How organizations implement CSR depends on how they define it, whether as a moral obligation and a rational approach to stakeholder satisfaction. It serves best when it is part of organizations’ culture, planning, and management. It has implications for budgeting, return on investment, and measures of effectiveness. As mentioned above, public relations practitioners not only participate in the dialogue to define CSR standards but they also play a crucial role in helping markets, audiences, and publics to be aware of the standards client organizations are willing and able to implement.
Plan of Action: Three-factor Model of CSR Implementation and Application to Public Relations CSR requires a comprehensive approach that, according to Basu and Palazzo (2008, see especially page 208), features the classic troika of human nature: • Cognitive: Matters of identity and legitimacy that define what and how firms think • Linguistic: Matters of justification, positioning, and transparency that define what firms say • Conative: Matters of posture, consistency, and commitment that define how firms behave. Practitioners can participate in the cognitive, linguistic, and conative aspects of their organizations to foster the alignment of mutually beneficial interests in society.
Cognitive: Public relations, through issues monitoring, can play a vital role in helping the organization to know and think about changing CSR standards and the means for achieving them. The reality, however, is that beyond scanning for changing stakeholder expectations and helping to create a matrix of multidisciplinary players to learn about and analyze such changes, public relations is not expert on many of the matters that are at the core of CSR standards and performance management. Others in management must commit to a strong CSR program. Accountants must recognize, appreciate, and implement higher financial management standards, as must general counsel, engineers, process experts, human resources specialists, nutritionists, environmental impact specialists, to mention only a few of the key disciplines.
Effective public relations and CSR requires every discipline in an organization to understand how an organization can improve, how that improvement enhances stakeholder relationships, and how it can be communicated. Such planning often requires practitioners to convince management that stakeholders are calling for higher engineering standards and processes to achieve employee or product safety, or even more daunting—sustainability. Practitioners may not know what is required in terms of engineering standards or accounting practices. But, practitioners can ascertain that strains occur when key stakeholders expectations are not being met—or when they are being met but the stakeholders do not know that fact.
Linguistic: Exploring the interconnection of communication and management (public relations and CSR), Clark (2000) observed that these two disciplines “have similar objectives: both disciplines are seeking to enhance the quality of the relationship of an organization among key stakeholder groups. Both disciplines recognize that to do so makes good business sense” (p. 376). Making this conclusion, she also noted that “questions as to the chosen message and how it affects the reputation or perception of an organization as responsible remain” (p. 376). Relevant to reputation and issue position are the terms that define a good organization and the socially responsible position on key issues. In such matters, meaning matters.
From this linguistic perspective, public relations can play a leadership role in understanding the terminology or linguistic changes in the communities where each organization operates—outside-in thinking. As the famous language theorist Kenneth Burke (1973) observed, we are interested in co-created meaning. Human experience can never free itself from the terminology operating at a given moment that...