This assignment requires students to synthesize and integrate the scholarly and professional litera

  

 This assignment requires students to synthesize and integrate the scholarly and professional literature reviewed in the course. The work should 1) provide an overview of the authors’ primary thesis; 2) identify and discuss at least five key issues raised by the book or article that are relevant to public relations and advertising ethics and social responsibility; and 3) explain at least five “lessons learned” from reading the book that could be applied to the effective and ethical practice of global strategic communications. Course readings and book passages must be incorporated/cited as appropriate. Minimum of 1,500 words. 

· Pre-approved article or book related to ethics and communication, the practice of advocacy and communication, and/or a contemporary ethical challenge related to the practice of public relations or communication.

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Assignments

·
Book Review Essay: This assignment requires students to synthesize and integrate the scholarly and professional literature reviewed in the course. The work should 1) provide an overview of the authors’ primary thesis; 2) identify and discuss at least five key issues raised by the book or article that are relevant to public relations and advertising ethics and social responsibility; and 3) explain at least five “lessons learned” from reading the book that could be applied to the effective and ethical practice of global strategic communications. Course readings 

and 
book passages 
must be incorporated/cited as appropriate. Minimum of 1,500 words.

W. TIMOTHY COOMBS AND SHERRY J. HOLLADAY

PUBLIC RELATIONS
IN SOCIETY SECOND

EDITION

It’s
Not
Just

It’s Not Just PR
COOMBS AND HOLLADAY

PUBLIC RELATIONS IN SOCIETY

PUBLIC RELATIONS
IN SOCIETY SECOND

EDITION

It’s
Not
Just

Whether one sees it as unwelcome, underappreciated, or unnoticed, public relations
has an important infl uence on modern society. In the second edition of their award-
winning book, W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay provide a broad and
thorough look at the fi eld of public relations in the world today and assess its
impact on society’s values, knowledge, and perceptions.

The authors show how public relations aff ects society – both positively and
negatively – and use a range of global, contemporary examples from multinational
corporations through to the non-profi t sector to prove their point. The authors have
thoroughly revised and updated the book with discussion of new issues, including
the search within the profession for a defi nition of PR; the role and limitations of
social media; the emergence of issues management; how private politics is shaping
corporate behavior; and the rise of global activism and the complications of working
in a global world. The authors also provide a nuanced and balanced discussion of
ethical concerns for professionals in the fi eld that doesn’t rely on oversimplifi cation
of the issues. Well organized and clearly written by two leading scholars, this is a
must-read for students and professionals in strategic communication.

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay are Professors in the Nicholson
School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. They are co-authors
of Managing Corporate Social Responsibility (Wiley Blackwell, 2011) and PR Strategy
and Application (Wiley Blackwell, 2009), and co-editors of The Handbook of Crisis
Communication (Wiley Blackwell, 2010).

ISBN 978-1-118-55400-5

“Concise and thought-provoking examination about ‘what counts’ as public relations
and the fi eld’s impact on society; an excellent discussion primer about the issues
facing the profession today and in the foreseeable future.”

Michael J. Palenchar, University of Tennessee

“This is an engaging introduction to PR. I like its quick overviews of key authors, ideas,
and debates, its easy style, but, most of all, that it makes the reader think.”

Magda Pieczka, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

SECOND EDITION

It’s Not Just PR

For Megan, Molly, Ben, Martha, Matthew, and Brandon
who are the future.

About the Authors

W. Timothy Coombs is Professor in the Nicholson School of Communi­
cation at the University of Central Florida. His books include the award­
winning Ongoing Crisis Communication (2007) and Code Red in the Boardroom
(2006). With Sherry J. Holladay, he is co­author of Managing Corporate
Social Responsibility (Wiley Blackwell, 2011) and PR Strategy and Application
(Wiley Blackwell, 2009) and co­editor of The Handbook of Crisis Communi­
cation (Wiley Blackwell, 2010). He has worked with consulting firms in
the U.S. and Europe on ways to improve crisis communication efforts for
their clients.

Sherry J. Holladay is Professor in the Nicholson School of Communi­
cation at the University of Central Florida. She teaches courses in public
relations and corporate communication and her research interests include
corporate social responsibility, crisis communication, reputation manage­
ment, activism, and stakeholder relations. Her work appears in the Journal
of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, Management Communi­
cation Quarterly, Journal of Communication Management, and International
Journal of Strategic Communication.

It’s Not Just PR
Public Relations in Society

Second Edition

W. Timothy Coombs
Sherry J. Holladay

This second edition first published 2014
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Edition history: Blackwell Publishing Ltd (1e, 2007)

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John Wiley & Sons Ltd, The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8SQ, UK

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For details of our global editorial offices, for customer services, and for information
about how to apply for permission to reuse the copyright material in this book please
see our website at www.wiley.com/wiley­blackwell.

The right of W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay to be identified as the authors
of this work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, except as permitted by the UK Copyright,
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appears in print may not be available in electronic books.

Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as
trademarks. All brand names and product names used in this book are trade names,
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publisher is not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book.

Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and author(s) have
used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties
with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically
disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.
It is sold on the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional
services and neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable for damages arising
herefrom. If professional advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of
a competent professional should be sought.

Library of Congress Cataloging­in­Publication data is available for this book.

9781118554005 (paperback)

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Cover image © noolwlee / Shutterstock
Cover design by Simon Levy

Set in 11/13.5pt Dante by SPi Publisher Services, Pondicherry, India

1 2014

Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Introduction to the Second Edition 1

1 Does Society Need Public Relations? 4

2 Ethical Implications of Public Relations 36

3 Who Practices Public Relations? 60

4 Public Relations Influences Society 90

5 Shifting the View of Public Relations 123

References 141

Index 159

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Elizabeth Swayze and Wiley Blackwell for their
support of this book over the years. The book was a bit of a risk given
its topic and format but it seems to have worked for all involved, including
its readers. We also would like to thank Allison Kostka and Julia Kirk for
their patience and help with the revisions, and to thank those reviewers
who provided feedback to the revision plan. It takes a team to publish a
book, and we are happy to be part of such a great team.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Introduction to the Second Edition

When we had the opportunity to write the first edition of this book, our
task of developing a title was challenging due to the book’s unconven­
tional approach and topic coverage. But the title, It’s Not Just PR: Public
Relations in Society, seemed to capture our ideas quite well. The title was
designed to reflect the frustration of many academics and practitioners
who feel the term “public relations” is trivialized, misunderstood, and
misused. Its colloquial use tends to be tainted with negative connotations
as critics lament the substitution of “public relations” for facts, substance,
or the “real story.”

We welcome our opportunity to broaden readers’ understanding of
public relations by offering a perspective designed to “complicate” public
relations by addressing corporate uses and limitations of a corporate­
centric view of public relations but also presenting alternative views and
analyses to expand our thinking about “what counts” as public relations.

Public relations activities continue to be equated with distortion,
manipulation, and stonewalling, and depicted in negative ways. The pub­
lic’s dependence on the media, coupled with the media’s misuse of the
term, translates into a lack of understanding of the practice. Unfortunately,
there are far too many incidents where corporations have used public rela­
tions in unethical ways to pursue economic self­interests at the expense of
the public interest, thereby reinforcing its tainted image. In spite of reports

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

2

of activist actions that positively impact on society, such as those of
Greenpeace, Labour Behind the Label, UK Uncut, and PETA, the public
is unlikely to identify these as examples of public relations. Negative con­
notations of public relations may lead people to wonder if society would
be better off without public relations.

Consistent with the vision of the first edition, the second edition of
It’s Not Just PR invites readers to develop a more complex and complete
understanding of the practice of public relations. Societal developments,
including the increasing effects of globalization and communication tech­
nologies on business and activist practices, as well as events that spotlight
both ethical and unethical uses of public relations, are well represented in
this new edition. New extended examples that illustrate the use and grow­
ing importance of social media as a communication tool are included.

This second edition of It’s Not Just PR should help readers understand
why society benefits from the practice of public relations. The new edition
expands our examination of the role of power in public relations and the
use of public relations by non­corporate entities. At the time the first
edition was written, the concern with power along with critical and post­
modern approaches to public relations were underdeveloped, especially
within the United States. We are proud to have helped introduce readers
to these perspectives and are gratified with the positive responses we
receive to our presentation of these ideas. In many ways we were well
ahead of the curve in exploring these ideas, which is not always the most
comfortable position for publishers. We hope that the increasing interest
in power and activism, along with greater acceptance of more “radical”
ideas in the published academic literature, confirms the value of our
vision that guided the development of the first edition.

This edition examines both the microlevel and macrolevel (societal,
global) processes and outcomes of the practice of public relations. The
microlevel examines what defines and constitutes public relations. We
focus on the relationship between organizations and their stakeholders,
people who are affected by and can affect the organizations. The issue of
power is central to our exploration of the relationship dynamic. People
often think of corporations, especially multinational corporations, as
very powerful compared to average citizens. Sources of power for stake­
holders and organizations are discussed with an eye to demonstrating
stakeholders’ potential for influence on corporations and society. As sug­
gested by stakeholder theory, stakeholders can develop power resources

Introduction

3

to participate in the marketplace of ideas. However, in most cases the
power advantage lies with the corporation. The interdependence between
organizations and stakeholders is central to our appreciation of power
dynamics and ethical practices in the web of relationships.

The macrolevel focuses on how public relations can impact society by
influencing laws, behaviors, and values. A macrolevel examination exposes
limitations of a purely corporate­centric approach to public relations. We
address how the practice of public relations extends well beyond corpora­
tions and national borders and must be considered within the global con­
text. Global public relations as a form of transnational activism and public
diplomacy has been growing. Its expansion and effectiveness has been
aided by the Internet. Case studies illuminate how activists, including
PVOs, use the Internet and public relations practices to influence corpo­
rate and governmental practices around the world.

We are not so naive as to believe that public relations is not used to
pursue or to obscure courses of action that harm stakeholders and society.
Public relations is not all­powerful, exclusively corporate, or always harm­
ful to stakeholders and society. Nor is it only used by activists and non­
profits to benefit stakeholders and society. The reality is that public
relations is a complex mix of all these factors and more. Our goal is to
complicate your thinking about public relations by peering behind the
misuses of the term to examine its role in society. In the end, we hope this
book demonstrates how public relations does have a place in and can be
beneficial to society.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Does Society Need Public Relations?

1

Conceptualizations of what constitutes public relations cast a wide net
and demonstrate a lack of consistency. And when something is labeled by
the media as a “public relations” action, it seems to be with a negative,
disparaging tone (e.g., “mere public relations,” “PR spin,” “PR hype,” “PR
rhetoric,” or “a public relations stunt”). As described in the media, virtu­
ally anything that a corporation or its representatives does may be labeled
as “public relations” and treated with suspicion. Activities as diverse as
attempts to explain a negative financial report, launch a new product,
encourage employees to volunteer in the community, and donate money
to a charity, have all been identified as “public relations.” What, then, is not
public relations?

Critics of public relations tend to focus attention on what they call
public relations efforts involved in defending the most obvious and
egregious violations of the public trust: cover­ups (such as Enron, Tyco,
and HealthSouth), CEO/CFO scandals, the spokesperson who deceives
the public in order to defend the actions of the organization, and illegal
dumping of toxic chemicals. Attempts to minimize or conceal these
scandalous actions often are cast as “PR ploys” designed to deflect the
negative impacts of questionable corporate actions including suspicious
financial reports, management misbehavior, dubious environmental

Does Society Need Public Relations?

5

records, or human rights violations. Public relations becomes equated
with stonewalling. Stonewalling is the attempt to hide information or
delay its release. The public relations practitioner becomes a barrier to the
truth, not the bringer of truth.

Scandals attract attention. Good deeds and the mundane are less likely
to generate media exposure. What go unrecognized are the more com­
monplace and typical PR efforts that characterize the daily existence of
organizations (e.g., employee communication, community relations,
etc.). Examples include announcements about promotions, recognition
of awards won by an organization, or efforts to support local charities or
community groups. These more accurately characterize the PR efforts
of most organizations. Very few PR practitioners are ever in the position
of managing major scandals like those generated by News Corporation,
Lance Armstrong, and Olympus. Public relations is the subject of heavy
criticism in a number of cultures. Upon learning of these criticisms, peo­
ple are often left to ponder if society needs public relations. Without it,
would society be better or worse off ? Both professionals and academics
have tried to defend the practice. Often the defense attributes to public
relations very lofty pursuits, which seem rather unrealistic. By reviewing
the good and bad of public relations we can better appreciate its place
in society.

The first half of the chapter examines the negative effects of public
relations. We start by reviewing media portrayals. Most people learn
about the practice of public relations through media coverage of the field
and use of the term. Hence, the media help to construct people’s percep­
tions. Public relations has some individual vocal critics as well. We exam­
ine the main critics and the reasons for their disdain. As a corollary, some
of the popular press books on public relations are surveyed. Public rela­
tions can be its own worst enemy by emphasizing the aspects most
despised by its critics.

The second half of the chapter considers the utility of public rela­
tions in a democratic society. Practitioner and academic defenses of
public relations are presented. The chapter ends by offering our concep­
tualization of public relations. We provide a definition of public relations
that highlights the role of communication, relationship management,
and mutual influence between organizations and stakeholders. This
provides the basis for understanding where public relations fits into the
needs of society.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

6

Media Use and the Term “PR”

In late 2012, Internet reports began to appear that Instagram, an applica­
tion for sharing digital images, intended to sell any photos flowing through
the application to advertisers. In other words, Instagram could sell any of
your pictures that you posted through Instagram without your consent
or compensation. The CEO of Instagram, Keven Systrom, quickly began
blogging and backtracking on the idea as people began canceling or
threatening to cancel their accounts. One media outlet characterized the
CEO’s response as “more spin than anything else” (Adhikari 2012). In
December of 2012, the Armed Forces of the Philippines released a state­
ment saying the organization would celebrate National Human Rights
Consciousness Week with a variety of events designed to show their com­
mitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A news story,
critical of the Armed Forces, said the statement “is pure and simple PR
spin” (Legaspi 2012, para. 10). These examples illustrate how the media
often report on public relations as actions that are style with no substance
or even a type of deception.

Although we frequently hear people refer to public relations, the
practice of public relations is not well understood. The media may be at
least in part to blame for the public’s lack of understanding because they
tend to use the term “public relations” inaccurately and to focus on
some types of PR practice while ignoring others. It is important to con­
sider seriously these portrayals of the uses of public relations and its
professionals because they shape people’s perceptions of what PR is,
when it might be used, and what PR professionals do. The unfortunate
part is that, as is shown by systematic research into media portrayals of
public relations, comparing them with the reality, these portrayals are
negative (for instance, they equate PR with deception) as well as quite
limited. They fail to capture the full range of PR activities and focus
mainly on publicity functions. Additionally, the media often label com­
munications and actions as “mere PR” when they really are not what PR
professionals would consider public relations. Overall, the media’s use
of the term “PR” seems fraught with negative connotations. Empirical
research has established the extent of distortion in these portrayals. In
1988, Bishop discovered PR was equated with “publicity” in the newspa­
per coverage in a sample of three newspapers. Keenan (1996) found

Does Society Need Public Relations?

7

nearly half of the references to public relations in major network media
coverage reflected the press agency model. Public relations was por­
trayed as nothing more than trying to generate media coverage. Julie
Henderson (1998) examined the use of the term “public relations” in
100 popular press media articles. In about 5 percent of them the term
PR was used accurately, in ways that would be acceptable to the Public
Relations Society of America (PRSA), the professional association. This
is problematic because the media are a key source of cues for building
reputations when people have little interaction with an entity (Dowling
2002). Most people learn about public relations from the media, not
from practitioners.

The problem of limited or inaccurate conceptions of public relations
is compounded by the negative use of the term itself, as in the Instagram
example, and by negative comments about PR. Henderson’s (1998)
research found that in only about 7 percent of the articles could the
references to PR be considered “positive.” Spicer (1993) found the
majority (83 percent) of references to public relations in print media
were negative.

Scrimger and Richards (2003) explored Canadian journalists’ uses
of  metaphors of violent conflict to describe communication between
organizations and the public. They examined articles where journalists
used the term “public relations battle” or “public relations war.” They
found these phrases were invoked even though the reality of the situa­
tion often did not justify the use of inflammatory metaphors. In more
than one­half of the cases (55 percent), the terms were used in the first
paragraph of the story. In all cases the choice of word was the journal­
ists’; no sources were directly quoted as using either of the two phrases.
Thus, their research demonstrates that journalists are prone to frame
situations as “violent confrontations” (PR wars or battles) in spite of
the fact that the participants do not describe their situations in this way.
The media coverage offered a conflict frame even though there could be
areas of consensus or agreement between the parties. These types of
portrayals could lead the public to misperceive typical PR practices as
involving disputes rather than collaboration. Research consistently
demonstrates a negative portrayal of public relations and/or use of the
term in the media. Media treatment of public relations is an indirect
form of criticism. Others have been more direct in their disdain for
public relations.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

8

Criticisms of Public Relations

It is not difficult to locate critiques of the practice of public relations.
Critics of public relations are numerous, vocal, and profess allegiance to a
variety of disciplines. Critiques can be found in popular press books and in
journalistic discussions of public relations. These sources are now
reviewed to understand why public relations is considered by some to be
a pariah in society.

Popular press attacks on public relations

Two popular press books stand out for casting a critical eye on the practice
of public relations: PR! A Social History of Spin (1996) and Toxic Sludge is
Good for You! (1995). Popular press books, in contrast to more academically
oriented books, are aimed at a wide, general audience. It is noteworthy
that there is little agreement in them on what constitutes public relations.
These popular press books reflect an attitude that seemed particularly
prevalent in the 1990s, a time that corresponds to the growth of corporate
power. An underlying theme in both books mentioned above is that large
corporations are dangerous and that public relations is one of the tenta­
cles on this dangerous octopus.

Often popular press books present examples from the history of public
relations, select dramatic illustrations to reveal its “unethical nature,” and
focus on how contemporary businesses (or governments) use PR to pur­
sue economic objectives at the expense of the public interest. The exam­
ples serve to represent the whole. Synecdoche is used as an argument. If
part of what public relations does is bad, then everything public relations
does is bad. A part comes to represent the whole.

Stuart Ewen’s PR! A Social History of Spin, recounts the development of
the practice of public relations by focusing on the commonly recognized
pioneers of public relations, Edward Bernays (the “father of public rela­
tions”) and Ivy Lee, and identifies scholars who influenced their thinking
(e.g., Walter Lippmann, Gustave Le Bon). He also contextualized various
public relations efforts conducted by private industry and government within
various historical, economic, social, and corporate periods. Ewen writes that
his book focuses on “the social and historical roots that would explain the
boundless role of public relations in our world” (1996: 3). Interestingly, Ewen

Does Society Need Public Relations?

9

does not define a key word in his book’s title, “spin” (nor does it appear in the
index), perhaps because he assumes the savvy reader will assume that PR
and spin are synonymous. (From the title alone, how is the prospective
reader supposed to know that this is a book about public relations?)

Near the end of the book Ewen writes that public relations is designed
to “circumvent critical thinking” and is “rarely intended to inform the
population about the intricacies of an issue” (p. 412). He expresses con­
cern over the fact that the techniques used have become increasingly
“sophisticated” and “pervasive” (p. 409). A theme of this work is that PR
poses a real threat to democracy because it undermines open, public dis­
course. Powerful corporations can hire skilled PR professionals and gain
access to the media in order to advocate their policies and points of view;
they thus exercise enormous influence, which the average person cannot
match. He suggests that the general public is untrained and ill­informed in
sophisticated PR methods, and not equipped to assess PR output.

In the final section of his book he advocates education in media literacy
in order to equip citizens with the analytical tools needed to critically ana­
lyze media messages and images; this education should begin in primary
grades. We believe that media literacy is a laudable goal, and people
should be discriminating consumers of mediated messages. However,
public relations is not the sole force responsible for its need. Ewen’s book
reflects a distrust of corporations: people must be wary of the deceptions
enacted by corporations. And, as he says, public relations is a perfect
mechanism for corporate deception.

John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton’s Toxic Sludge is Good for You! Lies,
Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, offers a highly critical view of
PR which focuses on how it is used to deceive the public. Their goal is to
enlighten the masses: “We want the public at large to recognize the skilled
propagandists of industry and government who are affecting public opin­
ion and determining public policies, while remaining (they hope) out of
public view” (p. 16). They argue that the democratic process has been
railroaded through the use of PR techniques. When we think corpora­
tions are doing something that is socially responsible or for the good of
the public, we had better look more closely because we are merely being
fooled. We should remain suspicious and scrutinize their PR actions to
unmask what corporations gain from seemingly noble acts.

The book is comprised of interesting, lively­written case studies
designed to reveal PR’s role in influencing public opinion and policy.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

10

Examples range from the tobacco industry’s attempt to get women to
smoke to phony grassroots movements (astroturf ) to McDonald’s part­
nering with the Environmental Defense Fund, from the Environmental
Protection Agency’s involvement in getting communities to accept sludge
farming to Hill and Knowlton’s role in securing US citizens’ support for
the Persian Gulf War, and to Burson­Marsteller’s part in securing support
for NAFTA. Again, PR is presented as an all­powerful tool used by power­
ful interests (corporations, governments) to gain and maintain their power.

A recurring criticism in Toxic Sludge is Good for You! is that PR efforts are
not easily recognized as such, which makes PR even more insidious and
powerful. Advertising (usually) can be recognized as advertising and is
commonly understood to represent something that a corporation has
paid for and therefore invites critical examination. However, they argue,
PR practices commonly include the coopting of journalists who, owing to
financial and personnel cuts in their news organizations, have become
dependent on PR practitioners for pitches for news stories, use of video
news releases, and basic access to information in order to meet deadlines.
This results in journalists producing news stories that actually benefit cor­
porations rather than the public (meeting the public’s “need to know”).
What we think is “news” (because it appears in a newspaper or other
media outlet) is really a pitch for corporate interests.

Stauber and Rampton also question the motives of organizations that
partner with activist groups in efforts to appear socially responsible. While
we might think that working with such groups is a sign of concern for the
activists’ issues, the corporations are the ones that actually benefit from
the alliances. The authors claim that these alliances are used to benefit
corporate interests and prevent the groups from interfering with business
operations. By “coopting” the activists, corporations are able to gather
information from the groups and “know the enemy.” These alliances are
designed to improve the image of the corporation and allow them to con­
tinue business as usual without truly addressing the contentious issues.

At times the authors seem ambivalent about the specific techniques
and uses of public relations:

The PR professionals who work to manage our opinions and emotions are
not doing this because they are evil, but because PR is a financially reward­
ing business. From their viewpoint they are simply providing a service
to  their paying customers. If PR poses a threat to democratic values,

Does Society Need Public Relations?

11

it  is  ultimately a manifestation of the deeper contradiction in corporate
America – the gap between our dream of a governance “by the people, for
the people” and the reality of a society deeply divided by unequal access to
wealth and power (p. 203).

In contrast, they later write,

Many PR practitioners are engaged in promotional and publicity campaigns
for clinics, schools and deserving charities that benefit the public. The tech­
niques of public relations are not all inherently bad. Everyone at some time
uses their skills of persuasion to communicate ideas, to sell products, pro­
mote a point of view, or “schmooze” socially. But positive uses of PR do
not in any way mitigate the undemocratic power of the multi­billion dollar
PR industry to manipulate and propagandize on behalf of wealthy special
interests, dominating debate, discussion and decision (p. 205).

However, they do note that

Citizens and individual PR practitioners can use ethical public relations
techniques to right social wrongs, clean up the environment, promote
minority rights, protect working people and make their communities bet­
ter. But we consider it an illusion to imagine that PR is a “neutral” technol­
ogy that can simply be adopted uncritically to achieve socially responsible
ends (pp. 205–6).

This last sentence seems to endorse the idea that the practice of PR is
inherently corrupt.

While Stauber and Rampton admit they do not offer a “magic solution”
to the problem posed by PR in society, they hope that their book will help
people to “first, learn to recognize the influence of PR in your life; second,
seek out alternative sources of information; third, become personally
involved in local efforts to directly address important issues at the com­
munity level” (p. 204).

A film version of the book is available: Toxic Sludge is Good for You:
The  Public Relations Industry Unspun. Here is the creator’s description
of the film:

While advertising is the visible component of the corporate system, per­
haps even more important and pervasive is its invisible partner, the public

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

12

relations industry. This video illuminates this hidden sphere of our culture
and examines the way in which the management of “the public mind” has
become central to how our democracy is controlled by political and eco­
nomic elites. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You illustrates how much of what we
think of as independent, unbiased news and information has its origins in
the boardrooms of the public relations companies.

Using interviews, the film repeats the primary points of the book. There
also are interviews with former public relations professionals. These
repentant individuals reveal the manipulative secrets of their trade. The
focus remains on people’s ignorance of public relations’ role in creating
the news through publicity efforts and how willing media representatives
can be co­opted. Once more there is an underlying theme of the danger­
ous corporation. When non­corporate entities use public relations it is
acceptable, but those corporations are sinister.

Stauber and Rampton are active in PR Watch, a quarterly publication
from the Center for Media and Democracy that focuses on revealing
the “dark side” of public relations. It bills itself as specializing in “blow­
ing the lid off of the multi­billion dollar propaganda­for­hire industry”
(PR Watch, 2005). The idea is that the newsletter, available free of
charge online, reveals to people how public relations manipulates the
news. By understanding the process, people will have a better chance
of resisting it.

But perhaps the most vociferous critics can be found among the ranks
of journalists. It is somewhat ironic that many historians trace the roots of
modern public relations back to the actions of (former) journalists
whose skills were purchased to benefit the interests of corporations. These
journalists are described as leaving their positions with newspapers
to  assist corporations in appeasing the public. Corporations perceived
that journalists possessed the skills needed to promote their organiza­
tions. Journalists’ technical competence in writing news releases was
coveted by corporations keen to defend themselves against public criticism
of their business practices. Robber barons, the early US industrialists,
were among the first to “corrupt” journalists. This was a major shift from
the “Public be damned” attitude expressed by railroad tycoon William
Vanderbilt and seemingly embraced by his brethren. The practice of
“working for” a particular client and representing partisan interests may
not sit well with journalists who embrace the journalistic ideal of the

Does Society Need Public Relations?

13

objective crusader and protector of the public trust. The image of the
“hired gun” of the corporation contrasts starkly with the idealized image
of the unbiased journalist.

Criticism of public relations is nothing new. In fact, criticism erupted as
soon as modern public relations began to be practiced by corporations in
the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is noteworthy that the early criticisms
sound remarkably similar to current criticisms. There has always been a
fear that public relations could be used to hide unwelcome information
and might subvert the accurate reporting of news.

Of course, critics note it is rather ironic that PR should be so frequently
misunderstood and accused of having an “image problem” when one
component of their role is to manage information, public opinion, and
corporate images. Critics seem to delight in pointing out the inability of
PR to manage its own reputation. The implication is that if the “image
masters” cannot successfully manage PR’s reputation, the critics must be
right! The practice of public relations must be so truly reprehensible that
even the “spinmeisters” cannot salvage it. Critics interpret the inability
of PR to elevate its reputation as further evidence of its inherent evil.

