New Approach to Corporate Social Responsibility

Cone Communications, a public relations and marketing agency is reporting a shift in stakeholder expectations that could set a new standard for CSR activities where companies will be required to prove their progress against well-defined purpose.

Recognized as a pioneer in cause marketing and corporate social responsibility (CSR), the agency’s new approach to CSR is called Corporate Social ReturnSM and centers on measurable business, brand and societal impacts that yield benefits for vested stakeholders.

According to the 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker, 84 percent of Americans say they hold companies accountable for producing and communicating results of CSR commitments. Eighty-six percent wish companies would talk more about CSR results and are more trusting of companies that do so.

“Defining a responsibility mission and purpose is no longer enough for companies today. Although establishing a north star will always be a critical first step, companies can’t stop there. Consumers and other stakeholders are now challenging their favorite brands to show evidence that their efforts are making a difference,” says Jens Bang, CEO, Cone Communications.

“We believe’Prove Your Purpose’must become the new mantra and standard for companies engaged in CSR activities and campaigns.”

Cone Communications’ research reveals 69 percent of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a company that talks publicly about its CSR results, versus one that only talks about its CSR mission or purpose (31 percent).

Corporate Social Return: A New Approach

Cone Communications, recently named “Midsize PR Firm of the Year” byPR News, believes that to succeed in the future, CSR efforts must be designed and communicated so that each group of vested stakeholders will recognize and receive specific benefit.

Under its Corporate Social Return philosophy, Cone Communications crafts Corporate Social Return Campaigns by pairing its deep understanding of issues and stakeholders with laser-focus on impact measurement. These campaigns integrate a company’s business and social commitments to inspire stakeholder action and deliver mutual return.

To ensure Corporate Social Return Campaigns deliver robust return, Cone Communications designs and activates campaigns using theFour R’s of Returnas critical guide posts:
•Relevant:Does it align with the company’s mission/purpose?
•Results-Oriented:Does it have measurable impact?
•Resonate:Do these impacts matter to vested stakeholders?
•Reliable:Does the company engage consistently around those impacts?

“Brands are no longer controlled solely by companies - diverse stakeholders now play powerful roles in a brand’s overall success or failure. It’s critical to remember these same stakeholders will claim victory - or cry foul - from the results of a company’s CSR efforts,” says Bill Fleishman, president, Cone Communications.

“Creating an effective strategy is about identifying who needs to see a win, how to best define and deliver that win, and how often to communicate it to each stakeholder group. This mutual return will become the new table stakes for differentiating CSR efforts.”

But even as it focuses on other stakeholders, a company can and should feel comfortable communicating transparently about its own benefit from CSR activities. The 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker shows that while consumers expect a return, they also acknowledge business must benefit first. In fact, 84 percent believe for a company to make societal impact, it must also realize a business return, such as increased revenue or reduced costs.

“Consumers aren’t buying purpose alone. CSR has matured, and stakeholders are savvier and need more than the promise of good intentions. It comes down to return for business, brand, society and everyone who has a vested interest in the results,” says Bang.

For a copy of the 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker, or to learn more about Cone Communications’ CSR services, please visit

About the Research:

The 2012 Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker presents the findings of an online survey conducted August 6-8, 2012 by ORC International among a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,019 adults comprising 510 men and 509 women 18 years of age and older. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is ± 3%. Some numbers may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

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