SIGN #1: PICTURES AREN’T WORTH 1,000 WORDS
Example: CSR report with a picture of children of all different races holding up an oversized globe. It’s a cliché that reflects a lack of imagination in how CSR reports are created and communicated. While it is sometimes appropriate to have imagery in a CSR report, if the first thing you notice about your company’s CSR report is the smiling children, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Using too many pictures is a definite sign you’re emphasizing the wrong information or, worse, hiding a lack of content.
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SIGN # 2: BUILD THE PDF AND THEY WILL COME
It takes a long time and a lot of resources to put together a GRI-based CSR report. If the results of your efforts consist of creating a PDF version of your report and putting it up on your company’s web site, mailing printed copies to a stakeholder list, and maybe a press release: your communications strategy definitely lacks. There are few people who will take the time to download your PDF or thumb through the copy you sent them. Your report will most likely be read by the people who already know how to spell CSR. Alternatively, if you’re so lucky, your report will likely become a mouse pad when the end user is at a coffee shop and has nothing else to use to move his wireless mouse. Likewise, if your external communications efforts solely involve putting out a press release on CSRwire.com – you’re most likely expecting consumers to come in droves to read the report simply because it’s there.
SIGN # 3: I THINK CONSUMERS CARE ABOUT WHAT I DO
Fact: a CSR report will bore the general consumer. We should stop pretending that CSR reports should be written for the average person. Instead, they should be written for the people who inform the general consumer: the CSR experts, the trade media, the general media, etc. Mr. and Mrs. Smith simply do not care enough about your water purification program in Nigeria and they aren’t going to seek out information about “best practices.” Your communications strategy (and report) needs to reflect that fact.
SIGN # 4: LISTS, LISTS, AND MORE LISTS
The first thing I did this morning was wake up. Then, I walked my dog. After that I ate breakfast and showered. Is that interesting to you? Sure, there are a lot more interesting ways I can describe the beginning of my morning, but ultimately I lead a relatively uneventful life. Likewise, if your CSR report consists of simply listing your accomplishments, awards, and how specific plants and distribution centers have done a great job recycling – to me, it means your CSR initiative isn’t managed well and lacks integration. If you’re tempted to boil down your accomplishments to what one employee in Tuscaloosa did to change the world, you better think twice about what you’re trying to say.
SIGN # 5: A GLOSSED-OVER FACE REVEALS UNDERLYING PROBLEMS
If you get into a conversation with one of your execs and his/her face glosses over when CSR comes up, it means you have more work to do communicating internally. Executives are hired and are usually paid well because they are experts in their field. Their exposure to other fields is limited to one-page, bullet-pointed briefing documents that, by the way, they don’t have time to read.