So what, exactly, drives the disparagement of the practice of PR? The
following section outlines common themes expressed in critiques of pub­
lic relations. This is followed by a few specific examples of what critical,
popular press books have said about public relations practices.

Common themes in critiques of public relations

1. Public relations has kept the public ignorant about what “really” goes on
in public relations.

The critical books are written and promoted as “exposés” on the PR
industry. They promise to reveal behind­the­scenes machinations that
will  shock and sicken us and expose PR practitioners as the snake oil
sales­people of our time. The public is portrayed as “duped” through the
maneuvers of PR professionals who use sophisticated techniques to “spin”
the truth. The public does not recognize PR efforts as being sponsored by
and serving the interests of corporations or governments. The public is
unaware of the nature and extent of PR and would be outraged “if only
they knew.” PR efforts are assumed to present lies, or at least distortions,
of the truth.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

14

Social media has amplified rather than eliminated concerns over public
ignorance of public relations practices. Supposedly social media and the
Internet create transparency by exposing what organizations and individ­
uals are doing (Gower 2006). In theory, organizations are more trans­
parent because social media and the Internet will reveal if anything is
being hidden (Coombs and Holladay 2010). (See Box  1.1: Overview of
Transparency for more on the topic.) Social media is fraught with efforts
to mask the identity of the communicator and to mislead stakeholders
through the use of front groups, astroturfing, sockpuppeting, editing
Wikipedia content, and buying social media.

Front groups purposefully obscure the source of a message to hide the
self­interests of the source. People hearing the message think the front
group is neutral rather than knowing the front group has direct stake in
the issue (Fitzpatrick and Palenchar 2006). Front groups, such the Center
for Consumer Freedom that fronts for restaurants and alcohol, are active
online. Social media also is used for astroturfing, efforts to artificially gen­
erate grassroots support for an issue. Various social media channels are
used to create the illusion there is strong support or opposition to an issue.
SourceWatch actively tries to expose front groups and astroturfing
through its website (Coombs and Holladay 2010).

Sockpuppeting involves creating a fake identity used to praise or to
support an organization or issue (Stone and Richtel 2007). We can term
this a front person. The front person can spread messages through
blogs, discussions groups, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media.
As with front groups, the front person creates a false sense of support
for an organization or issue by hiding the self­interests of the source.
Some corporations and their public relations agencies have edited
Wikipedia entries beyond correcting factual errors to making the entries
more positive for an organization by removing accurate but negative
information from the entries. The Chartered Institute of Public
Relations (CIPR) from the UK argues that such editing is inappropriate
because it lacks transparency (Sebastian 2012). Organizations and indi­
viduals can buy Twitter followers by hiring sponsored tweets – people
who will send positive tweets for a price (Van Grove 2009). While the
identities are real, the messages are for sale and those reading the tweets
may have no idea of this fact. Again, it looks as though there is more
support for an organization or issue than really exists. Similarly, some
bloggers have been known to create favorable messages for a price.

Does Society Need Public Relations?

15

Box 1.1 Overview of Transparency

Transparency has become a corporate buzzword that both public
relations practitioners and academics have eagerly embraced (e.g.,
Karp 2010). The argument, made popular in the book The Naked
Corporation, is that organizations cannot hide anything from stake­
holders anymore. “Finally, in a world of instant communications,
whistleblowers, inquisitive media, and googling, citizens and com­
munities routinely put firms under the microscope” (Tapscott and
Ticoll 2003: xi). They argue new transparency is a function of the
Internet. Social media and other Internet communication channels
will expose any malfeasance by a corporation. Hence, organiza­
tions avoid questionable behavior because such actions will be dis­
covered and come back to haunt them. In short, the fear generated
by Internet­enhanced transparency becomes a form of ethical con­
straint on organizations (Tapscott and Ticoll 2003). Critics note it
is naive to put such faith in transparency (Christensen, Thyssen
and Morsing 2011; Coombs and Holladay 2010; Jahansoozi 2006).
Organizations can still hide some actions. Moreover, when ques­
tionable behavior is revealed the actions may attract little attention
and/or move few people to action. If few people learn about the
problematic behaviors or choose not to punish the organization for
the actions, there is no effect from transparency.

Where transparency matters for ethics is the disclosure of
sources. It is unethical for public relations practitioners to hide the
source of a message. When the source is hidden, those listening to
the message cannot properly evaluate the message because they do
not understand the biases of the source. Front groups purposely
obscure the source to hide the biases of those promoting a position
on an issue (Fitzpatrick and Palenchar, 2006). Another ethical
breach related to hiding sources is paying or bribing reporters to
place stories in the news media. The news media is supposed to be
a neutral source. When the news media runs a story that is positive
about an organization, the organization can benefit from that
favorable news coverage (Meijer 2004). That positive effect might
be lost if people knew the organization “bought” the story just as
it would buy advertising. Tsetsura and Kruckeberg (2013) have

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

16

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. created a regulation
forcing bloggers to reveal when they have received compensation for
products they discuss on their blogs (Fulton 2009). While social media
may help to expose when organizations or groups are being deceptive,
it provides many opportunities to cloak the true identity of those creat­
ing public relations messages.

2. Public relations cannot escape its wicked roots.

Early influences on the practice of public relations included writings on
psychology and persuasion. The origins of public relations can be traced
back to early writings concerning human behavior and the manipulation
of public opinion and behavior. Academic work on the nature and role of
persuasion portrayed humans as easily malleable, given the use of the
right techniques. The problem is that many of these writings seemed to
privilege the “elite” (wealthy, well educated), suggesting that the less edu­
cated could and should be influenced by those who knew what was best
for them. Within the context of contemporary society, the paternalistic
attitudes expressed in many of these works seem exploitive and do not
fully acknowledge the plethora of ethical concerns implicated in molding
behavior.

Critics often point to the seminal influences, noting how this line of
thinking corrupted early practitioners, and suggest that the origins con­
tinue to influence current practice. Public relations is tainted by the
early ideas that underlie its practice. After all, Joseph Goebbels, master­
mind of Nazi propaganda, claimed to be guided by a book entitled
Propaganda, authored by Edward Bernays, the “father of public
relations.”

examined media bribery on a global scale culminating in their
book Transparency, Public Relations and the Mass Media: Combating
Media Bribery Worldwide. The book contends that media hide the
influence of bribery (media opacity) from audiences to maintain a
false sense of unbiased media coverage. Once more lack of trans­
parency is unethical because it obscures the biases held by the true
source of a message.

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3. PR is to blame for the inordinate amount of power that corporations
(and other groups, governments, lobbying groups, etc.) can exercise.

These criticisms focus on how public relations has been used to further
the interests of these groups. Public relations efforts have been very suc­
cessful in securing power for them. Corporations and governments are
too powerful and public relations tactics are to blame. Corporations have
become bullies. PR is what allows organizations to operate as they please,
without interference from those who would question their practices. PR
has duped the public into accepting this state of affairs.

Wendell Potter (2010), former head of corporate communications for
the insurance company CIGNA, wrote a scathing indictment of the U.S.
public relations industry titled Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider
Speaks out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving
Americans. After 25 years in public relations, Potter had a revelation that
he was representing the wrong side and decided to expose how PR had
been manipulating people. His emphasis was on the way public rela­
tions was used to prevent healthcare reform in the United States. Potter
noted much of public relations is ethical but that “PR tactics are also
used to create subversive front groups, discredit legitimate individuals
or organizations, spread false information, distort the truth, and instill
fear” (Potter 2010: 54). Potter, from his insider position, argued that gen­
erating fear caused people to support positions in healthcare that were
against their own interests. Moreover, he posited public relations practi­
tioners are experts in manipulating media coverage to support their
interests (Potter 2010).

Potter (2010) noted that health insurers, such as CIGNA, poured
money into public relations efforts to combat healthcare reform in order
to protect profits. He details how health insurers supported health main­
tenance organizations (HMOs) until they became less profitable. Then
the industry mounted an effort to convince people HMOs were the rea­
son for rising healthcare costs (an inaccuracy) and urged the move to
consumer­driven healthcare that required individuals to pay more of
their own healthcare costs. Potter has one chapter that outlines the
“playbook” used in healthcare public relations. It includes efforts to fund
research that will support your position, create a coalition and front
group, hire a major PR firm known for “public ‘deception,’” and create
a “duplicitous communications campaign” (Potter 2010: 223–24). Potter’s

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view is that public relations is a practice that will do anything, including
concealing identities and distorting the truth, to achieve its objective.

David Miller and William Dinan, two sociologists, wrote a book titled
A Century of Spin: How Public Relations Became the Cutting Edge of Corporate
Power. While drawing heavily on material from the UK, Miller and Dinan
posit the use of public relations to advance corporate interests is global.
“The global PR industry is at the forefront of extending corporate power
by engaging in the front­line of the battle between ideas and finding ways
to put the interest of the corporation into action” (Miller and Dinan 2008:
124). Miller and Dinan use the term global PR industry in reference to
massive, multinational public relations consultancies/agencies such as
Weber Shandwick Worldwide and Ruder Finn Group. Their conclusion is
that public relations, by blindly advancing corporate interests, are under­
mining democracy. Reflecting neoliberalism, governments are there to
respond to the needs of powerful corporations, not other constituencies
(Miller and Dinan 2008).

Public relations is successful, in part, by being “mysterious.” They note
how it is difficult for people outside of public relations to name even one
of the major PR consultancies/agencies. Public relations is practiced in
obscurity. In fact it is argued that public relations prefers to work in secrecy
and often uses deception to hide their interests in order to “pursue their
objectives undetected” (Miller and Dinan 2008: 1). The primary strategy
of public relations is to manufacture compliance. Public relations practi­
tioners do not need to seek the support of stakeholders, merely to prevent
them from opposing corporate interests – create quiescence. They often
equate public relations with propaganda. Practitioners are willing to use
“degraded and deceptive communications” that ultimately harm society
(Miller and Dinan 2008: 2). Public relations is utilized by corporations “to
impose business interests on public policy and limit the responsiveness of
the political system to the preferences and opinions of the masses” (Miller
and Dinan 2008: 1). Overall, public relations is viewed as a practice
designed to operate in the shadows, willing to manipulate people, and
ultimately is harmful to society.

These criticisms seem to ignore how economic conditions and govern­
ment policies have led to the development of corporate power. What they
need to attack is the power of corporations to operate in the way that they
do, including what laws have made that possible, not the means used to
get them to the point where they can exercise that power.

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4. Public relations services are available to or work for those with “deep
pockets” and this undermines the democratic process.

Corporations use their seemingly unlimited economic resources to fight
for their own interests at the expense of the well­being of the general citi­
zenry and democracy itself. As described in no. 3, corporations are seen as
too powerful. The once­revered, democratic, public debate of ideas is a
myth in a world where public relations can sway public sentiment. This
suggests that PR itself is undemocratic: It can be used in undemocratic
ways for undemocratic ends.

Television portrayals of public relations practitioners also reinforce
the view that public relations benefits the rich at the expense of society.
In 2012, the ABC network launched the show “Scandal.” The show is
based on the life of Judy Smith, a famous Washington D.C. resident con­
sidered a PR maven and a crisis manager (Sneed 2012). Her firm, Smith &
Company, lists the following services: crisis management, media rela­
tions, litigation support, public affairs, and training (Practice Areas n.d.).
On the show, the firm hides clients from the media and law enforce­
ment, tampers with crime scenes, and uses torture to extract informa­
tion. The television portrayals of these practitioners reinforce the belief
that public relations is often used to benefit the elite at the expense of
society as a whole.

While individuals and groups representing divergent interests can use
PR techniques, the financial capabilities of corporations (or governments)
far outweigh what is available to the individuals. Access to public relations
is undemocratic, and this makes democracy impossible. The idea of the
democratic process in today’s society is a sham owing to the power of
public relations to work for the interests of corporations.

5. Public relations’ power can be curtailed, and democracy restored, if the
public is educated in how to resist public relations.

The public needs to be informed and educated about public relations in
order to resist its influence. People must be vigilant in separating public
relations ploys from the “truth.” The public can protect itself from the
influence of public relations and reclaim democracy. When corporations
win through PR efforts, the “public interest” loses.

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6. Public relations is only publicity.

The critics of public relations often treat it as publicity; they see the function
of PR as influencing media content. That is indeed part of public relations,
but often a small part. Television has reinforced this publicity orientation with
its “inside looks” into the public relations practice. In 2010, Kim Kardashian,
a reality television personality, produced a “documentary” about public rela­
tions titled “The SPINdustry.” The half­hour show featuring Command PR
then became an eight­episode reality program called “The Spin Crowd”
(Ciarallo 2010). The consistent use of “spin” in the titles reflects the publicity
focus of the show. The original episode featured efforts to save a troubled
launch party for a client – a publicity generating event. In a later episode the
leadership of Command PR, Jonathan Cheban and Simon Huck, must find a
way to tastefully promote Carmen Electra’s line of romance toys. In each
episode, any public relations work was publicity­related. The background
information at the show’s website did not help public relations’ reputation
either. Employee Erika is described as knowing nothing about PR and very
little about business (Erika 2010). The show’s advice section is about how to
plan a party. The “professional” advice for the public relations person planning
the event includes: “Don’t ever ask to take a picture with a celebrity while
you’re working. It’s the quickest way to end your PR career” and “Smile, no
one likes a bad attitude” (Top 2010). We should note that Command PR con­
siders itself in the business of celebrity PR. Still, the show purports to provide
insights into public relations while painting a picture of public relations prac­
titioners being unskilled, publicity hungry, and adding little value to society.

These six common criticisms of public relations clearly point to the
conclusion that not only does society not need public relations, it would
be better off without it. Public relations subverts and weakens the news
media. Moreover, corporations use public relations to deceive and to harm
stakeholders and to subvert public policy debates.

Popular Press Books Describing the Importance of Public Relations

Another insight into how public relations represents itself to stakeholders
is through popular press books about public relations. The books are writ­
ten by practitioners and represent their articulation of public relations.

Does Society Need Public Relations?

21

We surveyed the bestselling public relations books at the end of 2012 and
selected the two top selling books for discussion.

David Meerman Scotts wrote The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How
to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases,
and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly to explain the shifting media
landscape and its effects upon public relations. As the title indicates, the
book treats marketing and public relations as related. When public rela­
tions is joined with marketing it is equated as publicity. Scotts’ rationale
for the book reflects public relations as publicity. His position is that prior
to the Internet, public relations helped to attract attention by gaining leg­
acy media coverage about an organization. (Legacy media is a term used
to describe pre­digital media such as print publications, television, and
radio.) Now public relations practitioners can build relationships directly
with consumers. Scotts (2011) stated: “The public relations world has
changed. PR is no longer just an esoteric discipline where companies
make great efforts to communicate exclusively to a handful of reporters
who then tell the company’s story, generating a clip for the PR people to
show their bosses. Now, great PR includes programs to reach buyers
directly” (p. 10).

The New Rules claims advertising is losing its value and may be a waste
of money for smaller brands and organizations. Scotts still believes adver­
tising and publicity targeting legacy media has value for well­known
organizations. His point is that a limited number of organizations have
easy access to legacy media. Those without access are best served by
developing a highly visible online presence. The Internet is changing the
rules of public relations. PR strategies need to exploit exposure on the
Internet to deliver an organization’s story to consumers. Moreover, suc­
cess in the online environment can attract legacy media giving added
power to the public relations effort (Scotts 2011).

Some of Scotts’ (2011) key takeaways for public relations are:

PR is not about your boss seeing your company on TV. It’s about your
buyers seeing your company on the web.

Blogs, online video, e­books, news releases, and other forms of online
content let organizations communicate directly with buyers in a form they
appreciate.

On the web, the line between marketing and PR has blurred (Scotts
2011: 12).

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

22

Scotts (2012) is endorsing the role of public relations in garnering media
attention and selling products. This is a limited treatment of PR that
emphasizes the publicity­generating function of the practice.

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan
Holiday (2012), was another top­selling public relations book in 2012. As
the title indicates, the book is an exposé of how public relations works.
Holiday reveals a small and very dark aspect of public relations – efforts
to shape the content of blogs. Holiday describes his work as an online
strategist involving public relations and marketing. Again we have the
pairing of public relations and marketing meaning public relations is
about publicity. Here is how Holiday described his work: “Someone pays
me, I manufacture a story for them, and we trade up the chain – from
a  tiny blog to Gawker to a website of a local news network to the
Huffington Post to a major newspaper to cable news and back again
until the unreal becomes real” (p. 3).

Holiday’s strategy is to place stories on a number of small blogs with
the intent of spreading the story to bigger blogs and eventually to legacy
media. His belief is that local and national journalists turn to blogs for
story ideas. Hence, you can influence the content of legacy media by
shaping blogs. You start by populating a number of smaller blogs with the
same story. Holiday would often pay cash or provide gifts in return for
stories on the smaller blogs. The ethics of this practice will be addressed
in Chapter 2. Medium­sized blogs see a number of blogs carrying the
same story and pick up the story. Local news media utilize the medium
blogs as resources and create local stories. The large blogs review local
media coverage and pick up the story because it is appearing in a variety
of local media outlets. The cable and major news outlets use the large
blogs as reference material. When a story appears on a number of large
blogs, the major legacy news media outlets may use that same story.
Holiday refers to this as building a story through recursion. By manipulat­
ing small blogs with low editorial standards, a story can progress up the
media chain. The basic premise is that when the same story appears in a
number of outlets, it is viewed as important and other news outlets will
cover it – the dynamic behind the phrase “pack journalism” (Crouse 1973).

Holiday offers a dark view of publicity because blogs are being manip­
ulated and that influences legacy media coverage. The impact of blogs
may be overstated, because research still shows legacy media covers most
stories before they appear in blogs (Chalmers 2012). But the potential

Does Society Need Public Relations?

23

corruption of messages through blogs is troubling. Holiday’s website
stated: “Bloggers are slaves to money, technology and deadlines. . . I’m a
media manipulator. In a world where blogs control and distort the news,
my job is to control blogs – as much as any one person can” (Holiday
n.d., para. 2–3).

In sum, what is noteworthy about these popular press books is their
focus on the publicity generating function of PR to the exclusion of other
PR functions. They focus on the importance of attracting media atten­
tion, how to work with the media in order to “get your story out there,”
and how this media attention will help establish brands. Holiday’s descrip­
tion of public relations makes it seem as if deceptive practices are required
to obtain the desired media coverage. They also share a recognition of the
limits of advertising in launching new brands, noting that the public is
skeptical of traditional advertising and is more easily influenced by “free”
media attention. In essence, the pro­public relations books feed into their
critics’ concerns. Public relations is still basically publicity. The pro­public
relations books are pro­corporation; thus publicity is considered a good
thing because it helps clients. There is no real defense of public relations
to be found in these books. But public relations is considered useful to
society because it does help business.

Positioning Public Relations

The practice of public relations is cognizant of and actively combating the
notion of public relations as spin. Spin is a form of distortion where
the positive aspects of something are highlighted and exaggerated. One
defense against spin has been to define public relations and delineate the
nature of the practice. In this section we review a variety of efforts to
conceptualize public relations as something other than spin. The search
covers recent efforts to define public relations and global efforts to con­
ceptualize public relations.

Both the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) and the Public
Relations Society of America (PRSA) turned to social media to construct
contemporary definitions of public relations. The CPRS project began in
2008. Terry Flynn, Fran Gregory, and Jean Valin content­analyzed existing
public relations definitions for themes. A definition was constructed on a

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

24

wiki, public comments were used to edit the definition, and the definition
was accepted by CPRS in 2009. Officially, CPRS now defines public rela­
tions as “the strategic management of relationships between an organiza­
tion and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve
mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public
interest” (CPRS 2009).

PRSA began its search for a modern definition in November of 2011
and ended in March of 2012. First, people submitted possible definitions.
A total of 927 definitions were collected and narrowed to three finalists.
People were given a month to comment on the three finalists and then a
vote was held. The winning definition was: “Public relations is a strategic
communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships
between organizations and their publics” (Elliott 2012). Note how both
definitions emphasize public relation is strategic communication – it is
goal­driven – and concerns relationships with publics.

The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Manage­
ment has led the international efforts to explain public relations. In 2010,
the Stockholm Accords posited that public relations was essential to orga­
nizational success and outlined various ways public relations contributes
to organizations such as “Oversee the development and implementation
of  internal and external communications to assure open listening,
consistency of content and accurate presentation of the organization’s
identity” (Stockholm 2010: 4). Also in 2010, the Barcelona Declaration
of  Measurement Principles were announced. The Barcelona Principles
emphasized that setting goals and measuring results were fundamental to
public relations (Overview 2010). In 2012, the Global Alliance announced
the Melbourne Mandate. The basic premise was that public relations con­
tributes to society by building and sustaining strong relationships between
publics and organizations (Melbourne 2012). Three specific mandates were
identified: (1) “define and maintain an organisation’s character and values,”
(2) “build a culture of listening and engagement,” and (3) “instill responsi­
ble behaviours by individuals and organisations” (Melbourne 2012: 1).

The writings by the Global Alliance reflect the strategic communica­
tion focus found in the “new” Canadian and U.S. definitions. By reviewing
how practitioners and researchers are conceptualizing public relations, we
can see the counter­argument of spin emerge. Public relations is a com­
plex strategic communication function that has a variety of effects upon
the organization’s stakeholders.

Does Society Need Public Relations?

25

There is a continuing debate as to whether public relations is a profes­
sion or simply a practice requiring specialized skill and knowledge. The
concern over being a professional is about prestige and status. By sociologi­
cal standards, public relations is not a profession. In most countries, there
is no control over who becomes a public relations practitioner. One excep­
tion is Brazil but even that society has ways around the system. While most
countries have some form of public relations association, it is common for
only a minority of practitioners to belong to the professional organizations
and to be subject to its codes of conduct or ethics. The United States is a
good example with only a fraction of practitioners belonging to the Public
Relations Society of America (PRSA). People often use the term “profes­
sion” loosely and include public relations practitioners. Or some argue that
people in public relations need to act professionally. However, public
relations is not a profession if we use a strict definition of the term.

We see public relations more as a practice. It is a distinct occupation
that requires specialized skills and knowledge. However, trying to capture
the exact skills and knowledge that comprise public relations practice is
difficult because there are so many variations within the practice. On a
very macro level, public relations can be divided into three types: busi­
nesses, governments, and non­profits. The practice can be subdivided into
in­house and agencies/consultancies. In­house public relations practition­
ers work for the organization itself while agencies/consultants are hired
for specific lengths of time to complete particular projects. Agencies/
consultancies work on a very different model than in­house practitioners.
Agencies/consultancies must compete for clients, can work for many dif­
ferent clients, and are organized around projects and teams. In­house
practitioners are like other employees and work in a specific department.

We can complicate matters by considering the various specialties within
public relations. Practitioners might specialize by industry or by public
relations function. Specializations by industry include travel and tourism,
education, financial, construction, health and medicine, entertainment
and sports, and technology. Specialization by function includes corporate
social responsibility and sustainability, crisis and risk communication,
digital PR, employee engagement, public affairs, litigation, media relations,
public health, reputation management, advocacy and issues management,
stakeholder mapping and engagement, and change communication.
Agencies/consultancies have various units that specialize in various indus­
tries and functions. In­house practitioners are required to cover a range of

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

26

functions such as media relations, reputation management, risk and crisis
communication, and digital PR. Given the diversity of activities within
public relations, we argue that public relations is a set of practices rather
than a defined profession.

Social Media: Revolution or Evolution?

“Social media tools are turning the world of public relations upside down.
It’s confusing and ever­changing and incredibly useful” (Bergstrom n.d.,
para. 1). The sentiment of this quotation is echoed daily in various online
communication channels and are used to sell webinars and seminars to
teach people how they need to harness the power of “fill­in­the­blank”
social media. There is an element of truth in these claims but it is also a
function of hype designed to sell services (Mendelson 2012). The hype
would suggest a revolution is underway in public relations. The hype is
based on the massive numbers of people with Facebook accounts and the
number of tweets per day. We resist providing exact numbers because
those seem to increase each day. A common example is the claim that if
Facebook was a country it would be the third largest in the world. While
numerically impressive, what does it really mean? Is social media ushering
in a revolution or stimulating the evolution of public relations?

The reality is that social media is a new communication channel for
public relations practitioners that must be integrated into their communi­
cative repertoires. The evolution of public relations reflects the evolution
of communication technology. Radio, television, and web pages are all
communication channels that forced changes in the public relations prac­
tice. The unique elements of each communication channel are what cause
concomitant alterations in public relations. For instance, television adds
visual content to messages while web pages allow organizations to post a
variety of message types.

One unique element of social media is that the channels bypass the
gatekeepers found in legacy media (print, radio, and television news) and
reach directly to stakeholders such as consumers or investors. There have
been direct channels to reach stakeholders since the dawn of public rela­
tions. Now there are more channels available at very low costs compared
to earlier direct channels. Another unique element of social media

Does Society Need Public Relations?

27

channels is the potential for interaction between stakeholders and organi­
zations as they can respond to one another. Public relations practitioners
need to decide how best to use this direct access to stakeholders and the
interactive nature of the channels. Interestingly, research consistently
demonstrates that organizations rarely use the interactive potential of
social media channels. For instance, organizations have Facebook pages
but there is very little interaction on these Facebook pages with stakehold­
ers. The interactive potential is largely untapped by organizations.

Moreover, social media is user­generated content meaning that stake­
holders also use the channels to create messages. Those messages can be
comments about an organization, its products, or its services providing
a crucible for forging and a megaphone for amplifying word­of­mouth,
still a rather one­way treatment of communication. Hence, a primary
value of social media is listening to rather than sending messages. An
entire industry has developed around monitoring and evaluating social
media messages related to organizations. Examples of companies that
track social media messages include trackur, Radian 6, and Lithium.
Again, monitoring what stakeholders say and do is not new. However,
there are now more options and more data being generated. Practitioners
must decide what data to collect and how to use it.

Let us return to the massive numbers associated with social media and
provide some context. Stakeholders are using social media and smart prac­
titioners utilize communication that stakeholders employ. For instance,
journalists use online sources for stories. Hence, organizations should pro­
vide information they would want journalists to find in a variety of online
channels such as online newsrooms and blogs. When selecting communi­
cation channels, practitioners have always selected those utilized by their
target stakeholders. Once more social media complicates the media chan­
nel selection by adding more channels and reducing the cost of channel
mix. Practitioners need to know what each social media offers in terms of
the audience it can deliver and what users expect from the channel. We
must remember that just because five million people might use a social
media channel does not mean five million people will see or react to a
message posted on that channel. Of the millions of messages generated in
social media each day, very few reach a wide audience and even fewer have
an effect upon its viewers. Consider how 71 percent of tweets produce no
reaction among followers (Lardinois 2010). The potential to expose people
to a message and perhaps influence them exists in social media but is rarely

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

28

achieved (Watts and Peretti, 2007). However, those instances where social
media does capture attention and move people to action are impressive.
For instance, social media is credited for facilitating the Arab Spring and
prompting Gap to restore its old logo (Ellis 2010).

