is an incredible organization and likely has a chapter near you – anyone interested in sustainability should join the organization. More general advice I give people is that an underappreciated component of a CSR leader is communication skills. Not just writing press releases (although that experience helps!), but knowing how to communicate your company’s efforts and, if necessary, defend your company’s position on a hot button issue.

You can contact James Epstein-Reeves at james@dowelldogood.net.

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