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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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