The social media have been a significant step in the evolution of the
public relations practice. New channels, fewer constraints, and the poten­
tial for interaction have changed the practice. However, the underlying
concepts that enable public relations to be a strategic communication
effort still exist and guide the integration of social media into the practice.
For instance, people are still collecting data about stakeholders (monitor­
ing) to inform their actions and stakeholder utilization of a channel is still
a primary determinant in media selection. A revolution means that the
old ways and systems are replaced while evolution implies adaptation and
changes. Social media’s impact on public relations is much closer to evolu­
tion than to revolution.

Public Relations and the Marketplace of Ideas

A tenet of our democratic society is the free exchange of ideas.
The  metaphor of the “marketplace of ideas” is often used to describe the
process. Everyone has a chance to voice his or her ideas. In fact, the First
Amendment to the US Constitution is premised on the right of people
to be heard, not for someone to speak. The ideas compete in the
marketplace and the winner is the one accepted by the most people.
Public relations is a way for people to be involved in the marketplace of
ideas. It allows them to share and understand ideas before making a
choice (Heath 2005).

People need to have their ideas heard. Public relations is a means of
making ideas audible. Just as all defendants have the right to an attorney,
all people have a right to have someone help them be heard. We realize
that law is often held in low public esteem but it is an essential part of our
society. Public relations can be a communication mechanism for binding
society together through the facilitation of the marketplace of ideas, and
so be valuable and essential to society. As with the law, public relations
can be twisted and misused. However, that does not diminish its overall
contribution to society.

Does Society Need Public Relations?

29

One argument against PR practices is that they reflect unequal power
relationships among senders and receivers, between PR practitioners and
“the public”; it is through PR, it is said, that powerful, wealthy, corpora­
tions present their interests and impose their will on the unsuspecting
public. The notion of power will therefore be a recurring theme through­
out this book.

Public Relations Literacy

The discussion of derogatory colloquial uses of the term “public relations”
and popular press criticisms of the practice indicate that many regard pub­
lic relations with contempt. While we acknowledge that criticisms of PR
practices are justified when those practices are employed to conceal the
truth from stakeholders, we believe condemning an entire practice is
unwarranted. As we have shown, the practice often is misunderstood.
However, other professional practices also are not well understood. For
instance, how many people who are not practicing the law, financial invest­
ing, or auto mechanics really understand these professions and their prac­
tices? Close relatives of public relations include journalism and advertising,
both of which are shrouded by ethical concerns. Research demonstrates
that perceptions of those practices have become more negative as well.
Richard Edelman’s speech at the World Public Relations Forum in
Melbourne, 2012, noted the negative views of the practice. Edelman (2012)
cited an Adobe study that found public relations executives were among the
lowest regarded and a Swedish study that discovered 80 percent of news
coverage about public relations was negative (Edelman 2012). Although we
might attribute these negative perceptions to generalized cynicism, that
step seems extreme. The growth of public journalism or civic journalism
has more laypersons enacting journalistic practices and perhaps developing
an increasing awareness of the challenges of “objective reporting.”

However, concerns and criticisms surrounding journalism, advertising,
and other media production practices themselves often are addressed
through educational programs on media literacy that emphasize issues per­
taining to critical thinking about media, such as motives for creating vari­
ous types of media content, systems of media production, creation of
various forms of media, and media use. For example, in some U.S. states

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

30

and Canada media literacy has been integrated into the curriculum such
that children and adolescents receive training in media literacy along with
oral and written communication skills. The Center for Media Literacy
(www.medialit.org) defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze,
evaluate and create media in a variety of forms” (para. 1). It “builds an
understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of
inquiry and self­expression necessary for citizens of a democracy” (para. 2).

Coombs and Holladay (2010) advocate the development of public rela­
tions literacy to enhance people’s understanding of public relations, their
ability to create PR messages to serve strategic goals, and the critical eval­
uation of the practice. Public relations literacy can be viewed as a subset
of media literacy. It involves identifying when public relations is used as
well as how citizens and organizations may use public relations to pursue
strategic ends. It includes understanding how public relations can impact
individuals and society, including its potential to contribute to democratic
processes. Finally, it also includes the ability to differentiate between ethi­
cal and unethical uses of public relations to exercise influence. Education
in public relations literacy may be needed to aid understanding and critical
thinking about public relations and to empower citizens to use public rela­
tions to further causes and issues of interest to them.

The digital age has made it possible for more people and organizations
to gain access to others and to try to wield influence. The ubiquity of digi­
tal media means that everyone with Internet access has the potential to
create and consume public relations messages. Although access can
increase genuine opportunities for citizen involvement with favored
causes, access also can be used for more unethical or deceptive purposes.
The potential for abuses of PR practices is abundant via the Internet.
Education in public relations literacy can help media consumers discern
more transparent uses of public relations from more deceptive uses. For
example, the U.S.­based Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) web­
site called PRWatch (www.prwatch.org) presents exposés of potentially
deceptive public relations campaigns, including the identification of front
groups that are funded by special interests but masquerade as grass­roots
movements. The CMD site also includes SourceWatch (www.source­
watch.org/index.php/SourceWatch), described as a site for citizens and
journalists who want to learn about corporations, industries, and people
that try to influence public opinion and public policy. Sites like these can
contribute more informally than school­based educational programs to

Does Society Need Public Relations?

31

the development of public relations literacy and may be especially impor­
tant to adults who have not benefited from educational programs in
media literacy. In addition, websites such as these discuss PR campaigns
that are contributing to current public debates about important social
issues. Public understanding of the basis for these debates may promote
more informed decision making as well as increased activism among
groups who understand their interests are not being represented.

Re-focusing Public Relations

As this chapter suggests, public relations has no single, accepted definition
for the field. But what has come to dominate recent definitions is the idea
of mutually beneficial relationships. This reflects an emphasis on the out­
come of PR activity, and an often idealistic one at that. In this book we
propose a definition of public relations that is rooted in public relations’
fundamental terrain and that acknowledges that public relations is con­
ducted for some actor. Organizations (profit, nonprofit, and governmen­
tal) are the primary actors utilizing public relations. Hence, we shall start
constructing public relations’ terrain on the organization. Organizations
exist within and because of a complex web of mutually influential relation­
ships with stakeholders. In the classical sense, stakeholders are any group that
can affect or be affected by the actions of an organization (Freeman 1984; Bryson
2004). The stake is the connection between the group or individual and
the organization. Stakes can be tangible (e.g., financial) or intangible (e.g.,
support) (Heath 1997). Stakeholders can reside inside or outside of an
organization (Ulmer et al. 2005). Typical stakeholders include employees,
shareholders, customers, government entities, suppliers, communities,
news media, and activists (Agle et al. 1999). Publics are “identifiable groups,
either inside or outside the organization, whose opinion on issues can
affect the success of the organization” (Heath and Coombs 2006: 9). Publics
are collectives that form in response to some issue or problematic situation
(Grunig and Hunt 1984; Vasquez and Taylor 2001). Publics have an issue­
oriented stake in an organization. While overlapping, “stakeholder” tends
to be the broader of the two terms. Hence, we favor the use of that term
over “publics.” Moreover, the stakeholder perspective better represents the
often conflicting demands that various groups place on an organization

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

32

(Bryson 2004; Ulmer et al. 2005). The notion of multiple, conflicting
groups is a very realistic representation of the milieu for public relations.

Freeman (1984) developed stakeholder management as a means to facili­
tate strategic management in reaction to what he viewed as an increasingly
turbulent environment – an environment characterized by greater change
than in the past. Strategic management is about achieving organizational
objectives and the movement from planning to action. Strategic stakeholder
management concerns understanding stakeholders, scanning the environ­
ment, and guiding the way stakeholders and organizations interact with one
another – their transactions. A stakeholder was defined earlier in this section
but here is Freeman’s (1984) original definition: “any group or individual
who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objec­
tives” (p. 46). Freeman argued that the “affected by” is a unique and impor­
tant element of stakeholder management. It is easy to identify and to
appreciate those who can affect organizations. What is often overlooked are
the groups affected by the organization. Those who are affected by an
organization may take action against the organization in the future due to
the organization’s impact on their lives. Freeman (1984) noted, “to be respon­
sive (and effective in the long run) you must deal with those groups that you
can effect” (p. 46). The point is that organizations must anticipate long­term
consequences of their actions to be more effective at strategic management.
Understanding the groups an organization can affect allows management to
understand and to prepare more effectively for future changes.

Stakeholder management is about managing the relationship between
stakeholders and the organization. Management considers a wide array of
stakeholder interests when making decisions and tries to balance the
interests of stakeholders through transactions designed to achieve organi­
zational objectives. While all stakeholders should be considered, their
interests may be contradictory. As a result, there are times when managers
must prioritize stakeholders and focus on the most important ones. Which
stakeholders are the most important can change over time and vary by the
situation (Freeman 1984). Subsequent interpretations of stakeholder
management have refined ways for organizations to analyze stakeholders
and to prioritize their importance in a given situation (e.g., Bryson 2004;
Mitchell, Agle and Wood, 1997).

It should be noted that Freeman (1984) did consider public relations an
important contributor to stakeholder management. Stakeholder manage­
ment only works when management understands multiple stakeholders

Does Society Need Public Relations?

33

and takes their concerns into consideration when formulating strategy and
actions. A weakness is that management often forgets to consider emerging
stakeholders and issues that could affect an organization. The focus is on
stakeholders that already have a “tangible effect on the organization”
(Freeman 1984: 221). Public relations practitioners should have a clear under­
standing of a number of stakeholders given their boundary spanning role in
an organization. Through environmental scanning, public relations people
can help management to anticipate new issues and new stakeholders that
might emerge from the environment. Public relations practitioners utilize
“issue management” to identity and to track concerns and stakeholders that
can “affect the strategic direction of the corporation” (Freeman 1984: 221). It
is public relations that can provide insight into those affected by the organiza­
tion and to anticipate the development of new stakeholders. The turbulence
of the organization’s environment necessitates continuous monitoring to
identify developing concerns. Freeman’s (1984) view of public relations is
consistent with current conceptualizations of public relations as relationship
management and strategic communication.

Stakes can be premised on material and social capital. Material capital
includes money, equipment, supplies, and products. Material resources
include customers buying products, stakeholders investing money, corpo­
rations paying taxes, and employees earning wages. Social capital can be
defined as the “resources embedded in a social structure which are
accessed and/or mobilized in purposive actions” (Lin 1999: 35). Social
capital is built through social networks or with those whom people know.
Organizations and stakeholders form a type of social network. The con­
nections with others rely on a degree of trust and a norm of reciprocity
between the parties. One party can draw upon the other for assistance,
which might be in the form of information, contacts, or influence. Social
capital is a function of social networks and the benefits derived from those
networks. These connections should build trust and serve to facilitate
cooperation and coordination between members of the network (Putnam
2000; Saxton and Benson 2005). In one way, social capital is a reservoir of
good will to be accessed when needed. Customers making positive word­
of­mouth comments, employees praising the organization, and communi­
ties supporting re­zoning efforts are examples of social capital.

Organizations should recognize the value of the stakeholders. Research
has established that a failure to attend to the needs of stakeholders is a
“flaw” that often leads to poor performance (Bryson 2004). On occasion,

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

34

stakeholders can influence organizational performance. The interconnec­
tion between organizations and stakeholders is therefore the basis for
mutual influence. Influence is a matter of power or the ability to get an
actor to do something it might not otherwise do. While each side can
influence the relationship and also resist the influence, they do not,
typically, do so to an equal extent. In most cases the organization has
greater influence and the ability to resist; but the stakeholder does have
some influence and some ability to resist. Resistance is a matter of having
options for acting other than those prescribed for them.

In order to perform well, an organization needs a sense of order to
prevail in its network of stakeholders. Because conflict among them can
impede performance, a goal of public relations is to maintain harmony.
But one way stakeholders can exercise power is to disrupt the harmony by
some form of agitation. Any actor in the network can use PR activity to
spread unrest. Conflict is a mechanism stakeholders have to remind
organizations of their influence and to consider their needs. The squeaky
wheel does get the oil. Indeed, organizations often benefit from this con­
flict by gaining insight into stakeholder needs, and this provides an impe­
tus for beneficial change. Moreover, there may be times when organizations
want to agitate stakeholders and get them involved in some external
cause. Efforts to defeat or to support legislative proposals might involve
organizations inciting their stakeholders to action. Taking all this into
account, we define public relations (as mentioned in the Introduction) as
the management of mutually influential relationships within a web of relation­
ships comprised of stakeholders and organizations. Public relations, like
power, is enacted and managed through communication. We include
“management” in our definition because we assume that relationships do
not merely emerge by themselves. Just as interpersonal relationships
require deliberate attention and communication skills to be maintained,
intensified, or dissolved, relationships between organizations and stake­
holders require management. The inclusion of “web of relationships” in
this definition acknowledges there are multiple relationships that must be
considered, including those that exist among various stakeholders and
other organizations. The ties that bind are complex indeed.

Our definition of public relations is not revolutionary because it is con­
sistent with prevailing views in the field. Hazleton and Kennan (2000)
have used Bourdieu’s (1985) work to link social capital to public relations.
According to Bourdieu, social capital is “the aggregate of the actual or

Does Society Need Public Relations?

35

potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network
of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or
recognition” (p. 248). Organizations need to have stores of social capital
and the ability to access those resources. Public relations can aid an organ­
ization in developing and accessing social capital. In turn, social capital
reduces transaction costs for the organization. It reduces the financial
costs of “doing business” (Hazleton and Kennan 2000). Grunig and Repper
(1992) also noted that public relations can improve organizational effec­
tiveness by building relationships with stakeholders and thereby facilitat­
ing the achievement of the organization’s mission.

Grunig and Hon (1999) identified control mutuality as one of the key
dimensions for evaluating relationships in public relations. Control mutual­
ity means that both the organization and the stakeholder have some amount
of control over the relationship. They also observed that power imbalances
do occur in the organization­stakeholder relationship. Treating public rela­
tions as managing mutually influential relationships is consistent with cur­
rent thinking in public relations. However, by re­focusing on mutually
influential relationships we want to emphasize the role of interlacing stake­
holder relationships and the centrality of power in those relationships.

Conclusion

In his book Walden Two, B. F. Skinner paints a picture of a utopian society.
This society is built on his principles of operant conditioning. What is
interesting is that even in a utopian society, Skinner recognized the need
for public relations. Moving from fiction to reality, public relations is an
inevitable and essential part of society, much like law. Ideas must be heard
and public relations is a valuable megaphone for ideas. We may not like all
the ideas we hear and some can abuse the megaphone for despicable ends,
but society is poorer if that megaphone does not exist. Public relations is
not without its problems. The greatest challenge for public relations is the
issue of power. Power is a serious concern that public relations has skated
round with the skill of a professional dancer. Chapter 2 addresses the
power issue more fully and explores the implications of power for both
public relations and society.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

2

At its heart, public relations is public communication. Public communicators
always have had special ethical responsibilities and challenges because of
the potential they have for abusing their positions (Starck and Kruckeberg
2003). This chapter reviews the ethical concern that public communicators
have when establishing the lineage of today’s public relations professionals.
They have a boundary spanning role in that they have to understand the
needs of their client (the organization) as well as those of society as a
whole. Even if inclined to privilege the interests of society, they are under
pressure to favor their client. So the issue of power is examined in relation
to the choices they make.

In Chapter 1 we discussed common critiques of public relations and
focused on how popular press books and media often criticize the practice
of public relations. Most criticisms of PR focus on its potential to influ­
ence public opinion, arguing that PR supports particular interests, for
whose benefit the truth is often distorted. We noted how the publicity
functions of PR tend to be overemphasized in discussions of the profes­
sion. We also discussed how inaccurate media depictions of PR practices
may have a deleterious effect on people’s perceptions of the profession.
This chapter concentrates on public relations as a form of public communi­
cation. We will explore how public communication is associated with mul­
tiple, special responsibilities to society. These responsibilities stem from

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

37

the need to practice ethical communication and the concomitant empha­
sis on two­way communication and dialogue in the public arena. Ethical
responsibilities also extend to the treatment of clients because PR profes­
sionals are obligated to represent the interests of their clients. The reason
for balancing the needs of society and the needs of clients produces a
tension that may be difficult to manage. PR professionals may find it chal­
lenging to function as the “conscience of the organization” when the
organization is their employer.

What Is Public Communication?

The origins of the concern for public communication can be traced back
through what is called “the rhetorical tradition.” The rhetorical tradition
is associated with public discourse, argument, and the character of the
communicators. Early Greek and Roman rhetoricians such as Aristotle,
Cicero, and Quintilian wrote about the importance of public discourse
(public speaking) in the open exchange of ideas and extolled its role in
creating a just, democratic society. They were especially concerned with
the ethical responsibilities of public communicators. They endorsed the
idea that public communicators should use sound reasoning, provide
evidence, and be held accountable for their statements. They also noted
that different message strategies could be used to achieve speakers’ goals.

Early rhetoricians were especially sensitive to how the character of the
communicator (credibility, goodwill toward others, morality, concern
with ethics) figured in public communication. Although they noted that
public discourse could be used by unscrupulous characters to pursue evil
ends, the writers in the rhetorical tradition placed a premium on the use
of ethical communication in public discourse. They saw the public arena
as the place where differing ideas could be proposed, supported, and
debated by citizens in order to determine which arguments should pre­
vail. They valued public discussions because they believed this process
enabled the most just ideas to emerge. Open, ethical public communica­
tion was seen as an integral part of the society’s democratic process.
These early scholars were endorsing what we now call the marketplace
of ideas. People should hear all views on an issue in order to make
informed decisions.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

38

Ethical Responsibilities of PR as a Form of Public Communication

Although the early rhetoricians may seem far removed from today’s mod­
ern society, their regard for the power of public communication and the
ethical obligations associated with public communication provide a strong
legacy for American philosophy as well as offer implications for the prac­
tice of public relations. In theory and practice, we can think of ethics as
standards for behavior that influence evaluations of what is right and
wrong. Ethics are about values, and personal, organizational, and societal
standards (Treadwell and Treadwell 2005). Textbooks on public relations
include chapters on the ethical responsibilities of PR professionals and
many academic programs require one or more classes in ethics as part of
career preparation. In spite of the training in ethics, it is easy to see how
PR professionals face many ethical dilemmas in the course of performing
their roles as public communicators.

Public relations activities are performed within the context of a society
whose members may (and should!) critically examine the activities with
respect to their credibility, truthfulness, and intent. In the marketplace
of ideas, we expect a variety of perspectives to compete for attention and
endorsement by the public. We also expect these ideas to withstand care­
ful scrutiny by a skeptical public. The knowledge that any public commu­
nication must be able to endure inspection should motivate PR professionals
to consider seriously the ethical implications of their roles as public com­
municators and to exercise care when sending messages to the public.
Shannon Bowen, in the “Ethics of public relations,” writes, “The power to
influence society means that public relations holds enormous responsibil­
ity to be ethical” (2005a: 294). The potential for public relations practition­
ers to shape public opinion necessarily puts pressure on them to consider,
and practice, ethical communication. They should strive to protect the
public interest while simultaneously engaging in advocacy.

While it is easy to see that ethics are implicated in message dissemina­
tion and influence attempts, we also should consider how ethics are asso­
ciated with listening. PR professionals typically are portrayed as message
senders and as engaging in one­way communication. We assume they
are hired to place their client’s message “out there” in the public arena.
Critiques of public relations often assume this one­way view of com­
munication. But this is only one side of the communication process.

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

39

PR  professionals must also listen. We should advocate ethical listening as
well as speaking. Just as we expect the citizenry in a democratic society to
listen to ideas in order to evaluate their merits and make informed deci­
sions, PR professionals are obligated to listen to their stakeholders and
consider their concerns. Stakeholders may be the ultimate judges of what
constitutes ethical communication by the organization. The public may
rightfully expect dialogue – a give and take of communication – with the
organization. Dialogue is premised on listening as well as speaking.
Listening represents the “two” in two­way communication while “one” is
simply sending a message via one­way communication.

Ethical Perspectives

Thus far we have discussed ethics in general. However, there are different
ethical perspectives grounded in different assumptions about what consti­
tutes moral behavior. The merits of these perspectives can be compared,
contrasted, and debated. We present two commonly referenced ethical
perspectives and then propose a third perspective that best captures the
ethical responsibilities implicated in how we have conceptualized the
practice of public relations.

Two general perspectives on ethics include teleology and deontology.
A teleological approach to ethics focuses on the outcomes of actions as the
basis for moral reasoning. A teleological ethical framework judges behav­
ior according to its outcomes, results, or consequences. You might violate
the law (behave unethically) because it will result in a positive outcome
that you view as morally just. This can lead to the view that the “ends
justify the means.” A utilitarian teleological perspective that focuses on
the outcomes or consequences of an action should be evaluated in terms
of its effects. The preferred action, the ethical choice, is the action that
creates positive outcomes for the greatest number of people.

In contrast, the foundation for the deontological ethical framework is
a system of rights, obligations, and duties. This approach is dependent upon
certain obligations between actors (e.g., contractual commitments) or
between organizations and actors (e.g., the Equal Employment Oppor­
tunity Commission and workers). Laws, regulations, and codes of
conduct that prescribe behaviors are used as the standards for determining

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

40

if behaviors are ethical. The underlying assumption is that ethical actions
are those that fulfill obligations by adhering to the laws or codes. The
codes of ethics for many professional associations can be viewed as reflect­
ing this ethical sensibility. As we will see in a later section, the discussion
of the codes of ethics for two professional associations affiliated with pub­
lic relations reflects the deontological ethical framework.

A third perspective that is beginning to attract attention in public rela­
tions is the ethic of care. The ethic of care is closely associated with
the work of Carol Gilligan, a feminist writer who viewed interdependence
as central to ethical behavior (Simola 2003). An ethic of care places the
focus  of ethics on “maintaining connections and nurturing the web of
relationships” (p. 354). The recognition of the importance of the web
of  relationships fits well with our view of public relations as managing
mutually influential relationships within a web of stakeholder and orga­
nizational relationships. The ethic of care’s focus on interdependence,
mutuality, and reciprocity mirrors our perspective on public relations.
The work of public relations scholar Derina Holtzhausen and her focus
on activism also endorses a focus on “the other” in assessing the ethicality
of behavior (Holtzhausen 2012; Holtzhausen and Voto 2002).

An ethic of care fights the indifference found in other ethical systems.
We have a responsibility to others to work to strengthen our relationships.
This is possible through dialogue because it demonstrates a sense of
responsibility to others. We cannot choose to ignore a relationship simply
because it is not that important to the organization. We must respect
others and maintain connections (Simola 2003). This is consistent with
recent writing on moral competence that stresses doing the “right thing.”
A key component of doing what is right is compassion or caring about
others. An organization must align its values with its actions; if it says it
cares it must show it cares (Lennick and Kiel 2005). However, Holtzhausen
(2012) argues that, because organizations stem from managerial values,
organizations cannot be moral; only individuals can make their own
moral choices that are grounded in the need to take personal responsibil­
ity for actions toward others, especially marginalized others. This means
that individuals ultimately bear the responsibility for their behaviors and
actions that demonstrate caring for “the other” are the most ethical.

Corporate social responsibility offers an excellent illustration of the
ethic of care. An organization can choose to address social and environ­
mental concerns because it is compelled to do so by law or because it will

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

41

help the organization achieve other goals. However, it can also choose
to ignore social and environmental concerns because it is not mandated to
address them or the stakeholder expressing concern has little power
to influence the organization. An ethic of care argues that an organization
should address social and environmental concerns because it will strengthen
relationships with stakeholders by showing respect for their concerns.

We run into issues of impugning motives as we try to understand why
an organization undertook an action. What we can evaluate are the
actions. Are organizations taking actions that are beyond what is required
by law and taking those actions before stakeholders have called for the
actions? Acting beyond legal requirements and acting before being com­
pelled to do so by stakeholder protests implies an ethic of care. We still
can be skeptical that the organization is looking for some eventual gain
from improving the relationship with stakeholders. True, organizations
do increase social and material capital through relationships with stake­
holders. The benefits are a natural outgrowth of the relationship net­
work, regardless of the motive. Hence, we choose to consider the nature
of the action because motives cannot be fully known. If an organization
says it values care, reflects that value in its actions, and produces valued
outcomes, we will consider it to be morally competent and reflecting
the ethic of care.

Professional Associations and Ethics

The professional associations to which many PR practitioners belong
endorse adherence to ethical standards that demonstrate a concern for the
clients they serve. In addition, these ethical standards often acknowledge
the potential power of public communication to shape public opinion and
therefore refer to the need to serve the “public interest.” Although there
is no formal certification process for becoming a practitioner, many pro­
fessionals elect to align themselves with one or more of these professional
PR associations. Several of these associations, such as the Global
Alliance (GA) for PR and Communication Management, the International
Association of Business Communicators (IABC), and International Public
Relations Association (IPRA) boast international memberships. The
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the European Public

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

42

Relations Confederation (EPRC), Public Relations Institute of Australia
(PRIA), and the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) are members
of the Global Alliance but are more regionalized associations.

Globalization requires that public relations professionals be aware of
expectations for ethical conduct across the globe. Globalization illumi­
nates differences in cultural values as well as the government, legal, and
media systems that arise from these values and can affect the practice of
public relations. It is important for professionals to be aware of these val­
ues and consult with local professionals to determine what is deemed to
be ethical within a particular cultural context. Despite the potential for
cultural differences in expectations for behavior, the codes of conduct are
strikingly similar across these professional organizations; similar values
underlie the ideals of the communication practice. The belief that codes
of conduct can and should be developed reflects the deontological ethical
perspective’s focus on duties and obligations to clients and the public. The
ethical codes signify that members of these organizations have a duty to
conform to these expectations for ethical behavior. However, there are no
negative sanctions for failing to comply with these codes of ethics. This
means that practitioners who violate these codes will not be punished by
the professional organizations. Nevertheless, violators could be punished
by their employers and/or by the “court of public opinion” if unethical
behavior is revealed. The point is that the codes of ethical conduct formu­
lated by professionals to represent ideals of the practice share numerous
commonalities.

Closer examination of principles within these codes is warranted to
demonstrate areas of shared concern. We first examine the Global
Alliance, an organization that claims an international membership and
acknow ledges PRSA’s influence on the development of its Guiding
Principles.

