One size doesn’t fit all
CSR is a big, broad, all-encompassing topic, but your communications don’t have to be that way. In fact, if your communications are overly broad and general, by attempting to appeal to everyone, it’s likely that your message will appeal to no one in particular.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and consider the (very real) possibility that they’re not interested in absolutely everything you have to say. Employees might not care about the same things as your shareholders. NGOs and regulatory agencies may have different needs than your customers.
Take the time to consider the varying interests of your audience and tailor your messages accordingly. Targeted communications will always trump the blanket approach.
Flip the format
Not only do your stakeholders have different interests, it’s likely that they also have (gasp) different communication preferences!
Comprehensive annual reports – Citizenship Reports, Sustainability Reports, Corporate Responsibility Reports, whatever you choose to call them – are a great place to start. But, by no means are they the end-all be-all of CSR communications.
Think about all of the different touch-points between your company and your various audiences, and consider a few simple questions: Which channels and tactics have proven to be most effective for reaching each audience? How can elements of your CSR story be integrated into existing marketing and communications?
Email marketing, factsheets, infographics, PowerPoint presentations, product packaging, trade show materials, social media content, video….the list of possibilities goes on and on.
There’s no reason your CSR stories should be confined to the printed or virtual pages of an annual report, and no reason your CSR communications should exist in a silo separate from your company’s ongoing marketing and communications.
Inspire hearts and minds
For the non-technically inclined members of your audience, numbers alone can be dry and boring. And, for the skeptics, personalized stories without the hard data to back them up may appear lacking in substance.
Your report and supporting communications should include a balance of hard data and personalized stories. But your data doesn’t have to live in tables and charts alone, get creative. Interactive maps, infographics, and a variety of tools for data visualization can help breathe life into your numbers.
Shake it up
When it comes to organizing the content of your report, the vast majority of companies that produce CSR reports follow the same basic formula. Typically, information falls into one of three big buckets: people, profit, planet; or economy, environment, community; or some similar variation thereof.
For some organizations, this works just fine. But, there’s no hard and fast rule that dictates how you must organize your report content.
For its 2013 Sustainability Report, International Paper broke away from this traditional structure and instead decided to organize their report content to align with their company value chain – from forestry, manufacturing, and distribution, to retail consumption and end-of-life.
Don’t be afraid to flex some creative muscle and re-think the way you organize and categorize your CSR content.
Cut to the chase
A comprehensive report is by definition all-inclusive, but that doesn’t mean you have to anticipate, or attempt to answer, every possible question your audience might have.
Think about other channels and tactics at your disposal – your website, social media, videos, press releases, pre-existing collateral, maybe even an email address – that you can direct your audience to for subject-specific questions that aren’t addressed in your report.
Resist the urge to be overly verbose. As a general rule-of-thumb, a good report doesn’t need to be longer than 10,000 words.