Corporate citizenship: following the crowd

A luminary once argued that the business of business was business. Beneath
the pithy language lies the implicit notion that nothing should be allowed to
detract from the purity of commerce – certainly not the environment, nor
corporate social responsibility, nor corporate citizenship.

Yet these issues and good business needn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, in
the era of the informed and active consumer, business – and a wider awareness of
the responsibilities that come with it – is locked in an intimate embrace which
only a fool would ignore.

Too many businesses take too narrow an approach to their responsibilities.
They interpret CSR as being ‘green’ or ‘ethical’, as all – or nothing at all. On
that basis, they cherrypick causes to back, claims to make and activities to
espouse, without properly considering their behavioural whole – which is what
their customers and markets will ultimately judge them on.

While green is good, it does not a good corporate citizen make. Corporate
citizenship is about behaving in a way that acknowledges society’s expectations
of how businesses should serve its needs and to which, reciprocally, it gives

Take the recent furore over bank account charges. No amount of claims about
eco-friendly practices or lip service to the idea of responsible lending will
detract from the feeling that banks exploit their domination of a socially
essential role. This is particularly the case when juxtaposed with banks’

Corporate citizenship is about acknowledging the way society views business.
As Cicero said: ‘To disregard what the world thinks of us is not only arrogant,
but utterly shameless.’

Today, poor corporate communications can destroy a reputation overnight. Too
many UK businesses commit the cardinal sin of failing to communicate their CSR
activities to their stakeholders. Why is this, given it can risk companies being
undervalued by City investors and analysts? Likewise, the absence of internal
communications can demotivate staff and affect consumer behaviour.

Communication does not mean spin. It means effective (and truthful)
communication between an organisation and its stakeholders.

What too many companies forget is that, just like people, companies are
judged on what they do rather than what they say.

Patrick Barrow is director general and MD of the Public
Relations Consultants Association

Related reading