In the Preamble to its “Guiding Principles of the Ethical Practice of
Public Relations,” Global Alliance (GA) notes PR professionals should be
“guided by a higher sense of serving the public as a whole as opposed to
specific constituencies on an exclusive basis” and obey applicable laws
(Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management
Code of Ethics n.d.: 6). The admonition to “obey applicable laws” directs
practitioners to be cognizant of the legal contexts in which they operate.
The GA’s Code of Professional Standards states “We are committed
to  ethical practices, preservation of public trust, and the pursuit of

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

43

communication excellence with powerful standards of performance,
professionalism, and ethical conduct” (p. 4). The code identifies five values
that should guide member behaviors:

• ADVOCACY
We will serve our client and employer interests by acting as responsible
advocates and by providing a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts,
and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

• HONESTY
We will adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advanc­
ing the interests of clients and employers.

• INTEGRITY
We will conduct our business with integrity and observe the principles
and spirit of the Code in such a way that our own personal reputation
and that of our employer and the public relations profession in general
is protected.

• EXPERTISE
We will encourage members to acquire and responsibly use specialized
knowledge and experience to build understanding and client/employer
credibility. Furthermore we will actively promote and advance the pro­
fession through continued professional development, research, and
education.

• LOYALTY
We will insist that members are faithful to those they represent, while
honoring their obligations to serve the interests of society and support
the right of free expression. (GA code of ethics: 4)

As previously mentioned, PRSA’s code of ethics (PRSA Member Code of
Ethics 2000) influenced the formulation of the Guiding Principles and thus
several PRSA values mirror the GA’s values. PRSA’s Member Statement of
Professional Values includes six values:

• ADVOCACY
We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those
we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and
viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

• HONESTY
We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing
the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the
public.

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44

• EXPERTISE
We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience.
We advance the profession through continued professional develop­
ment, research, and education. We build mutual understanding, credi­
bility, and relationships among a wide array of institutions and
audiences.

• INDEPENDENCE
We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accounta­
ble for our actions.

• LOYALTY
We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to
serve the public interest.

• FAIRNESS
We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the
media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the
right of free expression.

In addition to the six values, the PRSA code of ethics contains a section
titled “PRSA Member Code of Professional Values.” Under the “Advocacy”
value, the code notes: “We serve the public interest by acting as responsible
advocates for those we represent” (p. 2) and “We provide a voice in the
marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate”
(p. 2). The “Honesty” value notes the concern with “accuracy and truth in
advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with
the public” (p. 2). The “Loyalty” value asserts “We are faithful to those we
represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest” (p. 2).

The PRSA “Code provisions” outlines core principles that should guide
the goals and practices of PR. The core principle concerning the “Free
flow of information” is: “Protecting and advancing the free flow of infor­
mation is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to
informed decision making in a democratic society” (p. 2). Another core
principle, one guiding the “Disclosure of information,” is: “Open com­
munication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society”
(p. 4). A core principle for “Enhancing the profession” is: “Public relations
professionals work constantly to strengthen the public’s trust in the pro­
fession” (p. 6). This includes the goal of building respect and credibility
for the profession.

Overall, the picture that emerges from these codes is consistent with
the recognition of ethical responsibilities that derive from the power of

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

45

public communication to influence society as a whole. Truthful, timely
information that serves the public interest and facilitates informed
decision making is emphasized. However, the codes clearly direct profes­
sionals to serve the needs of clients. GA’s and PRSA’s codes consistently
emphasize the importance of being faithful to “those we represent.”
The implication is that ethical communication entails representing client
interests. After all, the profession could not exist without clients or
employing organizations. So professionals should listen to their clients/
organizations to determine how to meet their needs and formulate
information­sharing and advocacy campaigns to pursue their interests.
But where is the parallel mandate for listening to stakeholders? The
importance of ethical listening is implied but not explicitly stated.
The  code offers no specific guidelines for ethical listening or inter­
action with stakeholders.

The PR professional must walk a fine line in meeting the needs of both
the client and the public interest. When is the line crossed between serv­
ing the public and serving the client? Undoubtedly, professionals recog­
nize some tension between the two. Although specific methods for
resolving dilemmas involving possible conflicts between the public inter­
est and client needs are not provided, the codes seem to suggest providing
accurate information on behalf of clients serves the public interest by
providing fodder for public debate. But can PR professionals really serve
two masters?

The Boundary spanning Role of the PR Professional

It is clear that PR professionals may be placed “in the middle” when
attempting to balance the needs of clients with the needs of society. PR
professionals are in a rather unusual position as boundary spanners. They
take on this role when they connect the organization/client with society
as a whole. In other words, while PR professionals are members of their
organizations, they also have frequent and close contact with the public,
which is composed of multiple stakeholder groups. The communications
they craft for clients are introduced into the public forum. It is this com­
munication with and to the public that necessitates a close consideration
of ethical responsibilities in communication.

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46

In this role of boundary spanner we see the importance of the concept
of mutually influential relationships in understanding public relations.
Basic communication models recognize a distinction between one­way
and two­way communication. As we previously discussed, one­way com­
munication reflects the basic “sender to receiver model” (uni­directional
model) where the speaker addresses an audience. Two­way communica­
tion implies an interaction between sender and receiver where the roles
may switch. The receiver at least provides feedback to the sender about
the message. Two­way communication involves both speaking and listen­
ing to stakeholders. The PR professional not only communicates to
stakeholders, he or she attends to what stakeholders have to say with
respect to organizational actions. Mutual influence arises from two­way
communication.

Public relations theorists have tried to impose a second distinction on
forms of two­way communication by drawing an additional contrast
between asymmetrical and symmetrical models of two­way communica­
tion. Public relations scholar James Grunig (2001) popularized the distinc­
tion between two­way asymmetrical and two­way symmetrical models
of  public relations. The asymmetrical model focuses on the persuasive
attempts of the organization to influence a stakeholder. The organization/
client is trying to change the attitudes or behaviors of the stakeholder.
However, because it is two­way communication, listening by the organi­
zation is viewed as a precursor to persuasion. The model assumes that the
organization listens in order to persuade. But it also assumes that the
organization does not adapt to what it hears from the stakeholder (Grunig
and Hunt 1984).

The asymmetrical model neglects to consider that the organization can
be changed by the information it collects from the stakeholder in the two­
way communication. For instance, when McDonald’s collected information
about recycling Styrofoam in preparation for a new campaign to enhance its
reputation, it discovered that customers could not accept that Styrofoam
could be recycled. As a result, McDonald’s scrapped the recycling plans in
favor of a plan to replace Styrofoam sandwich containers with paper and
cardboard wrappers. This example demonstrates that organizations using a
two­way asymmetrical model can be changed by what they hear from stake­
holders. Hence, the conceptualization of the two­way asymmetrical over­
simplifies persuasion and negates the fact that practitioners engaging in
persuasion can be changed by the information he or she collects.

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

47

The symmetrical model focuses on the balance between the organi­
zation and the stakeholder. It implies collaboration and cooperation
between the organization and stakeholder. A dialogue, the exchange of
messages, develops between them. “Symmetry induces a symbiotic rela­
tionship between organization and public; the two are equal partners,
interdependently sharing information in order to arrive at mutual under­
standing” (Bowen 2005c: p. 837). Symmetry is not a static concept; rather,
it is adjusted over time. There is negotiation between the organization
and stakeholder. In symmetrical communication people do try to influ­
ence one another when engaging in conflict resolution and negotiation
(Bowen 2005b).

But it is misleading to assume that a dialogue in symmetrical commu­
nication will not involve some form of persuasion. That would be like
saying that information is purely distinct from persuasion. In reality, infor­
mation is not really neutral. The selection of information, deciding what
to present and how to present it (or frame it), can be used to persuade
people – to change their attitudes or behaviors. The information we
receive or do not receive shapes our view of the world and how we react
to it. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine a situation where dialogue can be
neutral and not favor some interests over others. The important point is
that organizations and stakeholders may be partners in two­way commu­
nication but rarely will they be equal in terms of power.

We have discussed asymmetrical and symmetrical models to demon­
strate that although the descriptions of the two models may sound good
in theory, the distinction between them is not always clear. In two­way
asymmetrical communication organizations can change as a result of lis­
tening to stakeholders; someone about to engage in persuasion is often
changed by the information he or she collects from stakeholders. Further,
in the dialogue in two­way symmetrical communication there can still be
attempts to influence, and on the other hand, in some dialogues neither
side changes at all. We feel the important point in both models is the will­
ingness to listen.

As used here, “listening” doesn’t mean simply hearing what others
have to say. It also requires seriously considering or acting upon what
stakeholders have to say. Mutual understanding and influence can occur
through true dialogue. Merely giving lip­service to listening by “pre­
tending to care” about the concerns of stakeholders is not truly lis­
tening. As we included in our definition of public relations as the

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48

management of mutually influential relationships, the relationship is
mutually influential because both parties affect the cognitions and/or
behaviors of the other. In other words, there is some degree of interde­
pendence within the relationships.

Critiques of public relations, such as those presented in Chapter 1,
often seem to assume a one­way view of communication and influence
focusing on how PR professionals communicate with the public. Even the
codes of ethics for the two professional organizations seem to emphasize
one­way communication. In the one­way view of communication, a
sender (the PR professional) is seen as sending a message to receivers
(stakeholders, the public) who supply no feedback on their reactions. The
communication functions as a monologue. This perspective is reflected
in criticisms focusing on the potential power of PR to produce opinion
change. In critiques, descriptions of public relations practitioners’ use
of  VNRs (video news releases), news releases, and publicity campaigns
typically reflect a one­way view of the communication and portray the
receivers (the public) as rather passive and gullible.

In reality, two­way communication between PR professionals and
stakeholders may be more the norm in both theory and practice.
Organizations should be interested in the opinions and needs of stake­
holders. Integrated marketing research has documented the shift in
marketplace power from distributors to consumers. Consumers have
greater power than before, since they are able to access a wider range
on  information about products and services, thanks to the Internet.
Consumers also can function as information­providers and opinion­
shapers through social media activities. Corporations, in turn, must
respect this power and be sensitive to the needs of consumers (Schultz
2003). In order to supply products and services that are desired by stake­
holders, organizations must pay attention to what they are saying they
need and want from the organization. What can this organization offer
to consumers? Does the organization supply what it says it will supply?
Does it meet expectations?

We also must consider the broader context or environment in which
the organization operates. Stakeholders may expand their concerns
beyond the products and services offered by the organization; they may
also be concerned with the way in which the organization operates.
What sort of community citizen is it? How does it affect the local as
well as the global environment? How does it treat its workforce? Does

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

49

the organization support human rights everywhere it operates? Because
an organization operates as a “public citizen” in the public arena, it is
open for scrutiny. As a member of the community, the organization can
be questioned on its citizenship behaviors. Does it contribute to the
“public good”? If it operates globally, to what extent is it a good global
citizen? The pressure for what is called corporate social responsibility
(CSR) is growing.

At its core, CSR is the recognition that organizations have responsibili­
ties to all of their stakeholders. It is no longer enough to meet financial
responsibilities. Corporations must be cognizant of, and manage their
effects on, social and environmental concerns (Rawlins 2005). CSR pro­
grams attempt to demonstrate what an organization has been doing to
meet its social and environmental responsibilities. Chapter 5 will elabo­
rate on the complex dynamics that surround CSR. Organizations are
being called upon to justify their existence by demonstrating that they add
value to society rather than exist for their own profit­making purposes.
The PR professional can alert the organization to these CSR concerns and
warn management when stakeholders perceive that the organization
is acting unethically. Chapter 5 will provide additional insight into CSR
demands by offering some specific case examples.

Tensions for PR Practitioners

From the preceding discussion it is clear that the realities of the business
world place practitioners in a quandary. While the professional codes of
ethics suggest that practitioners should consider the interests of society as
a whole, obligations to clients are mentioned more frequently than obliga­
tions to the public interest. The reality is that the practitioners work for
the client. Who pays the practitioners’ salaries? It may be unrealistic to
expect PR professionals to disregard “who pays the bills” in favor of the
public interest. Consider one of the early statements of public relations
ethics, Ivy Lee’s “Declaration of Principles.” The “Declaration” was hailed
as a sign of a seismic shift, from ignoring to embracing stakeholders.
A  key point was providing accurate information (Wilcox et al. 2000).
However, when push came to shove, Ivy Lee sided with clients. During a
Congressional investigation, Lee was asked what responsibility he had to

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50

make sure the information his clients asked him to disseminate was true.
His response was “none” (Heath and Coombs 2006). Ultimately, Lee
viewed public relations as a delivery system for the client, not as a protec­
tor of the public interest.

Another source of tension is that exactly what constitutes “the public
interest” may be debatable in a complex society. As we discussed earlier,
there are multiple stakeholder groups that comprise that public. Certainly
the public interest cannot be monolithic. What if these stakeholder groups
pose different ethical standards? Which stakeholder groups should be
emphasized? To which groups’ concerns do we devote more attention? To
what extent do the concerns of stakeholder groups conflict with one
another such that pleasing one will agitate another? Who decides which
groups are privileged over others? Shouldn’t those groups that can more
directly impact on the organization receive greater attention? The web of
stakeholder relationships is complex and interdependent. Supporting that
web requires skill. When making decisions, PR practitioners are likely to
consider that complex web of relationships as well as issues pertaining
to the power of stakeholder groups. The next section explores power and
its potential to affect professional decision making with respect to the
organization, public opinion, and various stakeholder groups.

Power Relationships

Power is a central concept in the analysis of relationships, regardless of
whether they are private and interpersonal (e.g., friendships, marital,
familial relationships) or public (an organization and its stakeholders or
publics). As noted by Leitch and Neilson (2001), “power is a key element
in the analysis of social relationships in nearly all other disciplines . . . and
in social theory generally” (p. 129). A consideration of power is important
to discussions of the practice of public relations.

As we have discussed, relationships are characterized by perceptions of
interdependence. There is some type of interconnection, some intertwin­
ing of behavior. If there is no interdependence, there is no relationship.
When we perceive that another can influence our behavior (regardless
of  whether they choose to or not), then that other has power. People
or groups have power when they can get another to do something they

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

51

would not otherwise do. The other may act (or not act) because resources
could be withheld or provided, actions could be thwarted or supported, or
some other valued process or outcome could be affected. In this way
power always is implicated in interdependent relationships. We can always
ask: Who holds the most power in the relationship? Who could make the
other behave in a particular way? Can stakeholders “make” an organiza­
tion operate in a particular way or can an organization “make” stakehold­
ers adapt to its policies and practices?

The robber barons of the early twentieth century did not change their
ways and embrace public relations until stakeholders were able to lever­
age power and force change. We see that mirrored today in how Walmart
largely ignored critics until 2005. The growing influence of critical stake­
holders on Walmart’s reputation and stock prices has resulted in a vari­
ety of changes to employment and environmental policies and practices
at Walmart, as well as Walmart engaging in a large­scale investment in
public relations (McGinn 2005). Power (or more precisely, perceptions
of power) is important because it explains how influence over another
can be exercised.

In spite of the ubiquity of power, we are wary of it because it may be
abused: it may make relationships unequal and inhibit or even dictate
behavior. We often are uncomfortable talking about power because of
our belief (in the United States, at least) that “all people are created equal,”
and inequities may be exposed that we would prefer to gloss over.
However, we do in fact recognize the greater power that some people
have, either in their own right or deriving from connections with power­
ful others, economic wealth, or attractive personal characteristics, etc.

Earlier we noted how the power to affect public opinion saddles practi­
tioners with an ethical responsibility. When PR professionals consider
their role as public communicators, they must consider the ethical implica­
tions of their words. They also must consider power: the power they
have as organizational representatives to influence public opinion and, on
the other hand, the power of the stakeholder groups that comprise the
public. Corporations are assumed to have greater power than individuals
or other groups because of their ability to gain access to the arenas of
public discourse. For example, their economic resources enable them to
purchase air time, produce VNRs and printed materials, host web sites,
have an active social media presence, and orchestrate public events.
These communication options are what enable them to get their concerns

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52

“out there” in the marketplace of ideas. When we consider stakeholder
groups, we acknowledge that they also can exercise influence in the pub­
lic domain. We see that some groups will be perceived to have more
power than other groups, because of factors we mentioned, such as
access to large numbers of like­minded people and economic resources.
These powerful and influential groups are more likely to be on the
“ corporate radar” and in the public mind than the small, resource­poor
groups. So while we think of corporations as being all­powerful we
should consider how particular groups might accrue and exercise power
and influence, enough to enter the marketplace of ideas, and influence
public opinion as well. However, when compared to the corporations,
their power is limited. Having power is critical in competing in the
marketplace of ideas. In contrast, the public sphere is more of an ideal
arena that is open to all citizens, whether powerful or not, and where
ideas can be discussed and opinions formed; all voices are equal (L’Etang
1996). So here, public relations can be seen as a corrupting force (Bentele
2005). In the marketplace of ideas, however, the elite – the powerful – are
privileged, and public relations has become an integral part of preserving
that power.

The stakeholder groups can use their power to influence not just the
public realm but also corporate activities. So while power will facilitate
access to the public sphere, power also will allow access to other power­
ful groups. Stakeholder groups can challenge corporations, and those
challenges, when publicized to generate awareness among the general
population, become part of the marketplace of ideas. But that does not
mean that all stakeholders are created equal. Some will be more salient to
an organization than others. This means that the PR professional is likely
to be motivated to attend to the issues raised by some groups more than
by others. Organizations may listen to stakeholders not because they feel
it is the “right thing to do” but because they believe stakeholders may
disrupt their business operations if they don’t. Corporations may listen
for largely selfish reasons. For example, by listening, the organization
may determine ways to satisfy enough of the stakeholder demands to
prevent them from boycotting the organization or developing a negative
social media attack against organizational practices. Corporations may
agree to cooperate with stakeholders in finding alternative ways of oper­
ating. If the changes are acceptable to the organization and sufficient for
appeasing stakeholders, it may be seen as a win­win situation. Also, an

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

53

organization may listen simply in order to determine what is needed for
them to be seen as more responsible. The current concern with corpo­
rate social responsibility demonstrates the sensitivity of businesses to
criticism leveled at them for operating without regard for the public inter­
est. When an organization helps the community, or groups such as
schools and philanthropic associations, by donating money, products, or
their employees’ time, they also are helping themselves. Their CSR pro­
file may be enhanced and they may deflect criticism of other aspects of
their business operations.

Overall, power offers opportunities to access and influence the public
domain. Power also influences the way in which corporations and stake­
holder groups engage each other in public debate. Corporate resources
generally carry much weight and can easily transfer into the kind of power
large organizations need to achieve their purposes. So the advantage is
certainly with the organization (L’Etang 1996).

The Power of PR Professionals in the Corporation

These discussions of power and ethics may create the impression that
PR professionals are among the most powerful individuals within a
corporation. In reality, that is usually far from the truth. They actually
have relatively little power within the overall corporate structure.
While we may think of them as providing the “voice of the organiza­
tion,” in reality it is more likely that they are simply doing as instructed
by their superiors. Although textbooks will describe PR as a “ management
function,” PR professionals often lack the significant decision­making
power that undergirds management strategies. It is for their technical
skills in crafting effective messages that the PR professionals are valued.
Executives within the organization usually make the “big picture”
decisions; they determine the strategy. Then the PR professionals are
called upon to figure out the nuts and bolts of how to enact that strat­
egy. From this angle the PR function doesn’t sound very powerful. So
while public relations practitioners may aspire to be a part of the domi­
nant coalition, the group that makes decisions in most corporations,
they are usually not included (Grunig 1992; Bronn 2001). Interestingly,
Holtzhausen (2012; Holtzhausen and Voto 2002) notes that PR’s

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54

separation from the dominant coalition may contribute positively
to  the stakeholder engagement process by facilitating trust with
stakeholders.

Typically, PR roles are actually limited to performing tasks related to
message design and dissemination. PR executes the vision and strategy
set out by executives. For example, while they do not plan the strategy,
practitioners may determine how to say it and where to place these
messages. Newsom et al. (2004) note that PR professionals are hired to
be advocates for the organization. In reality, they typically aren’t the
ones determining exactly what should be advocated. But when manage­
ment’s strategic decisions prove to be disastrous, for example when a
management plan is revealed to be problematic, illegal, or “ethically
challenged,” PR practitioners are called upon to “clean up the mess.” It
may in fact be a mess that they anticipated. Perhaps they had warned
management and their protests were not heeded because they were not
part of the dominant coalition; they did not have the personal power to
significantly alter the strategy.

As PR professionals are trying to execute the vision of upper manage­
ment, they may be reminded of textbook descriptions of their role and
ethical responsibilities. For example, Treadwell and Treadwell (2005)
describe how public relations functions as the “conscience of the organ­
ization” (also see Holtzhausen 2012) and Newsom et al. (2004) suggest
it operates as the “conscience of management.” So in spite of the fact
that PR professionals typically do not have the power to make signifi­
cant strategic decisions for the organization, they may be seen as
responsible for monitoring or for identifying the ethical considerations
implicated in the decisions. In serving the needs of their clients, PR pro­
fessionals are expected to accomplish the goals set forth by manage­
ment while being vigilant in adhering to ethical guidelines. If they note
possible ethical violations in the recommended strategy, they can iden­
tify those to management. However, they do not really have the author­
ity to change it. They probably do not have have enough importance
even to raise their concerns about an ethical problem. If they do voice
those concerns about possible ethical violations, will it make a differ­
ence? Or will they be expected to find a way of justifying the breach of
ethics? Everything considered, the power of PR professionals within the
organization is really quite limited. They may not be able to truly let
their conscience be their guide.

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55

A Postmodern Perspective on PR

Viewing public relations from a postmodern perspective has been gaining
in popularity, owing to postmodernism’s overall influence across a wide
array of disciplines. Postmodernism informs many aspects of our society,
from literary movements to esthetics to educational practices to organiza­
tional design (e.g., bureaucracies replaced by more decentralized and flex­
ible organizational structures). Postmodernism is quite complex and a
complete explanation is well beyond the scope of this book. However, we
can identify at least one important aspect of it that has been influential in
thinking about PR functions and holds implications for its practice.
Theorists who write about “postmodern PR” have been especially inter­
ested in how demographic and ideological shifts in society alter the PR
playing field and how PR should respond to this diversity.

Descriptions of contemporary society often note it has grown more
diverse along a number of factors, including culture, ethnicity, economics,
and class. Along with this diversity has come a greater concern for demo­
cratic practices that recognize and value the different, often conflicting,
“voices” that arise from this diversity. Wedded with the recognition of
multiple voices comes the realization of the inevitable conflict prompted
by these different experiences, beliefs, expectations, and values. Evaluations
of what constitutes ethical practices will vary because of these differences
in values and beliefs. Such disagreement among groups is to be expected.
Groups compete to get their concerns and messages heard in the market­
place of ideas. They will be motivated to become activists in efforts to be
heard – and hear others – in the political arena.

From a postmodern perspective, “the public good” should be viewed as
highly contested terrain. Can there be one public good? How do we privi­
lege the larger interests of society (the assumed “greater good” – compared
to more micro­organizational interests) when society is composed of
diverse groups with different interests, needs, and claims?

Writers who embrace a postmodern perspective (see Holtzhausen and
Voto 2002 and Holtzhausen 2012) note that PR is accused of acting unethi­
cally, and many incidents support them. Corrupt Enron executives used
investor relations messages, a specialty field within public relations, as one
mechanism in the scheme to generate personal wealth at the expense of
investors. The Bush administration, through Ketchum Public Relations,

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56

paid “journalist” Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left
Behind (NCLB) initiative on his show and to other news outlets. Armstrong
never disclosed the arrangements when he was making endorsements for
NCLB (Kurtz 2005). Postmodern public relations theorists suggest that
we should conceive of PR as being able to perform a broader ethical role
within society, working to ensure that disparate voices both outside and
inside the organization are heard by the organization. The ethic of care
seems consistent with the postmodern perspective because it highlights
the need to feel a sense of responsibility to others.

These writers contend that in the postmodern practice of public rela­
tions, the PR professional will act as an activist within the organization
(Holtzhausen 2000, 2012; Holtzhausen and Voto 2002). They suggest that
taking a more activist stance will make public relations more ethical
(Holtzhausen 2000, 2012). What exactly would this look like? How would
this work? It involves acting as an advocate for marginalized stakeholders
as well as for the organization. This view of activism is consistent with the
ethic of care. Holtzhausen (2012) suggests this requires PR professionals
to function actively as change agents, to act as “a conscience” of the
organization, and to give voice to those stakeholders who lack power in
their relationships with the organization. The PR professionals will ques­
tion management, which represents the dominant (capitalist) ideology,
and represent the interests of external publics, and will not shy away from
conflict and dissensus but rather use it to create new ways of thinking and
problem solving (Holtzhausen 2012; Holtzhausen and Voto 2002). They
will recognize that management and its views are privileged and hegem­
onic and strive to move against that dominance by legitimizing the voices
of those representing divergent and marginalized perspectives that coun­
ter managerial views. The professional is more of a crusader or activist in
the postmodern practice of PR. The clash of ideas is seen as beneficial to
the organization as well as society as a whole.

As boundary spanners, PR professionals are uniquely situated to be
exposed to the different perspectives of diverse groups and therefore
should be well suited to identifying conflicts. The postmodern view sug­
gests PR practitioners should pay greater attention to stakeholders, espe­
cially marginalized “others,” and not only enable those groups to become
activists, but they should themselves perform activist roles on their behalf.
It is important to monitor what various groups in society are thinking and
doing with respect to the organization, its products and services, as well as

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

57

to its competitors. PR practitioners can build good will across various
segments of society by demonstrating a willingness to listen to different
points of view and earnestly represent those to management. They can
facilitate a dialogic process in pursuit of social justice.

But is this asking too much of PR professionals? Can they perform the
dual advocate role and fulfill the expectations of postmodern PR theo­
rists? Can PR significantly and accurately represent these competing
stakeholder groups to management? Can these groups really trust PR pro­
fessionals, as representatives of the organization, to voice their concerns?
Can PR challenge management (and the concomitant capitalist ideology)
to change its practices to accommodate the interests of these groups?
Rather than conforming to the norms, values, and codes established by
management to serve managerial interests, Holtzhausen (2012) argues
that PR professionals should embrace their personal responsibilities and
act upon their moral impulse to help “the other.”

The idea of recognizing conflict and using it to create new ways of
thinking and problem solving seems a desirable goal. But is it realistic?
Can PR professionals perform this activist role by challenging the organi­
zation to hear the voices of those marginalized groups? Can they make
the organization want to hear and respond to groups that may be per­
ceived to pose little threat to business operations? Can PR professionals be
granted the power required to promote these kinds of changes? Or must
PR professionals take personal risks to promote these changes?

Again, the issue of power surfaces. We have already noted that PR pro­
fessionals generally are not at a significant decision­making level in corpo­
rations; they are not part of the dominant coalition. Being able to make
meaningful accomplishments in this vein requires power. Moreover, PR
professionals are paid by the organization. Hearing the concerns of a vari­
ety of groups is time­consuming and costly. Is the organization willing to
pay professionals to do this? What happens when stakeholder concerns
work against what management sees as their primary interests? Won’t the
organization be motivated to listen closely only to the most powerful and
influential of the stakeholders? Do PR professionals really have enough
power to place the concerns of stakeholder groups before management?
Might performing this activist role jeopardize their position when the
organization is not prepared to listen or act on the stakeholders’ concerns?
Practitioners could quickly lose credibility with stakeholders. And the
corporation may question their loyalty to the organization.

