What stakeholders see and hear

Interested readers already know that there are innumerable ways
in which companies enact their commitment to serve society. This
chapter focuses on how stakeholders learn about CR and what characteristics of CR stakeholders are looking for when they evaluate
socially responsible activity. Such information is vital to know,
because what managers care about may be very different from what
stakeholders care about. Moreover, what companies think they are
saying may be quite different from what stakeholders are seeing and
hearing.
There are two aspects of communications that CR managers
need to be aware of in order to have the impact they need for
success:
First, they must understand what CR characteristics stakeholders
look for as they evaluate CR activity. This is important because
it enables managers to make these characteristics prominent in
communications.
Second, managers must understand that stakeholders acquire information from a variety of communication channels. Getting a handle
on the costs and benefits of these channels is the first step to
designing integrated communications campaigns for stakeholders.
We now look at each of these aspects in turn.

CR characteristics
(Most) stakeholders are not passive receivers of CR information.
Before they even learn about a CR program, they have ideas about
what CR is and whether companies should be doing it. Moreover,
the gamut of CR activities in which companies engage is very large.
Rarely are two CR initiatives exactly alike. In order to distinguish
among the many programs that are out there, stakeholders predictably look at certain characteristics of the CR in question. These
categories help stakeholders make sense of a CR program and compare it to others, both at the company and at peer companies.
There are three characteristics to which most – if not
all – stakeholders attend. These are:
CR issue,
CR resources,
CR implementation.
The following discussion elaborates on each and Table 4.1 provides examples.
What stakeholders see and hear 71
CR issue
The CR issue refers to the societal problem that the CR program is
designed to address. One of the leading research organizations that
rates companies’ CR performance is KLD Research Analytics. This
company categorizes all CR activities into seven broad and inclusive
issues that are reasonably aligned with the way that most stakeholders
categorize issues. These categories are:
community,
corporate governance,
diversity,
employee relations,
environment,
human rights,
product.
Each of these represents an area that may be of interest to some
stakeholders. Many companies will have CR programs dealing with
each of these issues; notably, stakeholders may view each program
very differently.
By prioritizing the issues it addresses, a company signals
whether or not it cares about the same things that stakeholders
do.
For example, the Nestle initiatives that are designed to reduce ´
the environmental footprint of its manufacturing plants will have
very different impacts on stakeholders, society, and financial performance than its efforts to expand access to nutrition for lower income
people.1 By addressing some issues over others, a company signals
whether or not it cares about the same things that stakeholders
do.