Daily we hear of multinationals engaging in one form of Corporate Social Responsibility or the other, Scholarships, Adoption of schools and orphanages, organizing essay and mathematics competition etc. The list is endless. We see billboards everywhere stating what this multinational corporation has done for one community or another.

Companies spend millions of dollars advertising what they spent pittance doing. Should we then call it CSR or PR? That is the million-dollar question.

I picked interest in reading about PR and CSR quite recently and the one thing that was quite obvious is the discrepancy about the connection of PR and CSR. In fact I found myself concurring with both sides of the arguments.

In this era of technology and information superhighway and overload, companies are forever searching for more inventive ways of getting across their messages, and CSR opens up endless possibilities, for cleverly reaching consumers.

But CSR should not be used as a PR or Marketing strategy. CSR is about businesses being socially responsible. It is about constant improvement and integrity and giving back to the society that has made them profitable.  PR should be about reporting on these events as they occur. When the showcasing precedes the actual work or overshadows it then it becomes a problem.

I read on the Ogilvy website (Ogilvy is an International Public Relations Company) that CSR issues, if managed well, can be opportunities for a company to build its reputation and differentiate itself. This case simply reinforces the criticism that CSR is nothing more than a PR exercise.

CSR is not and should never be an avenue for reputation building or management. Organizations, that do not understand that CSR is about business sustainability and integrity as much as it is about social programs, often erroneously make CSR a PR campaign.

I will like to state categorically, that CSR is not a PR campaign. CSR is a strategic commitment a company makes to the larger community. Corporate Social Responsibility is a commitment by an organization to operate within the legal and social regulations. This encompasses doing business within the legal framework and enforcing strong corporate governance etc.

It is a recognition that companies operate in communities and can bring their resources to bear for positive social impact. It is when corporations recognize these and make concerted efforts to integrate them in their overall vision, then they can be said to be socially responsible. It requires resources both human and monetary and it is a long-term commitment that should be encouraged in business. If CSR is done solely for PR then it is no longer CSR.

Adaobi Duru is a Human Resources Consultant. She hopes to lend a strong voice in shaping public policy in Africa in the near Future. She writes as a hobby.

Image via csrafrica.net

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