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58

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the powerful do not abuse their
power. That is, corporations will allow PR professionals to play a primary
role in allowing divergent voices to be heard and representing the voices of
those who cannot speak for themselves. PR experts may be able to play a
facilitator or instructional role in helping stakeholder groups become
activists and understand how they can use PR techniques to their own
advantage. Of course, the danger is that this may seem akin to “arming the
enemy.” After all, they may use PR resources against the organization and
dominant groups wish to maintain their power. But if the goal is two­way
symmetrical communication through engagement processes, the poten­
tial for meaningful dialogue is enhanced when the playing field is leveled.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to address the ethical concerns raised
in this chapter. There is no magical code of conduct that will solve all ethi­
cal concerns experienced by PR professionals. Anyone who offers the one­
size­fits­all ethical solution is viewing the context of public relations too
simplistically. From the postmodern perspective, ethics should stem from
individual – or situational – decision making by a moral individual rather
than be guided by normative or universal decision­ making rules imposed
by society. Normative decision making reflects the belief system (or ideol­
ogy) of those in power, benefits the privileged, and reinforces the status
quo. We have proposed that the ethics of care best reflects our definition
of public relations as managing mutually influential relationships within a
web of stakeholder and organizational relationships. This perspective on
ethics leads us to value relationships and see them as a way to facilitate
mutual understanding.

The best advice is that public relations practitioners must listen and
utilize two­way communication to be ethical. Two­way communication
sets the stage for mutual influence. You cannot be influenced by a group
if you never hear it. Learning what other actors expect you to do puts you
in a position of being able to discuss those expectations. Chapter 5 explores
the role of expectations in more depth. But this is the start of a difficult
journey, not a simple conclusion. There are differences in perceptions of
what constitutes ethical behavior and social justice. If this is the case, isn’t

Ethical Implications of Public Relations

59

it likely that some group will be displeased with whatever action is taken
because, within their worldview, it is not ethical? This dilemma is reflected
in adages such as “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” and
“damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Compromises to please the
most number of people may result in no one being completely satisfied
with the ethics of an action.

The ethics of public relations ultimately lies in the process and the people
utilizing that process. Even medicine has physicians who abuse patients for
personal gain. Ethics ultimately reside within the individual. People can
choose to abuse any public communication method, and public relations
is no exception. The ethical outcomes of public relations actions are
governed in large part by the personal ethics of the practitioner, not the
structure of the public relations practice or well­meaning codes.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Who Practices Public Relations?

3

Public relations is more than simple publicity. Moreover, public relations
operates within the web of relationships that binds organizations and
various stakeholders and stakeholders with one another. However,
while public relations uses the term “relationships,” typically the focus
remains primarily on how organizations and corporations relate to
their stakeholders. This “corporate­centric” view of public relations has
dominated the way many scholars conceptualize the field. Their atten­
tion has focused on how corporations in particular use public relations
to further their business success. How other types of organizations, par­
ticularly activist organizations, use public relations has been neglected,
but is generating more interest (e.g., Coombs and Holladay 2012a).

The influence of the corporate­centric view is most evident when we
consider how existing publications discuss the history of public relations
and who practices public relations. This chapter begins with a discussion
of corporate­centric histories on public relations. We then discuss how
power should be seen as a central factor in organization–stakeholder rela­
tionships. Stakeholder theory will help clarify the complexities of the
power dynamic. We then show how activists have exercised power and
have used public relations since the early nineteenth century. The public
relations activities of today’s activists have been aided by the Internet.

Who Practices Public Relations?

61

The  corporate­centric view of public relations will thus be shown to
neglect the full range of public relations practices.

Corporate-centric Histories of Public Relations

The extant histories of public relations take a decidedly corporate­centric
view of the practice. Cutlip’s tome The Unseen Power (1994) is an excellent
example. Using the “great person format,” Cutlip takes us through the evo­
lution of modern public relations, starting at around 1900. We are led
through the pantheon of public relations legends: Ivy Lee, one of the first
true public relations practitioners who was famous for his working relation­
ship with John D. Rockefeller; Edward Bernays, the self­proclaimed “father
of public relations” who viewed the profession as a science; Arthur Page,
who integrated public relations into management decision making at
AT&T; John Hill, co­founder of one of the most successful public relations
agencies; Carl Byoir, who refined the use of special events in public relations;
Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, who pioneered the use of public relations
in the political arena; and Earl Newsom, well known for his work with Ford
Motor Company on labor issues. In addition to being public relations lumi­
naries, all of these figures worked in support of large corporate interests.
Even though Whitaker and Baxter were primarily political consultants, their
work for the American Medical Association (AMA) to defeat President
Truman’s national healthcare plan did benefit “corporate America.”

Cutlip’s second book, Public Relations History: From the 17th to the 20th
Century (1995), does provide a broader view. Oddly, this book is barely one­
third the size of Unseen Power. We discover the connection between politics
and public relations, starting with the colonization of America through the
American Revolution and westward expansion into the growing integra­
tion of public relations into national politics, including the Civil War. It
could be argued that the use of public relations to support political efforts
is largely corporate public relations. Both focus on the advancement of the
status quo and the benefit of large organizations. The last two chapters in
Cutlip’s book address issues related to non­profits and the ability of public
relations to promote social change. But there are a mere 27 pages out of
284 pages of text devoted to truly non­corporate views of public relations.

Most introductory textbooks follow the same corporate history of
public relations. Table  3.1 provides a summary of how introductory

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62

Table 3.1 Historical names in introductory textbooks on public relations

Name Category

Stephen Langton Government
Amos Kendall Government
Harriet Beecher Stowe Activism
P. T. Barnum Business/Agency
George Parker Business/Agency
Jay Gould Business/Agency
Herbert Small Business/Agency
Charles Smith Business/Agency
Samuel Insull Business/Agency
Theodore Vail Business/Agency
E. H. Heinrichs Business/Agency
George Westinghouse Business/Agency
Thomas Edison Business/Agency
Henry Frick Business/Agency
Pendleton Dudley Business/Agency
J. P. Morgan Business/Agency
Cornelius Vanderbilt Business/Agency
Andrew Carnegie Business/Agency
John D. Rockefeller Business/Agency
Upton Sinclair Activism
Ida Tarbell Activism
Lincoln Steffens Activism
George V. S. Michaelis Business/Agency
William Smith Business/Agency
Ivy Ledbetter Lee Business/Agency
James Ellsworth Business/Agency
Rex Harlow Education
Edward Bernays Business/Agency
George Creel Government
Arthur Page Business/Agency
Doris Fleischman Business/Agency
Carl Byoir Business/Agency
John W. Hill Business/Agency
Don Knowlton Business/Agency
Earl Newsom Business/Agency
Leone Baxter Business/Agency and Government
Ralph Nader Activism
Paul Garrett Business/Agency

Note: To appear on the list, the name had to be mentioned in at least two of the six introductory
public relations textbooks that were reviewed. The periods of activity of these individuals are
arranged in approximate chronological order, ranging, with the exception of Stephen Langton
(d. 1228), from the mid­nineteenth to the early twenty­first century.

Who Practices Public Relations?

63

public relations textbooks present the history of public relations. The
bulk of the histories is comprised of corporate examples and contain
virtually the same mix of names, companies, and events. There is the
occasional discussion of the Revolutionary War, westward expansion,
and national politics.

This chapter is not an attempt to rewrite public relations history.
Instead, we seek to illuminate the generally unseen contributions of activ­
ists to the development of public relations. This exploration of activism’s
connection to public relations begins with the notion of public relations as
a reaction to attacks on business. This is followed by a discussion of power
and marginalization in public relations. We then review the contributions
of activism to public relations from the 1830s through to the modern­day
applications of the Internet.

Antagonistic Views of Corporations and Activists

It is worth noting that these “corporate” histories of public relations
focus on corporations using public relations to react to events in society.
In the early 1900s, the robber barons were reacting to the muckrakers
(early investigative journalists) and efforts to regulate business. The
Rockefellers and the Gettys, powerful industry leaders, suddenly realized
that public opinion did matter and so men such as Lee and Bernays were
paid to shape public opinion toward corporate interests. Similarly, the
1960s saw a need to address social issues, such as the consumer and wom­
en’s movements that were beginning to impinge on corporate interests.
Part of the historical evolution attributed to the field of public relations
is tied to activism. However, the activists were viewed as barriers to over­
come or challenges to meet. Activists helped create the “need” for mod­
ern public relations.

If we shift the focus a bit, activism can be seen “as” modern public rela­
tions. In the 1960s activists utilized public relations to attract the attention
of the corporate elite, developing and utilizing many of the modern tools
of public relations. Granted, not all activist public relations tools can be
used by corporations. Corporations rarely protest, though Mitsubishi tried
it unsuccessfully during its failed battle over sexual harassment charges in
the 1990s. Early public relations giants such as Ivy Lee explained to the

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64

robber barons the need to work with newspapers, the “new media” of the
day. Activists were working with the media, a primitive form of media rela­
tions, and this was helping them win in the court of public opinion. Lee
started a media relations effort to have Rockefeller, the owner of Standard
Oil, featured in favorable news stories. Sometimes these were a result of
Rockefeller’s influence over editors, while others were more “honest” sto­
ries showing the caring Rockefeller giving dimes to children he met.

It is not until the mid­1990s that public relations researchers considered
activists to be practicing public relations rather than simply posing an
obstacle to corporations. This realization was hailed as an epiphany in the
field. Strangely, the evidence had been there for nearly a hundred years!
The public relations field simply lacked the motivation or frame of refer­
ence for taking the activist’s perspective. This chapter explores reasons for
the failure to treat activism as public relations and the need for making the
transition from viewing the activist “as obstacle” to viewing the activist
“as practitioner.”

Power and Marginalization

As noted previously in Chapter 2, public relations research and the prac­
tice have largely ignored the issue of power. Foucault distinguishes
between “power” and “power over,” and his distinction is useful for illumi­
nating further the power dynamic in public relations. Power means that
the actions of A (an organization) affect the field of possible actions for B
(a stakeholder) and vice versa. Basically, power can be taken as the ability
to get someone to do something they otherwise would not do. An exam­
ple would be Burger King issuing new guidelines for purchasing meat
after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched
the Murder King Campaign. Would Burger King executives have executed
the policy shift if PETA had not created a “bleeding” website and negative
media coverage of Burger King? We venture to guess not. PETA was exer­
cising power; it changed how Burger King behaved.

Given that public relations involves mutually influential relation­
ships, power can characterize the connection between organization and
stakeholder. In reality, organizations predominantly utilize “power
over.” For power over, A (an organization) modifies the field of B
(a  stakeholder). The concept of power over recognizes that in the

Who Practices Public Relations?

65

mutually influential relationship, the organization generally has greater
influence than stakeholders.

Excellence Theory dominated public relations thinking in the 1980s
and 1990s. It is premised on having a dialogue between the organization
and stakeholders. This dialogue helps to identify and resolve problems in
the organization–stakeholder relationship (Bowen 2005b). Public relations
researchers operating from a critical perspective have questioned the util­
ity of Excellence Theory, including its failure to address the power imbal­
ance between organizations and stakeholders (Rakow 1989; Coombs
1993; L’Etang 1996).

Excellence Theory, however, chooses to downplay or dismiss the issue
of power and power over. The argument is that activists have just as much,
if not more power, than corporations. If this is the case, why be concerned
(Grunig 2001)? Organizations and stakeholders will naturally engage in a
dialogue. This Excellence Theory conceptualization of the organization–
stakeholder relationship still does not address the basic power­related
issue of who controls the initiation of a dialogue. We see this as a primary
weakness of Excellence Theory. As Mumby (1988) notes, there is power
in the ability to control the communication process. Excellence Theory
counters that a dialogue solves power problems. As Burrell (1996) warns,
dialogue is a weapon of the powerful. This suggests that Excellence
Theory offers a naive conceptualization of power in the organization–
stakeholder relationship because it does not recognize that organizations
have the upper hand when it comes to deciding whether, and under what
conditions, to engage in dialogue.

As noted by Grunig and White (1992) and Grunig (2001), the asym­
metrical model of public relations suggest that stakeholders’ arguments
can force organizations into a dialogue. The point is that public relations
can be powerful enough to contest the power over exploited by a corpora­
tion. This is a valid argument and one we will expound on in this chapter.
However, not all activists have the skill or resources necessary to generate
power. Some argue that activists have power equal to corporations and
that activists have greater access to public attention than corporations. In
large part, the activist influence is attributed to the news media being
enamored with activists and having an anti­corporate bias in news report­
ing. The news media may enjoy the schadenfreude (pleasure in another’s
misfortune) in revealing corporate misdeeds and be drawn to unusual and
dramatic visual images such as protestors chained to fences or perching in

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

66

trees. But societal structures, such as government policy making and news
sources, still favor organizations over activists. Activists must compete
with a wide array of events and issues when trying to capture public atten­
tion. This competition occurs largely within the public arena of news cov­
erage (Ocasio 1997), with the Internet gaining in relevance as a public
arena as well. Public attention is a scare resource, and in the quest for it,
structural features of U.S. society actually favor corporations over activists
(Hoffman and Ocasio 2001).

To appreciate the power dynamic in the organization–stakeholder
relationship more fully, we need to place the relationship in context.
By “power dynamic” we mean the ability of stakeholders to muster the
resources necessary to influence an organization’s field of possible actions
(or behaviors). Organizations never have just one stakeholder relationship
at a time; they exist within a complex web or network of stakeholder rela­
tionships. This network includes stakeholders forming relationships with
one another as well as with the organization. Figure  3.1 offers a series
of  illustrations of the stakeholder networks. The first part of it shows
the typical corporate­centric view of public relations. The second demon­
strates how some view the media as central. The third and final part shows
a more realistic view of the web that binds stakeholders. Excellence
Theory posits that the organization takes every stakeholder into consid­
eration and communicates with each in a two­way symmetrical manner.
This must also presuppose unlimited time and resources.

The management stakeholder literature takes a more realistic approach.
It acknowledges that organizations cannot handle all stakeholders all of
the time. Instead, organizations need to prioritize stakeholders regularly
and address those at the top of the list. Managers focus the organizational
resources where they will do the most good. This means some stakehold­
ers will be marginalized and the organization will choose to ignore them.
The organizations will pay greater attention to stakeholders who have a
greater capacity to influence their operations.

Every stakeholder has power in the form of the threat to remove her­
or himself from the relationship with the organization. Organizational
systems such as marketing and customer relations are designed to keep
stakeholders in the relationship. By leaving a mutually influential relation­
ship, the stakeholder eliminates the organization’s ability to exercise
power over him or her. Why should an organization care if a stakeholder
exits the relationship? The answer is that the organization is in fact harmed

Who Practices Public Relations?

67

Figure 3.1a Corporate­centric stakeholder network

Customers

Community

Media

GovernmentSuppliers

Investors

Activists

Corporation

Activists

Community

Investors Corporation

Government

Suppliers

Customers

Media

Figure 3.1b Media­centric stakeholder network

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

68

by the departure of a stakeholder, and the degree of harm reflects the
power of the stakeholder. Harm can be both material and symbolic.
“Material harm” refers to financial loss such as a drop in revenue or stock
price, a loss of financial capital. “Symbolic harm” refers to loss of reputa­
tion or social capital. The two types of harm are related: reputations have
financial effects on organizations while financial loss can damage reputa­
tions (Fombrun and Van Riel 2004).

Let us use customers to illustrate the point. One fewer customer does
little material harm. However, a mass boycott of a product or service
increases the potential material harm. However, boycotts rarely influence
organizations through direct material harm. Boycotts succeed because
organizations wish to avoid the reputational damage a boycott creates by
its negative publicity. The negative publicity can cause the loss of social
capital (symbolic harm) as well as intensify material harm. Numbers and
public attention are valuable power resources for stakeholders.
Organizations need to believe that a large number of stakeholders will

Community

Customers

Suppliers

Government

Corporation

Investors

Activists

Media

Figure 3.1c Realistic stakeholder network

Who Practices Public Relations?

69

become aware of and be influenced by a boycott or protest before chang­
ing their behaviors. So stakeholders need to be able to build power.

Although we have discussed organizations as having power, organiza­
tions do nevertheless depend to a greater or lesser extent on stakeholders.
Clearly they depend on stakeholders for support. Customers must buy
products or services, stockholders must invest money, and communities
must provide favorable operating climates. In addition, organizations rely
on stakeholders to refrain from interfering with their business or contest­
ing their reputation. Challenges – or the potential for challenges – to
either reputation or operations are problematic and may necessitate a
response. Challenges can be traced back to conflicts of interests. If stake­
holders perceive that an organization poses a threat to their interests they
may decide to challenge the organization.

Stakeholder theory offers an explanation of how stakeholders come to
be viewed as powerful and thereby important to management. In their
review of the stakeholder literature, Mitchell et al. (1997) propose three
dimensions for evaluating the salience of stakeholders: (1) power (the
ability to get an actor to do something he or she would not do other­
wise); (2) legitimacy (the perception of actions as appropriate, desirable,
or proper within the context of some belief system); and (3) urgency (the
extent to which the timeframe is important, e.g. immediate action being
called for because of the importance of the claim or the relationships to
stakeholders) (Agle et al. 1999; Bryson 2004). Their proposal has been
well received in the management literature (e.g., van Riel 2000).
Stakeholder salience is a function of the ability to demonstrate these
three attributes. High scores translate into a higher prioritization for the
stakeholder. In other words, if management perceives activists to demon­
strate these three attributes, management will feel pressure to deal with
the stakeholders and their issues.

This is further complicated by the fact that the demands of different
stakeholder groups are often contradictory or mutually exclusive. The
importance of various stakeholders can change depending on the situa­
tion (Newsom et al. 2004). The issues advocated by competing groups
must be prioritized according to their threat level as determined by their
ability to impact negatively on the organization and their probability of
developing momentum. Mitchell et al. use their three factors to prioritize
stakeholders and develop seven different categories of stakeholders, which
are shown in Table  3.2. The higher the prioritization, the more likely

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70

organizational management is to address the relationship with the stake­
holder. The highest priority goes to their “definitive” stakeholders because
they possess power, legitimacy, and urgency.

Activists tend to populate the discretionary and dependent categories.
There are, however, a few, elite non­government organizations (NGOs)
that  have power based on their years of activity, strong organizational
structure, and communication skills. Greenpeace is one such elite NGO.
We are working under the assumption that any activist group has a legiti­
mate concern, in other words, that other stakeholders would agree the
situation in question is a problem. Discretionary stakeholders have
legitimacy but lack power and urgency. There is a legitimate problem but
no  rush to address it because little attention is focused on the issue.
Organizational management has no pressing need to address their
concerns. Discretionary stakeholders can be marginalized. Management
often addresses discretionary stakeholders only out of a need for corpo­
rate social responsibility (Mitchell et al. 1997).

Dependent stakeholders possess legitimacy and urgency. These stake­
holders depend on others because they lack power. The “others” could be
additional stakeholders or members of an organization’s own manage­
ment team. One view in critical public relations is that the public relations
person should be that “other” (Holtzhausen 2000, 2012). Still, organiza­
tional management can choose to marginalize dependent stakeholders. In
other words, they can rank them a low priority. The “good news” in the
Mitchell et al. system is that stakeholder salience is fluid. Power, legiti­
macy, and urgency can change over time, leading to a re­evaluation and
re­prioritization of the stakeholder. We echo others in maintaining that
public relations is a vital resource in controlling the process. This is

Table 3.2 Stakeholder categories (Mitchell et al. 1997)

Latent stakeholders: possess only one of three salience attributes.
Dormant: power only
Discretionary: legitimacy only
Demanding: urgency only

Expectant stakeholders: possess two of the three salience attributes.
Dominant: power and legitimacy
Dependent: legitimacy and urgency
Dangerous: power and urgency

Definitive stakeholders: possess all three salience attributes.

Who Practices Public Relations?

71

important because activists will be perceived to have greater salience
when the attributes of power, legitimacy, and urgency are strong (Coombs
2002; Coombs and Holladay 2012b).

The salience of a stakeholder has implications for trying to facilitate
change. Changes in organizational behaviors can be voluntary or involun­
tary but both are driven by salience. For instance, an organization can
willingly implement workplace anti­violence policies or be required to do
so by government agencies. Pressure from stakeholders can also lead an
organization to change, a pressure stemming from the fear that stake­
holders will leave the relationship. Companies are concerned to be socially
responsible largely because so many stakeholders believe in the value of
social responsibility. Thus, change can be driven by external factors.

However, research in this area strongly suggests that someone or some
group in an organization must support a change if it is, first of all, to hap­
pen, and secondly, to endure. As noted earlier, critical public relations theo­
rists posit that public relations practitioners should be the internal advocate
for marginalized voices (Holtzhausen 2012). But a PR internal would­be
advocate is unlikely to be inspired by marginal stakeholders; their calls are
easy to ignore and offer little incentive for change. To be successful, mem­
bers of top management must publicly support the change as well.

Involuntary change is a result of policy decisions. Policy decisions take
the form of laws or regulations. After decades of public service announce­
ments about seat belt benefit, states simply made it a law that seat belts
must be worn. Policy decisions can result from a mix of external pressure
and internal champions. Through media coverage, pressure can build on a
government agency to take action. The public and media agenda do influ­
ence government policy (Gandy 1982; Kingdon 1984; Manheim 1987). Once
a cause appears on the media and public agendas, it becomes well known
and supported by a large number of people. There always has been power
in numbers when it comes to policy making. For example, the pressure to
ban Alar, a chemical designed to improve the appearance of fruit, was an
orchestrated effort designed to pressure the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) through the media and public agendas. The news media por­
trayed Alar as harmful and public opinion strongly favored its banning. The
EPA eventually banned Alar even though there was little scientific data to
support the action. (Chapter 4 explores the Alar case in greater detail.)

While media and public agendas can influence the policy agenda, there is
no guarantee. A cause can gain media or public attention but never transfer

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to the policy agenda. One factor that can aid a cause is an inside champion.
An inside champion is a powerful political actor who fights for the cause inside
the policy making machine. The inside champion realizes the issue has
value for her or his political career. Research has shown that one key factor
for a cause moving from the media and public agendas to the policy agenda
was an inside champion (Arnold 1989). Another reason that marginal stake­
holders find it difficult to affect media, public, or policy agendas is that they
lack the salience to build agendas that are attractive to inside champions.

The challenge for activist groups has always been how to move from the
margin to claim the attention of organizational leadership. The movement
from marginal to salient involves managing the mutually influential rela­
tionships, and encouraging management to recognize that the stakeholder
is gaining influence. Both traditional and non­traditional public relations tac­
tics can be used to attract the public attention necessary to do this. The more
people there are who know about the concern, the greater the likelihood of
yet more people adding their support (Crable and Vibbert 1985). And the
more people, especially high profile people, who support a cause the greater
the perceived power of the activist group. This is why modern activists allo­
cate time to training in the media and in Internet use, to better reach and
mobilize people (Ryan 1991). We will give examples of activists using public
relations in the past and later using the new communication technology as
it evolves. This journey will demonstrate that there is a history and tradition
in activism that began some time before the modern corporation.

First Reform Era: Abolitionism and Temperance

In the 1830s and 1840s, the United States witnessed its first wave of organ­
ized efforts to bring about social reform. These reformers fought to cor­
rect social ills such as slavery (the abolitionists) and the negative social
consequences of excessive drinking (the temperance activists).

The abolition movement in the United States emerged in the 1830s as
an extension of the Second Great Awakening, a religious revivalist move­
ment of the time. Slavery was associated with sin and emancipation was
the way of repentance. In 1831, brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan formed
the Anti­Slavery Society in New York. Two years later the society became
nationwide. The Anti­Slavery Society sought to reach a wide audience

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with its message and to develop support for emancipation. The Society
used public meetings, petitions, printed leaflets, posters, journals, ser­
mons, and public lectures to reach their target audiences. One of the
prominent orators was Sojourner Truth. She was a New York slave who
had been freed when the state abolished slavery in 1827. By 1840, the
Society had over 2,000 local chapters, 250,000 members, and had pub­
lished over twenty journals (Anti­Slavery Society, 2005). Even literature
was used as a communication channel. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle
Tom’s Cabin was considered an effective persuasive device. The book
brought the abolitionist message into the homes of white America and
converted many to the cause (“I will be heard,” 2005).

That same year, the Tappans lead created a splinter group known as
the American and Foreign Anti­Slavery Society. They, and other men in the
Anti­Slavery Society, did not approve of the growing role of women  in
the  abolitionist movement. Women were now speaking in public and
serving on the Society’s executive board. Among them were the abolition­
ists Amelia Bloomer and Susan B. Anthony, They also strove for women’s
suffrage. There was an overlapping of social issues and activists in the
1800s. Today, it is hard to imagine that the abolitionists were very unpopular
and faced stiff opposition when they first started speaking on the issue.
These brave individuals still carried their persuasive message to others.
Eventually a strong political element of abolitionists emerged through lob­
bying and political parties. Abolitionists helped to make emancipation one
of President Lincoln’s goals in the Civil War (Anti­Slavery Society 2005).

Temperance activists were at first contemporaneous with abolitionists
but the movement extended beyond the 1800s to the 1900s. Temperance was
much more than a matter of banning the sale of alcohol. Excessive drinking
was seen to be linked to many social problems, including domestic abuse,
severe health problems, and crime. Because women often bore the brunt of
the alcohol­related problems they were among the leaders of temperance
efforts. Temperance and women’s rights were intertwined, hence leaders
such as Susan B. Anthony were significant figures in both causes. Temperance
was not an issue confined to the United States. Ireland, Scotland, England,
Norway, and Sweden all experienced extensive temperance efforts. In the
United States, temperance activities began as early as 1808 and extended into
the early 1900s with the passage of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) in
1919. Among the items on the agenda were government control over alco­
hol and education on alcoholism in schools. Temperance activists were issue

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managers. They used communications strategically in order to shape public
policy decisions. A closer look at their activities will illustrate how these
activists were practicing public relations (Coombs and Holladay 2012b).

The practice of public relations cannot be separated from the channels
of communication. During the heyday of the temperance movement,
the  primary channels were public speeches and events, sermons, and
minor publications. As with issues management today, activists needed to
create public awareness of the problem and support for their solutions
to  the problem. Communication is the tool for creating awareness and
building support. Modern public relations practitioners often create
what historian Daniel Boorstin calls “pseudo­events.” A pseudo­event is
designed in part to attract attention. Today it is the legacy and social media
whose attention is attracted. In the 1800s the focus was on public attention:
people coming out to witness an event. Temperance activists would hold
large outdoor meetings and parades, picket to stop delivery of alcohol,
and engage in civil disobedience to draw attention (Hanson, 2009). The
Women’s Christian Temperance Union and Carry A. Nation illustrate the
public relations efforts of the temperance activists.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in
1873. Its crusade was born with a pseudo­event in Hillsboro, Ohio. On
Christmas Eve of 1873, Mrs. Eliza Thompson, a respected woman in the
community, led 70 women from praying on their knees in a local
Presbyterian church to the nearby saloons. Singing “Give to the winds thy
fears,” the women marched two­abreast into drinking establishments and
prayed for the wayward souls. Mrs. Thompson and her followers repeated
this act throughout the town. If they could not get into an establishment,
they prayed in front of it in the snow. Eventually all of the establishments
that sold liquor agreed to stop selling alcohol. This became the model for
other chapters of the WCTU to follow.

