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The role of communication in shared value

June 6, 2018

During the week of the 2018 Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific, the Shared Value Project and NAB hosted an event for communications professionals within SVP member organisations.

During the event, global shared value thought leader Mark Kramer participated in a Q&A session, highlighting how companies can effectively communicate their social responsibility efforts. Mark shared insights from his recent Harvard Business Review article: The Right Way for Companies to Publicize Their Social Responsibility Efforts, particularly how companies need to tailor specific messages to different audiences.

The event also provided a chance for communication professionals to network with colleagues working within other shared value focused organisations.

Key learnings from the session:

  • Companies have a powerful role to play in social change, but currently companies, government and community organisations don’t communicate well with each other – solutions require collaboration, the three sectors cannot be working in opposition.
  • Companies don’t currently get credit for their good work because they employ a one size fits all strategy. We don’t employ this with any other marketing/communications. We need to think about who we are trying to communicate with and what message will resonate.
  • Companies are deeply impacted by social issues, and therefore stand to gain a lot by solving them
    • Eg. failing education systems lead to less educated workforces. By implementing education solutions in a relevant community a company ends up with a better/stronger workforce in the long term.
  • If we want permission from investors to move into shared value and work on social issues, we need to communicate the economic benefit.
  • Annual Sustainability Reports are ineffective in communicating shared value. By combining everything with a connection to social impact, it appears peripheral to the business. We also need to consider who is actually reading them?
    • Environmental, social and governance (ESG) data is important, but could probably be delivered more concisely and for a specific audience. Companies should consider which ESG indicators are material for the industry and company and report on these.
    • With everything we report on it should be framed around what issues are most critical to the business – how does it relate to the success of the company and to the societal issue?
  • Companies need to be on the right side of history. They need to take a stand on issues of the day even if it’s controversial. Examples include:
    • Walmart stopped selling certain guns due to gun violence problems in the US.
    • Starbucks responded swiftly to a serious incident by closing all stores for racial equity training.
    • CVS stopped selling cigarettes as it didn’t align with their purpose, even though it meant losing significant revenue in the short term.
  • Remember it isn’t a zero sum game. By making money off solving societal issues, you are not taking money away from something else. We should be able to expand the pie, rather than divide it up – creating new products/services creates new money.
  • Companies with a profitable business model for solving social problems have the ability to scale that NGOs don’t.
  • Purpose is a great defence again malfeasance. There are always temptations for companies to take short cuts, but having a clear purpose that is well understood and believed throughout the company defends against this.
  • Businesses can gain credibility by acknowledging problems and starting to solve them, knowing that it’s a long process.
  • The power of companies is the ability to bring others to the table. These solutions need to be cross sector and involve competitors – self-regulation is very effective. Then we can shift the focus from what we’re doing, to what societal progress is being made overall.