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The 3 Steps of Authentic CSR

Published on February 26, 2019, at 9:50 a.m.
by Olivia Lake.

Social media connects people from all over the world. Grassroots activists in Florida can communicate with like-minded organizations in Sweden. The Meaningful Brands study conducted by Havas discovered 55 percent of consumers believe their wallets give them political power. They believe brands hold the power to invoke change.

What does this mean for public relations professionals? We need to authentically tell the story of how organizations are making moves to create change, whether it’s through corporate social responsibility or social change. While consumers want to see brands taking stances, they can smell disingenuous actions from a mile away.

Photo from

In her keynote speech at the 2019 PRSA Georgia Conference, Bea Perez, senior vice president and chief communications, public affairs, sustainability and marketing assets officer for the Coca-Cola Co., said, “Old commercials don’t work anymore.” This means we need to approach CSR and activism in a new way. She shared Coke’s three-step formula for authentic CSR: Be, do, say.

Step one — BE
As in BE-lieve. Your employees have to get behind what you’re doing. Whether it is fighting climate change, taking a stand against racial inequality or, in Coke’s case, revolutionizing the recycling industry, your biggest advocates are the people working for you. Nothing seems more disingenuous than a lack of passion from the people who are supposed to be fueling the fire.

Step two — DO
While it seems obvious, the second step is to actually do whatever it is you’re going to do. Perez advises setting targets and making tangible progress toward the change you want to make. This process needs to happen second but is commonly the first thing organizations do. Instead of taking action initially, they begin by telling everyone what they will be doing. Then, they are in a tough spot when it takes years to actually get around to what they had promised to do in three months. If you have targets and goals, you can put your money where your mouth is if criticism arises.

Photo via Coca-Cola Co.

Step three — SAY
Now comes the fun part — telling your story. Do it creatively and produce footage of the communities you’re impacting or the change you’re making. Develop long and short form stories that share what your organization is doing. Testimonials from the people you’re impacting are a great way to add in third-party endorsement. Think outside of the box and don’t revert to only press releases. Create your own content telling your own story. Your organization can’t be the only one saying how awesome it is; it needs to come from others, too.

Coke’s authentic CSR formula is an easily digestible way to approach sharing the impact you’re making with your publics. After all, today’s consumers expect companies to take a stand and make a difference. You don’t want to ruin your reputation and profit by being labeled as inauthentic.

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