Mrs. Thompson’s efforts were very effective at generating publicity
and  spreading the word. Early publications in Cincinnati, Chicago, and
New York covered the event. Harper’s Weekly, an influential publication
at the time, ran stories and cartoons about the events. The Ohio crusade
became a staple part of temperance speeches and was even noted in
sermons. The available communication channels were being brought to
bear on the problem (Crusades 2005).

In 1881, Kansas became the first state to outlaw the sale and production
of alcohol. The laws in Kansas were unevenly enforced to say the least.

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Men were still able to drink and the social problems related to alcohol
abuse continued in the state. As early as 1855, women in Kansas were
smashing bars. But Carry A. Nation knew the public relations value of this
action. Carry Nation’s first husband, Charles Gloyd, was an alcoholic. His
drinking ruined their marriage and eventually claimed his life. She later
married David Nation. After they moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, she
began her crusade against alcohol. At first she tried legal means. After all,
it was illegal to sell alcohol in Kansas. After limited success, Carry Nation
heard a voice in a dream that inspired her to smash saloons. She began by
throwing rocks and then switched to her well­known hatchet.

Carry A. Nation was not a crazed woman listening to voices in her head.
Her actions were calculated and designed to build attention and support
for the temperance cause. Carry trademarked her name, sold little pewter
hatchet pins to cover her fines, traveled widely to lecture on the evils of
alcohol, published a newsletter titled “The Smasher’s Mail,” and continued
to smash salons with a hatchet. She was known as “the Lady with the
Hatchet.” She used her notoriety to spread her cause. Carry Nation’s
actions were a calculated attempt to make people aware of the social prob­
lems of alcohol and the need to ban its sale. Today, Carry Nation would be
viewed as engaging in guerrilla public relations (Carry A. Nation 2005).

Many well­crafted issue management efforts fail. Political scientists note
that having powerful allies helps to move an issue forward and to create
public policy (Arnold 1989). An important function of these messages that
communicate about an issue is coalition building. The temperance activists
found allies in the business community. Business leaders wanted to support
their cause because hung­over workers were costing them money. Heavy
drinking resulted in workers being absent and having accidents. Business
leaders viewed temperance as a means of improving productivity. Women
saw it as a way to combat social ills and to save money. It was not uncom­
mon for men to drink more than one half of their wages in the 1800s.

Public relations aspect

In the 1800s, the term “public relations” did not exist, but that does not
mean the activity of public relations did not exist. Stakeholders existed,
there was mutual influence, and actors did try to manage the mutually
influential relationships. Part of public relations involves using communi­
cation to shape public opinion in order to influence public policies.

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Temperance and abolitionist activists were using public relations to create
pressure for social change. Activists of this era employed the print media,
public speeches (including sermons), and pseudo­events to draw attention
to and build support for their cause. The activists in the First Reform Era
were strategically using communication in a sustained effort to combat
the social evils of alcohol by influencing public  opinion. We need to con­
sider these early activists as practicing public relations.

Second Reform Era: The Muckrakers

Accounts vary, but the Progressive Era in the United States ran from about
the 1890s until the 1920s. Prohibition and women’s suffrage, two First
Reform Era issues, reached maturation during this time. The United States
was undergoing a significant social transformation. Industrialization,
urbanization, and immigration were altering the basic social fabric of
society. The transformation brought crime, poverty, disease, and corrup­
tion as well as changing how people worked and lived. The problems of
the transformation led many to demand additional changes.

Socialism emerged as one of the voices for change. The socialists
wanted to eliminate capitalism and the “disease” it spread, and they found
eager converts among the poor and working class. Their radical ideas led
to many heated and violent conflicts between capitalists and socialists,
mostly in the form of labor strife. Progressives sought to reform the ills of
society through the existing society. They were middle­ and upper­class
citizens, who put their faith in the power of educated individuals who are
dedicated to a cause. A variety of non­profit organizations were created to
address societal ills. A new breed of investigative journalists arose from
the clamor of the Progressive Era: the muckrakers.

From 1900 to 1915, the muckrakers were a catalyst for changing
American society. Their writings produced such varied reforms as child
labor laws, the dissolving of Standard Oil, the conservation of natural
resources, and workmen’s compensation laws. Today these varied writ­
ers are collectively known as muckrakers. “Muckraker” is a derogatory
term used by their one­time ally President Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was driven to reform and election by the concerns raised by
muckrakers. However, when muckrakers revealed inappropriate actions

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by Roosevelt supporters in the Senate, the President changed his tune.
In a 1906 speech, Roosevelt said the investigative reporters were like the
muckrakers in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. They only stared down at
their muck and could not see the celestial crown overhead. After
Roosevelt’s label was applied, the muckrakers experienced a decline in
readership and influence, from a peak in 1906 of over 3 million readers
(Muckraking 2005).

Muckrakers are considered the impetus for modern public relations.
The corporate leaders of the day, known as robber barons, hired public
relations people such as Ivy Lee to combat the negative publicity and pub­
lic opinion generated by the muckrakers. Muckrakers used the printed
word as their means of informing and persuading people about social
issues. They used a mix of books, newspapers, and magazines. Upton
Sinclair and Ida Tarbell serve to illustrate how muckrakers reached and
influenced others with their words.

Upton Sinclair was a socialist who wanted to improve U.S. society. In
1904, he was commissioned by the socialist publication Appeal to Reason to
write a book about the poor working and living conditions of immigrants
who serviced the Chicago meat packing industry. Sinclair lived among the
workers for seven weeks to understand their plight. He was appalled by
how these people were treated. The result was The Jungle. His writings
were serialized in Appeal to Reason in 1905. However, Sinclair wanted to
take the plight of these workers to a broader audience. The problem was
that no one wanted to publish the book. Six different publishers turned
him away. They feared the message of social change Sinclair advocated.
Sinclair pressed on and announced in Appeal to Reason that he would pub­
lish the book himself. When Doubleday learned that he had 972 orders,
the company agreed to publish The Jungle. It sold over 150,000 copies in
the first year. It was eventually published in 17 languages and was a best­
seller around the world.

The Jungle inspired President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate the meat
packing industry. He and other Americans were horrified by the unsani­
tary conditions of the facility and the abuse of its workforce. The Pure
Food and Drug Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906) were attrib­
uted to Sinclair’s efforts. Sinclair himself was less than excited. His goal was
to help the workers and that did not transpire. He lamented aiming
for  people’s hearts but instead hitting their stomachs. Even the two Acts
were more style than substance. The names reassured the angry American

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public that their meat was safe. Little actually changed in the industry but
the Acts created quiescence among consumers (Upton Sinclair 2005).

Ida Tarbell did not have the crusading passion of Upton Sinclair but was
a leading muckraker nonetheless. Tarbell’s The History of Standard Oil was
an exposé of John D. Rockefeller’s unethical and often illegal business prac­
tices. First published as a nineteen­part series in McClure’s magazine, a
leading muckraking publication, it later became a book that has been rec­
ognized in the top five of the most important works by twentieth­century
journalists (People & Events 2000). Prior to muckraking, Tarbell had been
a well­known biographer writing books about Napoleon and Abraham
Lincoln. The History of Standard Oil was a carefully documented work, based
on court records and interviews with both victims of, and workers for,
Standard Oil. She even gave an advance copy to Standard Oil management
for comment. Rockefeller referred to her as “Tarbarrel.” Tarbell was victori­
ous in the end, since Standard Oil fell victim to trust busting (the breaking up
by government of a monopoly). Rockefeller’s oil empire was dismantled.

Tarbell had an agenda like other muckrakers. Her father had been in
the oil industry in western Pennsylvania and was ruined by one of
Rockefeller’s early predatory practices, the South Improvement scheme.
Tarbell had a distaste for Rockefeller, and so pitched the idea of an exposé
of the oil industry to McClure’s. She described Rockefeller as money­mad,
a hypocrite, and a living mummy. Tarbell’s careful investigative journal­
ism reflected a particular point of view (People & Events 2000).

Public relations aspect

The muckrakers used the growing print media to reach people. Through
their exposés, muckrakers raised awareness of various causes and rallied
people to them. Stakeholders moved from quiescence to agitation against
large corporations. The power of the mass media as a tool for influencing
stakeholders emerged. Sinclair and Tarbell are but two examples of how
publicizing an issue can result in government reform and societal changes.
Muckrakers used public communication to pursue objectives and influ­
ence relationships. It was by combating them on behalf of corporations
that Ivy Lee established his reputation; his efforts were reactions to the
muckrakers. The muckrakers were the first to understand the utility of

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the mass media. These “original” public relations practitioners of the first
half of the twentieth century encouraged corporations to become
involved in influencing stakeholders. A public relations device (publicity)
pioneered by activists was assimilated into the corporate world. Early
publicists had simply brought their own take to the subject.

Saul Alinsky: Activism in the 1960s

The stockyards of Chicago gave birth to another great reformer: Saul
Alinsky. While researching juvenile delinquency in the area, Alinsky
decided he had to shift from watching to acting. He developed a model of
community based organizing; it would be to teach a community how to
unite and to fight for its rights. He became a central figure in numerous
community action efforts in the 1960s, including those in Buffalo, New
York, Kansas City, Missouri, and among the migrant workers in California.
Clearly Alinsky was not the only activist or radical at work in the 1960s.
However, he articulated a vision of activism that correlates with public
relations more strongly than theirs did. Alinsky would use non­traditional
public relations to attract publicity and put pressure on the power elites in
communities. His publicity efforts were designed to prove that a commu­
nity was united and a force to be addressed. His work in Rochester serves
as an excellent example.

For many people, Rochester, New York means one thing: Eastman
Kodak. The Kodak company built and controlled Rochester for decades. It
was suspected of discrimination in hiring workers, and in 1964 became
the focal point for a series of race riots that tore the town apart. The
Rochester Area Council of Churches, a collection of white and black
clergy, asked Saul Alinsky for help in extracting concessions for the work­
ers from Kodak. The invitation was enough to ignite an initial firestorm
of publicity. Newspapers and radio stations condemned the inviting of a
hatemonger who could only make the situation worse. When the con­
servative news media turned against Alinsky, the African American com­
munity decided they definitely needed Alinsky.

When he arrived at the airport, Alinsky was asked why he would work
against Kodak, a company that had given so much to the black commu­
nity. Alinsky replied, “Maybe I’m uninformed, but as far as I know the

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only thing Kodak has done on the race issue in America is to introduce
color film.” Alinsky formed a community group known as FIGHT
(Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today). He planned the first ever
“fart­in.” Rochester’s elite, among whom were Kodak managers, loved
their symphony orchestra. The plan was to buy 100 tickets for protesters
for a concert when the music would be soft, feed them baked beans before
it began, and have them pass gas, loudly, throughout the performance.
Talk of the “event” put some pressure on Kodak.

Traditional tactics placed greater pressure on Kodak. Starting with
the General Assembly of the Unitarian­Universalist Association, Alinksy
began collecting proxy votes for Kodak’s upcoming annual meeting.
Reports of FIGHT receiving over 5,000 shares raised concern. Soon many
other religious organizations and supportive individuals were signing
over proxies to FIGHT. Kodak designated FIGHT as the official repre­
sentative of the Rochester black community and began to change its
hiring practices.

Alinsky’s second book, Rules for Radicals, outlines his process for effec­
tive community organizing. His advice is to keep in mind that community
organizing is issues management. The organized community will agitate
for change. His fifth chapter is titled “Communication” and opens as
follows: “One can lack any of the qualities of an organizer – with one
exception – and still be effective and successful. That exception is the art
of communication” (Alinsky 1971: 81). Many of the comments in his
chapter fit perfectly with writings on public relations. Communication,
for instance, is viewed as a two­way process.

The central role of communication for Alinsky is to create understand­
ing, a point shared with public relations. To create understanding, a com­
municator needs to know the stakeholders. Alinsky believed you could
know the stakeholders through experiences. People only understand
things through their own experiences and frames of reference. Hence, an
organizer must discover and work within the experiences of the people he
or she is targeting. “Since people understand only in terms of their own
experience, an organizer must have at least a cursory familiarity with their
experience” (1971: 84). Through this knowledge the organizer under­
stands the stakeholders’ values and goals. These values and goals then
become the focal point of the messages. Alinsky is describing the process
of using research to better understand and to more effectively communi­
cate with stakeholders, ideas very germane to public relations.

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Public relations aspect

Saul Alinsky understood the notion of power. Corporations and govern­
ments have it while community groups need to acquire it if they are to
create change and promote dialogue. “It is only when the other party is
concerned or feels threatened that he will listen” (1971: 89). Alinksy also
knew that publicity, along with organizing, would help to build power.
Rules for Radicals is in many respects a public relations primer for activists
with its focus on communication as a mechanism for influence. In addi­
tion, Alinksy often used public communication as a means to re­shape
relationships and corporate actions. As they had seen with the muckrak­
ers, corporations in the 1960s needed to bolster public relations efforts in
response to the demands of activists such as Alinsky.

Birth of Issues Management

Environmentalism was one of the activist forces that developed in the
1960s. Environmental activists shocked corporations in the United States
by successfully establishing laws and regulation to curb pollution such as
the Clean Air Act of 1970. Science was a critical aspect in the success of
environmental activists. The emerging field of environmental science,
stimulated by government funding in the United States and the U.K.,
documented the existence of the negative health effects of air pollution
on humans. The environmental activists expertly tied business to
pollution­making corporations, the villain in the developing environmen­
tal narrative. The vilification of corporations made is easier for environ­
mental activists to win policy changes to reduce pollution. By shaping the
meaning of pollution, activists rallied public opinion to their side which
was then translated into their desired policy changes (Conley 2006; Downs
1972). The environmental activists were pioneering what was to become
issues management, systematic communicative efforts designed to influ­
ence policy decisions (Coombs and Holladay 2010).

Corporate public relations studied the success of the environmental
activists to determine how they might resist new laws and regulations
more effectively. The key lesson corporate public relations identified was

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public opinion’s pivotal role in environmental regulation. Corporations
began to construct systematic ways of telling their side of the story.
“Affected industries implemented a wide variety of environmental PR
programs in response to the new environmentalism” (Conley 2006: 26).
Electrical utilities, the aluminum industry, the chemical industry, and the
glass containers industry all utilized issues management to aggressively
preclude the expansion of environmental laws (Conley 2006). Government
regulation was to be avoided because it increased the cost of operations
for corporations (Coombs and Holladay 2011). The strategies developed
by the environmental activists became synthesized into the corporate
practice of issues management (Beder 2002; Coombs and Holladay 2011;
Grefe and Linsky 1995).

Public relations aspect

Issues management has become a sub­discipline within public relations.
Many of the major public relations agencies/consultancies offer issues
management as one of their services. Some, such as Edelman, combine
issues management with crisis communication. Issues management is a
recognized element within the public relations practice. Chapter 4 pro­
vides a more detailed discussion of the practice of public relations as part
of the discussion of how public relations affects society.

Internet Activism: Going Digital

The Internet has been a significant advancement for activism. The Internet
provides communication channels that circumvent the gatekeepers of the
legacy media and allow activists to take their messages directly to their
target audiences. Moreover, the low cost of Internet communication
channels fit with the limited budgets of activist organizations. No longer
were activists dependent on publicity targeting legacy media as the best
alternative for trying to disseminate their messages or to rally people
to  action (Ryan 1991). Various Internet channels provide mechanisms
for  disseminating information, recruiting allies, fundraising, mobilizing

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supporters, and leveraging corporations to change problematic behaviors
(Coombs and Holladay 2012b). Activists have been at the forefront of inte­
grating Internet communication channels into public relations efforts –
the development of digital public relations. Internet activism can be
divided into pre­ and post­social­media stages because social media added
new dimensions to the process.

In the 1990s, the Internet was instrumental in exposing and reforming
sweatshop conditions in the garment industry, forcing the Ford Motor
Company to recall hundreds of cars and trucks due to a fire hazard, and
pressuring PepsiCo to abandon its holdings in Myanmar (Burma) (Coombs
1998; Heath 1998). Activist groups of all hues, liberal and conservative,
have utilized the Internet. The growth of social media has added to the
Internet activism dynamic. With social media came more communication
channels and new ways that the Internet could be used by activists to
leverage change.

Pre­social­media Internet activism

The American Family Association (AFA) offers an excellent example of
how activists utilized the Internet prior to the explosion of social media.
The AFA is a very conservative organization that seeks to promote and
protect its view of traditional family values. It was founded in 1977 by
Reverend Don Wildmon and claims over 2 million members. The AFA is
attempting to clean up the entertainment industry by pressuring adver­
tisers. It has been able to force a number of companies to stop advertising
on certain television shows with threats of boycotts and the resultant
negative publicity. The list of targets includes Burger King, Clorox, and
S.  C.  Johnson. The AFA has expanded its operations beyond changing
television content to encompass the policies of corporations, to bring
them in line with its own view of traditional family values. This translates
into the AFA attacking corporations it perceives to support a homosexual
agenda. Companies such as Disney and Kraft have felt the wrath of the
AFA for providing medical benefits for same­sex partners (General
Information, 2005). This is where our story begins.

In June of 2005, the AFA called upon people to boycott Ford Motor
Company and its related lines of vehicles. The AFA was seeking to reform
Ford’s pro­homosexual agenda. Ford was a significant sinner in the eyes of
the AFA, for not only did it provide same­sex benefits but it donated

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money to homosexual organizations, helped to sponsor homosexual
events, and had even created advertisements targeted toward homosexual
car buyers. The AFA boycottford.com website noted: “If one looks for the
company which has done the most to affirm and promote the homosex­
ual lifestyle, he would be hard­pressed to find a company which has done
more than Ford Motor Company. While this is hardly known to the gen­
eral population, it is well known by numerous homosexual organiza­
tions.” The AFA planned to make Americans aware and angry through a
campaign conducted largely on the Internet.

The AFA’s boycottford.com site was a compilation of documents expos­
ing and indicting Ford’s pro­homosexual agenda. The evidence included
statements of tolerance from Ford’s internal documents, lists of pro­
homosexual events sponsored by Ford, and links to websites that discuss
and have examples of Ford’s gay­themed advertisements. The extensive
use of links plays to the strength of the Internet: connectivity. People can
easily access and navigate through the “evidence.” Ford did not deny any
of the claims. The company is proud that it preaches tolerance internally
and provides same­sex benefits for employees; its sponsorships and adver­
tising is part of an effort to tap into the lucrative gay market. Word of the
boycottford.com website spread rapidly through the Internet. Within
three days, over 700 websites had links to the AFA site. After one week, the
AFA suspended its boycott after meeting with Ford dealers. The Ford deal­
ers were given the deadline of December 1, 2005 for having Ford address
the AFA concerns. If the dealers failed, the boycott would resume.

Critical websites, also known as attack sites, are but one Internet chan­
nel that activists can develop. Other prominent channels include listservs,
discussion groups, and blogs. A listserv is an email list that allows activists
to send an email to everyone on the list. The AFA calls its listserv AFA
Action Alerts. The AFA can tell people when and how to act. The email
and its website contain links to politicians to make it easier for people to
send messages to targeted politicians. People can click and type rather
than search for an address. The easier a course of action is, the more likely
it is that someone will follow it. The AFA message was also posted to dis­
cussion groups about cars, trucks, and politics. People wrote blogs about
the AFA boycott as well. Unfortunately for the AFA, the blogs and discus­
sion postings were mostly supportive of Ford. Still, the AFA action illus­
trates how an array of Internet channels can be mustered in a public
relations campaign that targets a corporation.

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Granted, the AFA is a large activist organization. However, much
smaller groups have also shaped corporate policies through the Internet.
A website developed by a couple in Georgia facilitated the Ford recall in
the 1990s. A small group of dedicated anti­Myanmar activists were instru­
mental in PepsiCo leaving Myanmar (Coombs 1998). The Internet has the
potential to draw attention and supporters to an issue. There are even
sites dedicated to training activists how to use the Internet for public rela­
tions. Two examples of Internet training for activists can be found at
http://netaction.org/training and http://www.actionpa.org/activism.
News media coverage of their Internet activities only intensifies the effect,
for it drives more people to the websites or postings. Organizations often
change their behaviors rather than face the negative information that
flows on the Internet and finds its way into the mainstream news media.
But using the Internet communication channels is not a guarantee of suc­
cess. There is a massive amount of information on the Internet so it is
easy for messages to go unread. Nevertheless, modern activists are far
from deterred from exploiting its public relations potential.

Post­social media Internet activism

Social media, those Internet channels where users create the content, are
being used to facilitate relationship development between an organization
and its stakeholders, mostly customers. Social media channels are used to
listen to stakeholder concerns and to address those concerns, a traditional
aspect of customer relations. Social media can create an immediacy
between the organization and stakeholders when the channels are used for
two­way communication. Two of the most important social media chan­
nels for relationship building are the social networking site Facebook and
the micro­blog Twitter. Social media outlets are considered a potentially
valuable resource for organizations that actively utilize those channels.

Gianni Versace S.p.A., the luxury Italian fashion company, utilizes Facebook
to engage stakeholders. Versace posts messages on its Facebook page but its
fans are free to post messages as well. However, Versace suspended user
comments in July of 2011 when activists started posting negative comments
about Versace’s connection to sandblasting clothes. Sandblasting is used to
give clothing a distressed look. However, the practice is dangerous for
workers presenting risks for injuries and illness from the silica dust (Presnal
2012). The Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour Behind the Label are the

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two activist groups that spearheaded the attack on Versace’s Facebook page.
Their petition on Change.org, a social petition site, received over 1,200 signa­
tures from around the world requesting Versace to stop the use of sandblast­
ing. In addition, both the Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour Behind the
Label used their websites to promote taking action by placing sandblasting
comments on the Versace Facebook page.

Within a few days of the Facebook attack, Versace’s Tomaso Galli
announced:

Following more recent CCC’s comments on Versace’s practices, the com­
pany decided to study the issue in depth again and concluded, in agreement
with CCC, that it is appropriate to take a proactive stance, and stand against
the practice of sandblasting. Versace has specifically asked every supplier
(and will ask any new supplier as a condition to work with Versace) to
certify that they are not using sandblasting (Hall 2011).

Versace was agreeing with the activists’ request and ending the use of
sandblasting. Disrupting Versace’s use of its Facebook page was sufficient
additional pressure to make the company reconsider the use of sandblast­
ing. This is the new reality of social media. Organizations can use social
media to engage stakeholders but their social media channels then present
a reputational risk. If activists can effectively disrupt an organization’s
social media channel, the social media becomes a reputational threat.
Instead of being a source of relationship and reputation building, the neg­
ative activist messages appearing in the company’s social media serve to
erode relationships and reputations. Additional examples of social media
and Internet activism can be found in Chapter 4.

Public relations aspect

Internet activism exercises influence through the sustained efforts to
shape public thinking. Internet activism uses a variety of traditional and
nontraditional public relations tactics. Traditional tactics include the use
of websites, listservs, and various social media channels. Nontraditional
tactics include boycotts and in­person protests, including flash mobs
facilitated through Internet communication (Coombs and Holladay 2010).
Public relations tactics are used to generate power designed to pressure an

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organization into changing its behavior. The website is used as the hub for
the public relations effort. The website provides a central location for the
campaign, a reservoir for information and mobilization efforts. The social
media channels connect back to the website providing additional avenues
for people to receive information about the campaign. Internet Contagion
Theory (ICT) explains how these various digital public relations efforts
can be combined to generate power for activists and to pressurize an
organization into changing its behavior (Coombs and Holladay 2012b).

As with earlier public relations developments, activists have been ahead
of corporations in the use of digital public relations. Activists consistently
are early adopters of websites, discussion groups, and various social media
channels to disseminate information, recruit members, mobilize support­
ers, and solicit donations (Hands 2011). Corporations have felt the effects
of digital public relations from activists and are slowly learning to use
these same digital public relations tactics.

Labor Unions and Public Relations

The public relations­related history of labor unions in the United States
largely parallels that of activists. The struggle between labor and manage­
ment infuses the history of public relations (Cutlip et al. 1994). Unions
were first formed in the early nineteenth century. To recruit and inform
their members they needed means of communication, so many of them
printed their own magazines and newsletters. These early days were
marked by bloody confrontations between labor and management.
The Great Railroad Strike of 1887 resulted in 16 strikers being killed. The
Homestead Strike of 1892 (at a steel plant near Pittsburg) was a four­
month battle between labor on one side and the Pinkerton guards and
local law enforcement on the other. Unions were fighting to improve the
horrific working conditions. Safety and sanitation did not even rise to the
level of an afterthought at this time (Manheim 2001).

The 1900s witnessed a shift from warfare to negotiation, although
violence still did occur. An example is the Ludlow Massacre. Early in 1914,
union members were on strike against the Colorado Fuel and Iron
Company. They and their families were living in a tent city outside of
Ludlow, Colorado, forced to stay outside the town because the company

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owned the towns. Tension was high since the strike had lasted much
longer than expected. In April, National Guardsmen fired on the tents,
killing two women and 11 children (Raucher 1968). Working conditions
remained poor for employees. Another example is the Waist factory fire
of 1911. A total of 145 men and women, mostly women, died when the
Triangle Waist Companies shirtwaist­making facility in New York City
caught fire. Some were smothered, some suffocated, and some jumped to
their deaths (Echoes from the triangle fire, 1911). The fire attracted media
attention and reinforced the idea that working conditions in factories
often endangered the health and safety of employees.

The passage of the Railroad Labor Act guaranteed labor the right to
organize and to bargain. More negotiation began to occur as this and
other legislation protected the rights of unions. Labor unions experienced
their golden age between 1933 and 1955, reaching the height of their
political and economic influence (Manheim 2001).

Since the late 1950s, labor unions have waned in numbers and power
in  the United States. The decline is epitomized by the Professional Air
Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike in 1981. President Reagan
fired the striking members of PATCO, effectively “killing” the union. The
media supported the President by vilifying PATCO. Unions began to shift
tactics from strikes to corporate campaigns. A corporate campaign is a
research­based, long­term, and coordinated action that attacks a corpora­
tion’s reputation in order to change its behavior. Corporate campaigns are
a mix of media advocacy (publicity), boycotts, and attempts to influence
the votes of shareholders (Manheim 1987). The work of many activist
groups today can be described as corporate campaigns.

