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Corporate Social Responsibility – what they do when they think someone might be watching?

19 June 2017 David Wood, Group CEO

Heavenly Brand Agency -

Notes prompted by Lord Browne’s excellent appearance on The Bottom Line on Radio 4 recently – the topic being “Can We Trust Big Business”?
Lord Browne was great on Evan Davie’s ‘must-listen-if-you’re-anything-in-business’ show. I strongly recommend the programme.

He was addressing various topics spinning out of the idea of corporations and the extent we can believe in what they say, whether the risks to reputations are enough to deter the more shady behaviours and so on.

Thinking about advertising and its wider responsibility, I was reminded of an analogy offered by probably the most inspiring person I ever worked with – Andrew Cracknell.

Andrew drew the analogy between advertising and architecture. The analogy being that the architects imagining, for example, a new headquarters for a company have not only a responsibility to create the perfect form and function for the staff of the company but also for the people who may never have any connection with the firm. The people who live opposite, or who wait at the bus stop next to the shiny glass and steel thing. They see it all of the time but have no other connection.

Those people, the people in the blast radius, have just a big a stake as the junior manager inside the corporate who needs an extra plug point or the Director who would rather be in a south facing office like the CFO.

Andrew’s point was that advertising had a responsibility to have a commercial effect and influence the choice of the ‘target’ but also must be respectful to the other people who would probably see the work anyway – programmatic notwithstanding – the more easily influenced younger kids or my shocked and surprised mum.

So it is with CSR and the need to take into account all of the people – targets or collateral damage – when making decisions.

Lord Browne made so many great points on the show – the most stimulating manifesto I’ve heard recently.

Amongst his many thoughts (and I paraphrase):

Companies and employees should pay all relevant taxes. It is simply wrong to allow tax to become discretionary for big companies.

Employees should feel that they are enjoying progress – companies should encourage and assist aspiration.

Capital must be available in the economy to take risks and support great ideas. It should in our opinion also be available within the company to enable people to experiment and take risks.

One blast of education isn’t enough. We must all learn and keep on learning and companies have a fundamental role here. As we’re fond of saying at Heavenly; the pace of change will never be this slow again.

Finally, avoid people who think it’s cool to declare their pride in not understanding maths or science.

Anyway – back to the main point Lord Browne was making – that CSR isn’t what we do when “they” might be looking, it has to be what we do when we absolutely know nobody is. Or to take Andrew’s point, when we know lots of people with no influence are also watching.

I should add that the image of the puppy isn’t relevant to the blog but instead heralds the start of our “free puppy for every major new account” new business drive. T&C’s apply.

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