Public relations aspect

From their inception in the United States, labor unions realized the value
of public relations. The early confrontations with management were
designed to, and did, elicit public sympathy for the workers. Today, unions
join with many activists in corporate campaigns. Corporate campaigns are
public relations. Various channels are used to reach stakeholders and
change their perceptions of a corporation, that is, to erode its reputation.
Moreover, labor unions have long used internal public relations to garner

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and to retain members. While we present them separately, unions and
activists share many elements. Their histories are interwoven into the tap­
estry that is the history of public relations, and a result, we group unions
with social activists in our expanded view of who practices public
relations.

Conclusion

Social activists did not magically become public relations practitioners in
the 1990s. In reality, social activists were practicing public relations before
large corporations existed. The public relations work of social activists
spurred the growth of corporate public relations. Social activists, like any
stakeholder, can utilize communication in their efforts to influence
organizations and other stakeholders, that is, to manage mutually influen­
tial relationships. Any actor in the complex web of relations that includes
organizations can practice public relations. We should examine the full
realm of what constitutes public relations, not just the more traditional
communication tactics organizations use to manage their mutually
influential relationships. Moving beyond corporate­centric views and
broadening the scope of who practices public relations enriches both the
history and practice of public relations.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Public Relations Influences Society

4

Thus far we have considered public relations as it involves organizations and
their stakeholders. As part of that discussion, we have noted that public rela­
tions has an effect on society. But what about situations where public relations
is being used specifically to shape society? Public relations plays a very active
role in strategic efforts to change and to prevent change to our society.

This chapter seeks to illuminate how public relations impacts society. A
variety of theoretical frameworks and case studies are utilized to illustrate
the societal effects of public relations. The chapter is divided into four sec­
tions: issues management, social marketing, private politics, and a combi­
nation of the three. Issues management explores the public policy effects
of public relations. Social marketing examines how public information
campaigns shape society by altering behaviors. Private politics detail how
corporate behavior is changed through private rather than policy action.
Finally, we consider how the three often overlap and coexist.

Issues Management: A Framework of Effects on Public Policy

Issues management is a discipline within public relations that was devel­
oped specifically to address public policy issues. The impetus is derived
from corporations feeling the need for a more integrated and effective

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approach to shaping policy decisions. Issues management was created in
the 1970s to meet that need. The interest in issues management extends
beyond corporations. Organizations (any collective) have a need to be
proactive, not reactive, in their interactions with the environment (ele­
ments outside of the organization itself ). The environment can either
impede an organization’s ability to operate or facilitate it (Heath and
Nelson 1986). Issues management is a process organizations can employ
to prevent negative developments (problems) and to cultivate a favorable
environment (opportunities).

Definitions of issues management tend to emphasize either the objec­
tives or the process of issues management. The overriding objective in
issues management is participation in the policy making process (Chase
1977, 1980). Issues managers participate in the public policy process in
order to influence the development of issues salient to their organizations.
Issues are defined as “unsettled matters which are ready for decision”
( Jones and Chase 1979: 11). By affecting the issue, the issues manager
hopes to affect the public policies that emanate from it. The goal of this
participation is to have the public policy question decided in a manner that
is favorable to the issues manager.

A process definition of issues management lists the steps involved in
the issues management process. The Chase–Jones Process Model, the
most influential issues management model, has five steps: (1) issue iden­
tification, (2) issue analysis, (3) issue change strategy option, (4) issue
action program, and (5) evaluation. Issue identification centers on detect­
ing issues relevant to an organization. The issues manager scans the envi­
ronment to locate emerging issues. Once located, an issues manager
must predict the possible impact the issue might have on the organi­
zation. Issue analysis involves researching the issues in order to create
a final prioritization. With research, an issues manager is better able to
predict how the issue might impact on the organization. Using this
impact assessment, a final prioritized list of issues is assembled. A prior­
itized list is necessary because issues managers can only address one or
two issues at a time. The issue change strategy option centers on select­
ing the most feasible and practical strategy for responding. The issue
action program involves communicating about the issue to various
stakeholders. The stakeholders are sent messages tailored to their needs
and through communication channels they utilize. Evaluation of the
results is a matter of determining the effects of the issues management

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effort. Success is measured by how closely the actual outcome matches
the intended outcome ( Jones and Chase 1979).

The objectives and process definitions can be fused into a working
definition of issues management. We define issues management as the
identification or creation of issues and the application of systematic procedures
designed to influence the issue’s resolution in a manner favorable to the issues
manager. This definition captures the two critical features of issues man­
agement. First, the definition identifies issues management as a specific
set of principles. “Systematic procedures” implies that issues manage­
ment has its own guiding tenets; it is not some unplanned venture. Second,
the definition identifies the objective of issues management, the resolu­
tion of policy issues.

A weakness in the Chase–Jones Process Model is that it neglects how
communication is utilized to manage issues/influence the policy making
process. Crable and Vibbert (1985) extended the work of Jones and Chase
with the Catalytic Model of issues management. The Catalytic Model is
important because it focuses on the role of communication in influencing
public policy. Communication is employed to create arousal. The Catalytic

Issue
identification

Issue
analysis

Issue action
program

Issue change
strategy
option

Evaluation

Figure 4.1 Chase–Jones Model

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Model seeks to increase the number of people who are aware of the issue,
accept the issue as a valid public concern (grant it legitimacy), and support
the preferred policy option for resolving the issue. Communication is
used to spread the word about the issue, create legitimacy, and win sup­
port for the policy proposal.

The Catalytic Model focuses on the status or importance an issue
has for stakeholders, including policy makers. Influence on policy making
is a result of using communication to manage the status of the issue.
An issue has five different status levels that reflect the life cycle of an issue:
(1)  potential, (2)  imminent, (3) current, (4) critical, and (5) dormant.
Communication is used to affect which status, or stage, an issue is at, and
its importance for stakeholders (Crable and Vibbert 1985).

At the potential status, stakeholders begin to show interest in an issue.
The key communicative action is to define the issue. The definition estab­
lishes the boundaries of the issue and can serve to attract or repel stake­
holders to the issue. At the imminent status, additional stakeholders are
beginning to accept the issue. An issue moves beyond the small circle of
people who created the issue. It builds legitimacy through endorsements

Potential
status

Current
status

Critical
status

Imminent
status

Dormant
status

Figure 4.2 Catalytic Model

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and associations with history, tradition, or values. Legitimacy messages
help stakeholders to realize their connection to the issue and accept that it
is important to them. The issue is gaining power but is not widely recog­
nized in society (Crable and Vibbert 1985).

At the current status, the issue is circulated to a wide array of stakehold­
ers. News media coverage or wide Internet exposure are used to reach the
current status. This status is marked by awareness of an issue and the
issues manager’s side of the issue (the desired policy option). At the critical
status, there is pressure for a decision to be made. Issue managers use
persuasion to win support for their side of the issue (policy option) and to
pressure government agents into acting on the issue. Once a decision is
made, an issue is resolved and moves to the dormant status. It is resolved
for the time being. An issue remains dormant until someone or group
recognizes its potential and attempts to revive it. But interest can fade at
any point, whatever status levels have been passed, allowing the issue to
slip into dormancy. Communication is a critical factor for keeping people
aroused and interested in the issue. However, opponents of the issue can
craft messages designed to create quiescence so that the issue fades away
(Crable and Vibbert 1985).

The Catalytic Model is about the use of communication to influence
agendas. By increasing awareness and legitimacy, issues managers can
influence the public agenda (what people know about the issue) and the
policy agenda (what the government will act upon). Public relations plays
an active role in issues management and, therefore, in shaping society
through policy decisions. A few case studies will illustrate how this can
be done, and how public relations can be used either to create or to
prevent change.

Issues management will involve conflicting views of how to resolve an
issue. This means two or more people or groups can be trying to manage
the same issue simultaneously. The news media will focus on the “lead”
issues managers for the various sides. In fact, the various sides of an issue
will be composed of coalitions. Coalitions are groups of people who come
together to combine their efforts to influence the process and outcomes.
As the Catalytic Model emphasizes, issues management is often a process
of drawing various people and groups to one’s own side of the issue. The
existence of coalitions reflect the fact that in policy decisions there is
power in numbers. As Heath (1997) notes, power is a function of the num­
ber of people supporting an issue. Hence, issues managers try to recruit

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allies and build coalitions (Heath 1997; Coombs 1998). For example, in the
1990s, the railroad and insurance industries joined forces to combat
national legislation that would permit trucks to be three trailers long.

The remainder of this chapter presents brief case studies that illustrate
this issues management process. They will focus on the primary issues
managers. However, bear in mind that there were other forces at work in
each of the cases.

EPA bans Alar under pressure

Until 1989, Uniroyal manufactured daminozide, a chemical that allows
apples to stay on the trees longer. By staying on the trees longer, the apples
looked better and were easier for growers to harvest. Daminozide was
used for other fruits as well. The trade name for daminozide was Alar. In
1989, the Alar issue burst upon the scene. In a span of a few weeks
Americans went from having no idea that Alar existed to demanding that
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ban its use. Alar was banned
shortly after public relations efforts moved the issue to the front of the
media, public, and policy agendas. The victory came with an unintended
consequence that we will address at the end of the case.

Concern about Alar dates back to the 1970s. Early research indicated
that when daminozide breaks down under heat, such as in processing
fruits, a carcinogen is formed. Traces of Alar were found in samples of
baby food and apple juice during the early 1980s. However, the EPA kept
Alar on the market. There was an issue but not many people knew or
cared about it. Enter the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
The NRDC funded and released a study on daminozide titled “Intolerable
risk: pesticides in our children’s food.” The report provided further evi­
dence that daminozide can become a carcinogen when heated.
Admittedly, the levels have to be very high to pose a threat. Fenton
Communications, a public relations firm, was hired by NRDC to help
turn the public against Alar.

The key to the issue management effort was to make Americans aware
of the risk, believe the risk was real, and pressure the EPA for change.
Fenton Communications orchestrated a launch of the NRDC’s report on
February 26, 1989. 60 Minutes featured a piece titled “A is for apple” on the
link between Alar and cancer with a focus on the threat to children. Meryl
Streep and other celebrities appeared on talk shows and spoke before

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Congress to testify about the dangers of Alar, especially for children.
Children were at greater risk because of their smaller body weights and
longer­term exposure to daminozide than adults. A grassroots groups
known as Mothers and Others for Pesticides Limits was created to support
the cause as well. A cancer threat to children was a huge news draw. Very
rapidly people became aware of Alar, believed in its harmfulness, and
wanted EPA action on it.

In March of 1989, the EPA banned the use of Alar. Uniroyal had already
voluntarily ended production of the product. The banning was as much a
response to public outrage as to the cancer threat. The EPA did not feel
Alar was an immediate threat but said that it could pose a risk over time.
Its announcement about Alar stated that the NRDC evidence did not pro­
vide definitive proof that Alar would hurt children immediately. In fact,
the EPA encouraged people to continue eating apples that were exposed
to Alar, although it admitted the concern: “In the last few weeks there has
been a growing public controversy over the potential harmful effects of a
chemical called Alar, which is used by apple growers to retain the crispness
of their fruit as it goes to market” (Negin 1996). This statement seems to
indicate that public pressure was the reason for the ban. The NRDC had
executed a successful issues management effort. Alar had quickly gone
through the critical, current, and – the problem having been resolved –
into dormant status.

Issues have at least two sides. The apple industry opposed the NRDC
efforts, and paid Hill and Knowlton US$1 million to mount a defense. But
this public relations effort was “too little too late.” The NRDC had cap­
tured the attention and minds of the American people. The apple growers
filed a libel suit against the NRDC, CBS, and Fenton Communications.
The case against them was dismissed in 1994. The Alar case then became
a rallying cry for the food industry. News reports included stories about
the Alar “scare” and Alar “hoax.” The result was the development and pas­
sage of food disparagement laws in 13 states. These are also known as
“food libel laws” and were the grounds for the beef industry’s 1998 lawsuit
against Oprah Winfrey. The purpose is to prevent people from saying bad
things about food that could then decrease sales of that food. In these
states, people are limited in their efforts to raise concerns about food
safety. Food safety groups won with Alar but the victory was costly
because it provided the impetus for legislation that reduces the ability to
raise food safety issues (Negin 1996). The Alar issue changed society far

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beyond the banning of a chemical. It has altered the manner in which
many food safety issues must be publicly addressed. It’s clear that public
relations campaigns can have wide and unintended consequences.

AMA’s objection to national health insurance

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act. That legislation was the most significant reform to
healthcare in the United States since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid
in 1965. Prior to this reform, President Clinton had been a champion of
health insurance for all Americans. The issue has been that millions of
Americans have no health insurance and that hurts society. True to the
Catalytic Model, healthcare reform in the United States was not a new
issue but one revived from dormancy on a number of occasions. National
health insurance began as an issue in the 1930s but never moved very far
in the issues management process (Key 1964). It began to attract greater
attention and legitimacy in 1948. In January of that year, President Truman
called upon the country to adopt compulsory national health insurance.
He felt national health insurance was necessary “to protect all our people
equally against . . . ill­health” (Harris 1969: 36). Truman’s re­election in
1948 was a sign of support for national health insurance.

Truman began his attempt to influence policy making with his 1949
State of the Union Address. He restated the need for national health insur­
ance. The poor were not receiving adequate healthcare because they
lacked insurance. Truman outlined his plan in later speeches. National
insurance would make sure all Americans had access to healthcare. The
system would pay physicians but not make them employees of the state
or interfere with how they treated patients. National health insurance was
a way to ensure proper healthcare for all Americans without infringing on
the rights of physicians (Harris 1969). The Truman administration was
trying to build awareness of and support for national health insurance.
The President’s messages made people aware of the issue, gave it legiti­
macy, and persuaded people to support it. Public opinion polls in 1948
showed 58 percent of the American people supported a national health
insurance program. In 1949, Congressional mail ran 2.5 to 1 in support of
the program (Starr 1982).

The American Medical Association (AMA) was not one of the groups
swayed by President Truman’s messages. The AMA decided to oppose

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Truman because the program could reduce physician autonomy. It
asked each member to donate US$25 in order to build a war chest to
fight national health insurance (AMA war chest, 1948). AMA viewed
national health insurance as “socialized medicine”; they believed it was
unnecessary and would reduce, not improve, the quality of healthcare
in the United States. The public relations firm of Whitaker & Baxter
was hired to orchestrate the counterattack. The AMA would spend over
one million dollars a year in its efforts to defeat national health insur­
ance (Key 1964; Harris 1969).

The AMA campaign ran during 1949 and 1950. The typical public rela­
tions tactics were used: pamphlets, publicity through the news media, and
speaking programs. The central message was that socialized medicine
was evil. This perspective was presented at a time when socialism was a
very negative term in the United States (Burrow 1963). A successful link
between socialism and national health insurance would sink the program.
Citizens would be aroused to oppose rather than support it.

The pamphlets are a prime example of the socialized medicine angle.
The most widely circulated pamphlet was “The voluntary way is the
American way.” It was 15 pages long and followed a question and answer
format. Here is a sample text:

Q. Who is for Compulsory Health Insurance?
A. The Federal Security Administration. The President. All who seri­

ously believe in a Socialistic State. Every leftwing organization in
America …The Communist Party.

Q. Would socialized medicine lead to socialization of other phases of
American life?

A. Lenin thought so. He declared: “Socialized medicine is the keystone to
the arch of the socialist state.” (Starr 1982: 43–4)

Truth was not the issue. The quotation from Lenin has never been found
to exist. The purpose of the public relations tactic was to link national
health insurance to socialism.

The news media were willing to follow the publicity materials gener­
ated by the AMA effort. Press releases, “neutral” experts speaking on the
radio, and press conferences echoed that national health insurance was
socialized medicine (Paletz and Entman 1981; Starr 1982). The neutral
experts talked about socialized medicine and the media coverage of the

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issue accepted the socialized medicine frame for national health insurance
(Harris 1969). The media agenda reflected the AMA’s desire to reject the
national heath insurance proposal. A legion of speakers was mobilized to
address community opinion leaders directly. A partial listing of the AMA
speaking tour included 1,200 trade associations, 1,500 Kiwanis clubs, 4,500
Lions clubs, 2,300 Rotary clubs, and 9,000 YMCA city associations (Burrow
1963). The speakers program served to amplify and reinforce the medi­
ated messages about socialized medicine.

We all know how the story ends. The United States still has a problem
with people lacking health insurance. By the end of 1949, public opinion
polls found that only 39 percent favored national health insurance, well
down from the 58 percent just the year before. By 1950, Congressional
mail had shifted from support of the program to 4 to 1 against national
health insurance (Key 1964; Starr 1982). The public agenda had been influ­
enced to oppose national health insurance. The national health insurance
program was repeatedly voted down in Congress. The evidence suggests
that the AMA’s success in labeling national health insurance as socialized
medicine significantly prevented the policy making process. Public rela­
tions was part of the reason the United States did not adopt a national
health insurance program and still has not to this day.

Local battles: retailing and healthcare

The Los Angeles area is a very attractive retail market. Walmart has been
trying to strengthen its position there for a number of years. But it was
dealt a blow in October 2002 when the City Council of Inglewood passed
a ban on building large “box stores.” The ban would not allow construc­
tion of a facility over 155,000 square feet that would sell over 20,000 non­
taxable items like food. Walmart supercenters are over 200,000 square feet
and sell food. The ban was later rescinded under threat of a lawsuit.
Walmart, however, chose to avoid another battle with an unfriendly city
council. Instead, it went to the people: it collected over 6,500 signatures in
support of a ballot initiative, which would, if enough favorable votes were
cast, allow Walmart to build the supercenter (Lucas 2004).

Walmart spent over US$1 million on the campaign to win the vote,
including in it extensive issue advertising. They were opposed by a num­
ber of groups, such as the United Food and Commercial Union, the
Coalition for a Better Inglewood, and various religious organizations.

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One rally against the initiative featured the Reverend Jesse Jackson. In
April of 2004 the ballot was held. It failed, with 39.3 percent voting “Yes”
and 60.6 percent voting “No.” Walmart had lost this battle in the war to
enter the Los Angeles area (Buckley 2004).

When we think of hospitals, we typically think of the area general hos­
pital. It is a non­profit institution that provides a variety of services to the
community. General hospitals face many burdens in delivering healthcare
to the community. Of particular note is emergency care. Emergency
rooms are costly to operate since many patients are under­insured or have
no insurance. General hospitals balance the cost of emergency care with
their other services, such as surgeries. Many outpatient surgeries are
“profitable.” The procedures can be performed for less than what insur­
ance will pay. These “profits” are used to offset losses in areas such as
emergency services and psychiatric care, and to provide community
health outreach programs.

A Free­standing Ambulatory Surgery Center (FASC) is a growing kind
of profitable healthcare service. FASCs are also known as “niche hospi­
tals” and “surgicenters.” They are operated by owner physicians, and pro­
vide only selected outpatient surgery and can be highly selective in their
patients. By limiting themselves to surgical procedures that are profitable
and patients that are fully insured, a FASC can turn in a nice profit for the
investors. The problem is that general hospitals suffer when a FASC
appears in town. The general hospital will suffer a drop in revenue as the
“profitable” procedures are drawn away while they continue to absorb the
cost of emergency care and treating the under­insured and uninsured.
The result is often cuts in services provided, in community outreach, and
in staff by the general hospital.

In 2003, Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System was faced with the prospect
of a FASC opening near its facility in Mattoon, Illinois. Sarah Bush admin­
istrators knew they would be fighting a two­front battle. The first front
was the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. This body regulates the
building of new healthcare facilities to prevent over­providing healthcare
to a geographic area. This battle would involve financial and health ser­
vices analysis. The second front was the patient base of Sarah Bush. Sarah
Bush was going to publicly oppose the building of the new FASC.
However, local residents would be told by FASC supporters how this facil­
ity would provide competition, better care, and even lower healthcare
costs. There would be a battle for local opinion.

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The petition to build the FASC was known to Sarah Bush but would not
become public until the official public hearing for the Illinois Health
Facilities Planning Board was announced. That would be a three­ to six­
month time frame. Sarah Bush took the initiative of defining the issue
early. The center was defined as a threat and not a benefit to local health­
care. It would exploit their advantage of selective patient care to drain
money from Sarah Bush. In turn, Sarah Bush would be forced to end
much of its extensive community outreach programs such as dental care
for children. The well­documented negative effects of a FASC on general
hospitals were used to support their definition of the situation. Employees
were briefed so that they could explain the issue to those who might ask
about it. Sarah Bush used advertisements, direct mail, local speaking
engagements, and newspaper interviews (the area has no local television
stations) to explain the problems. Employees and community supporters
wore maroon ribbons, the color of Sarah Bush. The local newspaper sup­
ported Sarah Bush in its opposition to the FASC.

A good sign for Sarah Bush was the actual public hearing. Anyone in
the community could speak. Those speaking for the FASC were the physi­
cians hoping to invest in the center. Those speaking for Sarah Bush were a
“who’s who” of local political, business, and community leaders. The
news coverage and support for Sarah Bush suggest the hospital won the
battle for community opinion. It won with the Illinois Health Facilities
Planning Board as well. The Board ruled there was no need for an addi­
tional healthcare facility in the area. Public relations had played an impor­
tant role in Sarah Bush’s effort to defeat the FASC and to maintain the
support of the local community.

Shaping Public Behavior

Public relations can be used to shape public behaviors and attitudes apart
from the policy process. Most of these efforts are a form of social market­
ing. Underlying most social marketing is the process of moving people
from awareness to action, much as in issues management. McGuire (1981)
has identified six basic steps in social marketing: (1) presentation, target is
exposed to the message; (2) attention, target pays attention to the mes­
sage; (3) comprehension, target can understand the message; (4) yielding,

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the target accepts the message/attitude change; (5) retention, the target
remembers the message; and (6) action, target engages in the desired
behavior. This is a logical sequence. People are unlikely to change a behav­
ior if they cannot remember why it should be changed. People are unlikely
to remember a message if they disagree with it. People are unlikely to
agree with a message if they do not understand it. People cannot under­
stand a message they do not attend to and will not attend to a message
unless they are exposed to it.

Unlike issues management, there typically are not “sides” in social mar­
keting. People do not openly oppose most efforts designed to improve
society. The opponents are individuals who are skilled at resisting persua­
sive messages. People can avoid them, ignore, misinterpret them, reject
them, or choose not to change behaviors. For example, even with laws
and campaigns, many people still do not wear seat belts. The challenge is
to break through these defenses and develop the desired target behavior.

Kim Witte has refined our understanding of how social marketing mes­
sages shape behaviors by focusing on the area of health risk messages. Her
extended parallel process model (EPPM) synthesizes fear appeal research
to develop an effective means for using fear in persuasive messages. In fact
most social marketing messages employ fear appeals, messages that
arouse fear to induce compliance (Witte et al. 2001). People who receive a
message make an appraisal about the threat and the efficacy of the recom­
mendations (i.e. ways to address the threat). For the threat, people deter­
mine if the threat is relevant to them (whether they are susceptible to the
risk) and whether or not it is significant (the risk is of significant harm).
Why should they bother if the risk is unrelated to them or is insignificant?
Perceived efficacy involves both response efficacy and self­efficacy. The
belief that the requested behavior will work (be effective) is referred to as
“response efficacy.” “Self­efficacy” refers to the belief that they can per­
form the behavior. To be motivated to act, people must perceive both
response efficacy and self­efficacy.

The appraisal of threat and efficacy results in one of three responses:
(1) no response, (2) danger control response, or (3) fear control response.
If the threat is irrelevant or minor, there is no response. If people decide
the threat is relevant and significant, fear should move them to action. If
people perceive response efficacy to be high, they accept the message and
act to control the danger or risk; this is a “protection motivation response.”
In contrast, the defensive motivation response is a rejection of the

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message. In this case, people perceive that they themselves cannot prevent
the danger (i.e. they have low self­efficacy), or doubt that acting as recom­
mended would avert the threat in any case; they believe there is no use in
controlling the danger. They might distort the message (i.e. use selective
attention) or attempt to control their fear (the defensive motivation) by
ignoring, denying, or discrediting the message (saying that it is trying to
manipulate them) (Witte et al. 2001).

Campaigns to address social issues rely on some combination of educa­
tion, engineering, and enforcement to succeed. Education is the most
obvious part for public relations. Public information campaigns educate
people about dangers and ways to remove those dangers from their lives.
An example would be knowing that wearing a seat belt increases your
chances of surviving an automobile accident. Engineering attempts to
create an environment where people will face fewer risks. Air bags in cars
are an example of engineering as are guardrails on highways. Finally,
enforcement is composed of laws and regulations designed to protect
people. Laws requiring the use of seat belts would be an example of
enforcement. While recognizing any public information campaign mixes
the three E’s (education, engineering, and enforcement), we will focus on
education because it most overtly entails public relations.

Keep America Beautiful

In 1953, volunteers formed the Keep America Beautiful organization in
order to improve the appearance of local communities. In 1961, the Ad
Council began working with the organization. It provided free expertise
in developing social marketing campaigns (or public information cam­
paigns). The Keep America Beautiful campaign focused on pollution. The
idea was to create awareness of how litter and other pollution were dam­
aging the environment and how individuals had a responsibility to help
solve the problem. The campaign needed to combat negative attitudes
and behaviors that led to pollution.

There was some success with the early “Suzy Spotless” messages. Suzy
scolded people for littering. For two straight years the National Litter
Index dropped. The big success was making the environment part of
American values. By the 1980s, environmental concern was established as
a societal value in the United States. Much of the success of this social
marketing effort is linked to the public service announcement (PSA) known

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as the “Crying Indian.” (A PSA can appear in print, posters, or on radio,
television, or the Internet.) This striking visual PSA, of a tearful Native
American surveying the litter around him, increased the number of peo­
ple aware of and concerned about littering. On Earth Day in 1971, a PSA
featuring Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody appeared for the
first time. The tagline line was, “People start pollution. People can stop
it.” Iron Eyes Cody became synonymous with environmental concerns
and Americans moved towards adopting a new value. The message was
simple: do not litter. People could fall in line with that and the growing
importance of the environment in general suggests that they continue to
do so.

At the peak of the campaign, Keep America Beautiful reported receiving
more than 2,000 letters a month from people wanting to take part in their
local efforts. Keep America Beautiful reported that local teams had helped
to reduce litter by as much as 88 percent in 300 communities, 38 states, and
several countries. The success of the Iron Eyes Cody PSA for the anti­litter
campaign led to hundreds of other environmental messages through the
years under the Keep America Beautiful banner (Pollution, 2005). Of course
the campaign also benefited from new anti­littering laws (enforcement) and
the provision of more trash containers for motorists (engineering).

Keep America Beautiful’s efforts followed McGuire’s (1981) progres­
sion. The anti­litter messages were placed in various media outlets as
PSAs and designed to catch the target’s attention. The messages were easy
to comprehend: if you don’t litter pollution is reduced. Americans became
aware that littering was contributing to pollution and seemed to accept
that argument. Iron Eyes Cody helped to make the message memorable.
Ultimately people did seem to change behaviors, since littering declined
around the country. While successful, the campaign did not eliminate all
littering. A campaign will only be effective for part of the target audience.
No campaign can reach all of the people. Campaign planners must be
satisfied with modest success rates.

Witte’s work allows us to delve deeper into the success of Keep America
Beautiful (Witte et al. 2001). For at least part of the target audience, litter
and pollution did generate fear. The threat was relevant and significant.
Moreover, the response efficacy was high. It is easy not to litter and not
littering will help to reduce pollution. Hence, people in the target group
did engage in protection motivation and did stop littering. Others in the
target population kept littering. They could have deemed the threat minor

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or unimportant to them. Another explanation is that the litter bugs did
not think the solution would work so they adopted a defensive motivation
response. However we choose to analyze it, Keep America Beautiful did
help to change American society by altering littering behaviors and help­
ing to instill environmental concerns as a value in America. This success
was a result of the public relations harnessed through social marketing.

Let’s Move

First Lady Michelle Obama decided to make childhood obesity the social issue
she would try to address. Her concerns became the “Let’s Move” campaign,
an effort designed to improve children’s health in a generation by reducing the
childhood obesity problem. The pledge for the initiative encapsulates the key
concerns of exercise and diet. The complete pledge can be found at the Let’s
Move web site. The campaign has five pillars: (1) create a healthy start for kids,
(2) empower parents and caregivers, (3) provide healthy food in schools, (4)
improve access to affordable, healthy food, and (5) increase physical activity
(America’s move, n.d.). The effort seeks to draw children, parents, schools,
local officials, community leaders, chefs, and healthcare providers into the
campaign. For instance, there is an eleven­page action plan just for parents.
Parents are urged to set an example for healthy eating and to encourage fresh
fruit as snacks. The initiative sought to be comprehensive and more than a
simple slogan designed to get children to play more.

The Let’s Move campaign is integrated around a central website. The
website provides resources for all the target audiences, details on healthy
eating and exercise, and steps to take aid in success. There is also back­
ground information on childhood obesity (the problem) and links to other
groups such as the PreventObesity.net social networking site created by
the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Let’s Move takes advantage of
social media with a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, and YouTube.
There is also a blog, an email list, and a Spanish­language version of the
site. An array of online communication channels are utilized along with
events by ambassadors such as Michelle Obama to get people directly
involved in the campaign.

Let’s Move began February 9, 2010. On its first and second year anni­
versaries questions were raised about its effectiveness. Was Let’s Move
improving the health of children in the United States? The biggest success
in year one was the passage of the Healthy, Hunger­Free Kids Act of 2010.

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This act provides government funding for federal school meals and sets
national standards for any food sold in a school, this includes vending
machines. Experts agreed the act is essential to pillar number three that
involves healthy food in schools (Oglivie 2011). However, there was no
clear evidence the campaign had improved the health of children. In year
two, the obesity rate in U.S. children held steady for the first time in years.
A lack of an increase in childhood obesity was taken as a sign of success
for Let’s Move. Also the Healthy, Hunger­Free Kids Act was operating in
thousands of schools and would keep expanding. This means healthier
food for  thousands of students ( Jaslow 2012). Though lacking over­
whelming signs of success, Let’s Move seemed to be making some pro­
gress in achieving its objectives. Experts agree that it will take many years
before the true effects of the campaign on childhood health can be fully
evaluated (Oglivie 2011). More time and analysis of the campaign is
needed to gauge its effect but it has the qualities recommended by
McGuire and by Witte.

Zombie Apocalypse

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a government agency in the
United States tasked with protecting the public health. The CDC accom­
plishes this task through “health promotion, prevention of disease, injury
and disability, and preparedness for new health threats” (CDC Mission
2010). Disasters are a threat to public health if people are not prepared for
disasters. Since 2003, the U.S. government has been urging people to pre­
pare by encouraging people to create family disaster plans and kits
(Emergency preparedness 2006). In 2011, the CDC decided to encourage
disaster preparedness using a unique angle, zombies.

Zombies are favorite element in popular culture including movies, tel­
evision shows, graphic novels, and video games. In May of 2011, the
CDC posted a blog entitled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.”
The CDC site provided information about how to prepare for a zombie
attack. The material was the information used to create disaster plans
and kits that could be used for any emergency. The message did attract
attention. Visits to the CDC website jumped from 3,000 in a week to
30,000 the day the Zombie Apocalypse was posted eventually crashing
the site. Twitter followers jumped from 12,000 to over 1.2 million is a few
days (Bell 2011). Other agencies in the United States and even Canada

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began to adopt the Zombie approach. In Canada, the zombies were used
to demonstrate and promote the learning of CPR (Adams 2012). While
there is no evidence to prove the increased awareness led to the creation
of more plans, the CDC preparedness message was reaching a larger
and  more varied audience than ever before, especially young people
(Government zombie 2012).

The Zombie Apocalypse has been so popular that it became a regular
element of the CDC’s Internet footprint. As noted by the CDC:

Wonder why Zombies, Zombie Apocalypse, and Zombie Preparedness
continue to live or walk dead on a CDC web site? As it turns out what first
began as a tongue in cheek campaign to engage new audiences with pre­
paredness messages has proven to be a very effective platform. We continue
to reach and engage a wide variety of audiences on all hazards prepared­
ness via Zombie Preparedness; and as our own director, Dr. Ali Khan,
notes, “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apoca­
lypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or ter­
rorist attack.” So please log on, get a kit, make a plan, and be prepared!
(Zombie preparedness 2012).

The materials include a zombie blog, an educators website with materi­
als, zombie preparedness posters to download, a novella, buttons and
widgets for zombie preparedness, and links to the CDCs web materials,
Twitter feed, and Facebook page for more information about
preparedness.

Overall, the blog posting reactions are favorable for the campaign. A
few people were critical of spending money on a “silly” message but most
defended the Zombie Apocalypse and some even took the desired actions.
Here are some sample messages:

If this wasn’t such a waste of taxpayer dollars (and Federal employee time)
it might be funny.

The people who are whining about wasted taxpayer dollars are missing
the fact that 95% + of preparations for zombie apocalypse are useful for
natural or man­made disaster, and that this presentation probably increases
compliance.

It’s rare that you see a federal agency do something clever. Nice market­
ing, and nice work. Clever way to get people to prepare for disasters.
(Zombie preparedness 2012)

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The blog posts are only anecdotal evidence the campaign went beyond
awareness to influence attitudes and behaviors. Still, the Zombie
Apocalypse was highly visible and reached a younger audience, a target
group difficult to reach with preparedness messages.

RED Campaign

Cause or cause­related marketing ties a social issue to the purchase
of  a  product or service. A cause marketing effort has four elements:
(1)  a  product or service, (2) a non­profit that represents a social issue,
(3)  a  corporation, and (4) a partnership that generates revenue. At the
heart of cause marketing is a corporation and a non­profit forming a part­
nership. Their partnership identifies products or service that will be part
of the cause marketing effort. The corporation agrees to pay a certain
percentage of the sales to the non­profit. Hence, consumers can help to
combat a social issue by simply buying a product or service. The non­profit
makes money, the social issue is addressed, consumers receive products or
services, consumers feel good about the purchase, and the corporation
increases sales while improving its reputation. The idea is that everyone
wins in cause marketing. Critics dislike the idea that people believe they
can shop their way to a better world and prefer a more comprehensive
approach to CSR (Rosenman 2007).

The (RED) campaign, originally known as Product (RED), has been
a global cause marketing campaign involving a number of corpora­
tions partnering with the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa. The
Global Fund is a non­profit that combats AIDS, tuberculosis, and
malaria. A variety of corporations have agreed to donate a percentage
of their sales of specific products or services to the Global Fund tar­
geted to fight AIDS in Africa. The lineup of corporate sponsors does
change over time. In 2012, the following corporations had a least one
product or service that was (RED): American Express, Apple, Coca­
Cola, Starbucks, Tourneau, and Tous (Partners 2012). Here is how
(RED) works: consumers buy (RED), a percentage of the sales goes to
the Global Fund, the Global Fund uses the money to buy drugs used
to  combat HIV/AIDS in Africa, and people in Africa are given life­
saving medicines (How (RED) works 2012). (RED) began in 2006 with
massive media attention because the musical celebrity Bono was

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promoting the cause. While media attention has dwindled, (RED) con­
tinues its global operation.

The (RED) campaign is not without its critics. While (RED) has gen­
erated millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS medication in Africa, there are
concerns with transparency and marketing. Transparency refers to the
percentage of a sale price that goes to (RED). A common complaint is
that it is difficult to find out how much money for a product or service
goes to (RED). Consumers have complained about the lack of transpar­
ency and their disappointment in discovering the percentage is often
very small. There is also very little information about how much each
partner contributes annually. Marketing involves the rather sizable
amount of money the corporate sponsors spend on promoting their
involvement with (RED). The problem many people see is that
the  HIV/AIDS problem in Africa would have greater funding if the
money for marketing (RED) were simply donated to the Global Fund
(Arnoldy 2007).

Danish researchers Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte consider
(RED)  to be a type of “brand aid.” Brand Aid is explained as Brand +
Celebrity + Cause. Corporations exploit the suffering of others to make a
profit in the name of corporate social responsibility.

Brand Aid provides an easy solution to current crises in international devel­
opment – one that enables corporations to raise their corporate
social  responsibility (CSR) profile without substantially changing their
normal business practices while consumers engage in low­cost heroism
without meaningfully increasing their awareness of global production­
consumption  relations or the struggles of people who are living with
HIV/AIDS (Richey and Ponte 2011).

Cause marketing allows corporations and consumers to feel good about
themselves while simultaneously distancing themselves from the prob­
lems and solutions. The counter argument is that (RED) has generated
US$195 million for HIV/AIDS in Africa and the programs it has funded
have reached over 14 million people (Results 2012). For any social market­
ing effort, there are winners and losers (Dutta­Bergman 2005). We must
carefully examine the campaigns to assess their overall positive or nega­
tive effects on society.

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Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft (INSM)

The Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft (INSM) (translated into
English “the initiative for a new social market economy”) utilizes public
relations to create a more favorable climate for business in both the public
and policy arenas. The INSM seeks to promote neoliberal policies such as
deregulation and tax cuts for businesses – to have people define the poli­
cies as positive. Refer to Box  4.1 for additional information about
neoliberalism. The group appears to be a social movement driven by con­
cerned citizens. In reality, the INSM is funded by employer associations in
the metal and electrical industries and represents business interests
(Mueller 2007). Public relations is central to the INSM. Here is how the
INSM describes how it works: “uses the possibilities of modern commu­
nication in order to transmit its ordoliberal message to policy makers and
the population. Depending on the topic, the initiative combines classical
advertising, PR and press work as well as online communication” (How
does the INSM work? n.d.). The INSM directly notes public relations in its
statement while the press work and online communication are strong
elements of public relations as well.

Box 4.1 Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is a loosely structured political economics theory
that promotes the pursuit of business interests through “strong pri­
vate property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey 2005: 2).
Government should help to create and to promote markets but
should not be involved in the regulation of the market. Businesses
must be free of regulations and allowed to pursue their interests
in the market. Neoliberalism agitates for deregulation in societies
that have regulations and pursues privatization of industries.
Governments adopting a neoliberal perspective will support busi­
ness rights over the quality of life for workers and protection of the
environment (Harvey 2005). Neoliberalism supports globalization
efforts through an emphasis on free trade and the need to promote
business interests.

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The INSM is not a true front group. If you go to its website, the INSM
is open in revealing that its primary funding is derived from the metal and
electrical industries (Who supports the INSM? n.d.). However, the INSM
does use public relations tactics that obscure the source of the message.
The INSM has a strong reliance on credible third­party sources from gov­
ernment, business, and think tanks (academics). The third­party sources
create the appearance of non­partisan support for INSM policies and vali­
date the claim that the INSM is an inclusive movement that includes a
strong citizen support element. In addition, the third­party sources are
used to attract media attention and become the de facto face of INSM. The
INSM provides extensive media training for their third­party advocates
and actively works to book their appearances and interviews with various
media outlets (Mueller 2007). The INSM itself notes it uses “prominent
personalities from the economy, the sciences and society as whole” in its
communication efforts (How does the INSM work? n.d.).

The danger is that the public sees the third­party sources pushing the
reforms, not the INSM itself, because the media fail to mention the con­
nection between the two entities (Mueller 2007). By obscuring the source
of the message, the INSM prevents others from understanding the poten­
tial bias in the messages – an effect created by true front groups (Fitzpatrick
and Palenchar 2006). The INSM is using accepted public relations tactics
to promote its agenda through sources perceived to be independent
on the issues. Some non­traditional publicity efforts by the INSM include
creating spoof awards and paying to have their messages written into
soap opera scripts. In 2003 and 2004, the INSM and the newspaper the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) created spoof awards for
those helping or hindering social reform. The INSM and FAS picked the
nominees and voting was controlled by a jury selected by the sponsors.
“Blocker of the Year” was a person who opposed INSM policies while the
“Reformer of the Year” was a third­party representative of the INSM
(Mueller 2007).

In 2002, the INSM paid about €58,000 to have scripts on the soap opera
Marienhof reflect support for its agenda. The INSM’s effort was revealed
in 2005 creating a minor scandal. INSM leadership expressed regret for the
incident but argued its goal of providing economic education for televi­
sions viewers was valid. The INSM is active online through its website.
One service offered by the website is a section providing educational
materials for teachers. Under the guise of providing educational material

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about economic matters, the INSM presents educational material sup­
portive of their neoliberal agenda (Mueller 2007).

Ulrich Mueller (2007) provides a thorough analysis of the INSM’s pub­
lic relations efforts to promote a neoliberal agenda in Germany. His analy­
sis notes that the INSM learned from social movements how to leverage
the power of public relations. Mueller argues that all interests have a right
to use public relations to present their views. His concern is interest
groups lack transparency through efforts to conceal the actual sources of
public relations messages. This includes efforts to make it appear as
though third­party endorsers are independent when they appear in the
news media. The INSM’s efforts illustrate the dual role of issues manage­
ment in influencing public and policy arenas.

Private Politics

Issues management began with a focus on influencing public policy deci­
sions (Crable and Vibbert 1985; Heath and Nelson 1986; Jones and Chase
1979). Over time that focus expanded to include influencing corporate
behavior directly (e.g., Botan and Taylor 2004; Grunig and Repper 1992;
Heath 2005; Jaques 2006). In other words, activists were now taking their
demands for organizational reforms directly to corporations instead of
trying to establish new governmental requirements for dictating corpo­
rate behavior. Corporations have been amenable to the shift because self­
regulation is preferable to government regulation. Self­regulation costs
less and allows corporations greater control over the details of the regula­
tion (Coombs and Holladay 2011). Political scientists refer to the shift
from public policy directly to corporate behaviors as private politics.

Private politics represent a shift in the locus of constraints on corporate
activity. The shift is, from the government to the corporation itself,
encouraged or compelled by activists groups such as non­government
organizations (NGOs). It has been argued that activists have consciously
shifted from the governmental to the private arena to achieve their goals
(Diermeier 2007). Baron (2003) describes private politics as follows:
“A  private­politics campaign could have as components the selection of
the  target, direct action against the firm, communication with the
public,  initiation of a boycott, and bargaining” (p. 34). It is clear that

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communication, with an emphasis on public relations, is central to private
politics. Public relations researchers have argued for the potential of pub­
lic relations to generate power for activists that can be leveraged to alter
corporate behaviors. Moreover, this power from public relations is
enhanced by the Internet (Coombs 1998; Coombs and Holladay 2012b;
Heath 1998). The effects of private politics can be as simple as a public
commitment to a course of action or as complex as the development
of  specific self­regulatory guidelines monitoring by independent, third­
parties (Baron 2003).

Through private politics, activists can avoid the time, costs, and uncertainty
of efforts to influence public policy and agitate directly for change. While
many activists were desirous of the shift to private politics, there are dangers
in this shift. Corporations also prefer private politics because it is consistent
with the neoliberal principle of self­regulation. Neoliberalism argues against
government intervention in favor of the marketplace. It should be stake­
holders that “regulate” corporations through their actions toward the
organization rather than the government (Harvey 2005). (See Box 4.1 for
more information on neoliberalism.) This is consistent with the idea of the
social license to operate where people accept or approve of a corporation’s
right to operate. Private politics prevent governmental intervention.
Compliance is at the discretion of the corporations. For instance, public
commitments can be ignored and only those corporations making a public
commitment are even tenuously bound to the new constraints. There are no
laws and regulations that constrain all corporations in a particular industry.
Continued compliance is a function of fear that stakeholders will again pun­
ish a corporation if it violates these self­imposed constraints. Private politics
is an interesting arena for illustrating the way public relations can be used to
generate power and to influence corporate behavior.

Private politics hinges upon stakeholders being able to find a leverage
point where they can successfully exert pressure on an organization.
Reputation has become the primary leverage point for stakeholders. In gen­
eral, a reputation is how stakeholders perceive an organization. Reputations
are evaluative and involve stakeholders comparing an orga nization’s actions
to their expectations for how an organization should behave (Rindova and
Fombrun 1998; Wartick 1992). Reputations influence a range of important
behaviors including investment and purchasing behavior. Organizations
acknowledge that reputations are valuable, intangible assets (Alsop 2004;
Davies, Chun, da Silva and Roper 2003; Dowling 2002; Fombrun and van

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Riel 2004). Managers spend considerable time and effort seeking to cultivate
a favorable reputation among their stakeholders. Threats to the reputation
must be taken seriously because they can diminish an organization’s assets.
When stakeholders generate negative comments about organizations in
legacy media and digital media, managers worry about the reputational
damage the negative comments will inflict on the organization (Conway,
Ward, Lewis and Bernhardt 2007; Coombs 2002). Traditional and digital
public relations efforts can be used to create the negative comments. Hence,
if a reputational threat can be eliminated by modifying a problematic behav­
ior, management may change the behavior.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) (a.k.a. sustainability) is increasingly
important in the corporate world. CSR is one dimension of an organiza­
tional reputation (Fombrun 2005). An organization can develop a favorable
reputation in part by demonstrating its commitment to CSR. Stakeholders
that share the values related to a particular CSR issue will view an organiza­
tion favorably when it supports that CSR issue (Bhattacharya and Sen 2004).
For instance, a company that buys Fair Trade merchandise becomes attrac­
tive to customers that value the principles of Fair Trade. A dependence on
CSR to build a corporate reputation creates a vulnerability for private poli­
tics. If stakeholders can reveal an organization is irresponsible when it is
cultivating a reputation as responsible, the stakeholders’ messages can seri­
ously damage the organization’s reputation. Other stakeholders become
upset when they learn an organization is hypocritical about its CSR efforts
and the reputational damage spreads (Coombs 1998, 2012).

Two cases are used to illustrate private politics. The first case examines
the contest between Nestlé and Greenpeace over the sourcing of palm oil
and illustrates public relations’ role in threatening reputations as central in
private politics. The second case reviews the dispute between UK Uncut
and Starbucks over tax payments.

Nestlé and Greenpeace

In private politics, public relations is an important tool in efforts designed
to change corporate behavior. Stakeholders, typically activist groups, seek
to exercise power in order to convince or to force organizations to alter
their behaviors and policies. Public relations is a mechanism stakeholders
can use to generate and to wield power (Coombs and Holladay 2012b).
Greenpeace’s 2010 “Ask Nestlé to give the Rainforests a Break” campaign

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illustrates the important role of public relations and social media in private
politics. The “Ask Nestlé to give the Rainforests a Break” campaign sought
to force Nestlé to shift from irresponsible to responsible sourcing of palm
oil. The Sinar Mas Group was at the center of the problem. Greenpeace
and other groups have documented the Sinar Mas Group’s involvement in
rainforest destruction to produce palm oil. One of the consequences of the
Sinar Mas Group’s irresponsible behavior has been the destruction of
orang­utan habits. Nestlé was irresponsible because a company in its sup­
ply chain was irresponsible (Bhattacharya, Smith, and Palazzo 2010).

Greenpeace launched its campaign in March by releasing a nine­page
digital document online entitled “Caught Red Handed: How Nestlé’s Use
of Palm Oil is having a Devastating Impact on Rainforests, the Climate
and Orang­utans” (Caught 2010). Nestlé defended its practices and
claimed it would have all certified, sustainable palm oil by 2015 (greenEnder
2010). Greenpeace then responded with a video on YouTube. The video
was a parody of a European commercial for Nestlé’s Kit Kat candy bar.
Instead of a chocolate bar, the wrapper contained bloody orang­utan dig­
its. Nestlé reacted by demanding the video be removed. Nestlé’s reaction
increased attention on the video and generated online condemnations for
censorship. People now wanted to see the video that was upsetting Nestlé.
One viewer commented, “Thanks Nestlé – I would’ve never seen this
video if you hadn’t kicked it off YouTube” (Ridings 2010).

The arena for the campaign then shifted to Facebook. Greenpeace
encouraged people to post to Nestlé’s Facebook page asking why the
company would not commit to responsible palm oil sourcing. Many
people posted using an altered Kit Kat logo for their image. The altered
logo read “Killer” instead of “Kit Kat.” Nestlé was losing control of its
Facebook page and intensified the situation by demanding people not
post using the altered logo. Many people took this as another attempt at
censorship. One person posted, “You NEED to change the tone in your
Facebook responses. You’re committing social media suicide” (Leonard
2010). Nestlé ignored this warning and posted: “Oh please… it’s like we’re
censoring everything to allow only positive comments” (Six Painful 2011).
After that response, the Facebook page was completely overrun by people
posting negative comments about Nestlé. The negative comments even
spread to other online channels (Etlinger 2010; Ridings 2010).

Nestlé eventually apologized for being rude on Facebook (Ridings 2010). In
May Nestlé announced it was working with The Forest Trust (TFT) to

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completely reform its palm oil sourcing and to make their supply chain sus­
tainable (Nestlé becomes, 2010). Greenpeace thanked Nestlé for its changes
on its own website and on social media sites. The “Ask Nestlé to give
Rainforests a Break” campaign was declared over but Greenpeace said it
would keep monitoring Nestlé for its palm oil sourcing (Sweet success 2010).
Greenpeace used digital public relations efforts to expose Nestlé actions and
to define them as socially irresponsible. Nestlé’s reputation was being dam­
aged by the intense volume of negative social media comments about the
company. Nestlé escalated the damage by trying to limit messages about its
company. Greenpeace successfully utilized YouTube, its own website, and
Nestlé’s own Facebook page to threaten Nestlé’s reputation – exercise power
through public relations efforts – and to force Nestlé to change how it sourced
palm oil.

Starbucks and UK taxes

In 2012, the UK government was cutting a variety of governmental pro­
grams including those that would be considered social welfare (e.g.,
healthcare, voluntary services, and education) that served disadvantaged
groups. At the same time, sentiment was growing that many corporations
were not paying their fair share of taxes. Eventually, the two ideas became
intertwined. The austerity cuts would not be necessary if corporations
paid more taxes. A Twitter hashtag #ukuncut was used to organize pro­
tests against Vodafone, one of the companies believed to be underpaying
taxes. The hashtag evolved into an organization, UK Uncut, designed to
force corporations to pay their taxes (UK Uncut n.d.). UK Uncut was uti­
lizing private politics as a means of leveraging certain organizations to pay
more taxes. One of the companies on its list was Starbucks.

UK Uncut has labeled Starbucks as a tax dodger and connected
Starbucks’ failure to pay taxes to cuts in programs designed to help women.
Obviously there is no empirical connection but a rhetorical connection
can be made. Starbucks was identified by a Reuters investigation about
companies paying little to no taxes in the UK (Morse 2012). UK Uncut
planned a series of protests against Starbucks that would begin at the end
of November of 2012. The protests were to be held at various Starbucks
stores across the UK. The protests were in­person, direct actions. The
Internet was used to coordinate the protests and provide information on
how to publicize the events (Call out 2012). The UK Uncut website served

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as the hub but various social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook,
were utilized as well. UK Uncut was utilizing traditional and online public
relations coupled with non­traditional public relations (Coombs and
Holladay 2010) to pressurize Starbucks into paying more taxes.

On December 6, 2012, Starbucks announced it would be paying addi­
tional taxes in the UK. Kris Engskov, the managing director of Starbucks
Coffee UK, announced: “Today, we’re taking action to pay corporation tax
in the United Kingdom– above what is currently required by tax law. Since
Starbucks was founded in 1971, we’ve learned it is vital to listen closely to
our customers – and that acting responsibly makes good business sense”
(Engskov 2012, para. 1).

UK Uncut was unimpressed by the payment offered by Starbucks and
promised to keep applying pressure to Starbucks. Starbucks had paid no
taxes in 2011 and was agreeing to pay £20 million over the next two years
(Starbucks tax row 2012). Here is part of the UK Uncut response: “Offering
to pay some tax if and when it suits you doesn’t stop you being a tax
dodger. This is just a PR stunt straight out of the marketing budget in a
desperate attempt by Starbucks to deflect public pressure – hollow prom­
ises on press releases don’t fund women’s refuges or child benefits” (Over
40 2012). Note the derogatory use of the term “PR” in the statement.

On December 16, 2012, Starbucks unknowingly provided UK Uncut
with a social media­based protest. On that day, Starbucks paid to sponsor
the large video screen above the ice rink at the Natural History Museum
in London. As a social media promotion, Starbucks requested customers
send tweets with the hashtag #spreadthecheer. The tweets were displayed
on the big screen. UK Uncut urged people to use the hashtag to question
Starbucks’ tax situation. The end result was a largely negative stream of
tweets appearing on the screen expressing anger over Starbucks’ tax situa­
tion. To make matters worse, a computer filter designed to prevent inap­
propriate language from appearing on the screen failed resulting in some
family­unfriendly language appearing on the screen. Instead of creating
positive views of the company, Starbucks engaged in damage control:
“We apologise to any visitors who may have been offended by inappropri­
ate messages displayed on the Twitter wall screen at the Natural History
Museum’s ice rink café on Sunday. This was due to a temporary malfunc­
tion with the content filtering system” (Morse 2012). UK Uncut created
yet another situation where it was using public relations in private politics
to pressurize Starbucks into change.

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Mixing Policy, Social, and Private Changes: Direct-to-Consumer
Advertising and Big Pharm

For analytic purposes we have separated issues management, private poli­
tics, and social marketing, but clearly the three can overlap. Policy changes
can affect society, social marketing can drive policy changes, and private
politics can be used to avoid the political arena. Seat belts provide an excel­
lent example. Social marketing and policies try to get us to buckle up. The
topic of direct­to­consumer advertising in the pharmaceutical industry is
an excellent illustration of how issues management, private politics, and
social marketing can become intertwined.

The United States and New Zealand are the only two major countries
to allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers.
Direct­to­consumer advertising (DTC) encompasses publicity efforts as
well as advertisements (Moynihan and Cassels 2005). That is the connec­
tion between public relations and DTC. Public relations agencies such
as the Chandler Chicco Agency specialize in healthcare public relations
while large firms such as Edelman and Burston­Marsteller all have
healthcare public relations as a specialty. Part of healthcare public
relations is the promotion of pharmaceuticals. The success of a pharma­
ceutical launch is dependent on press coverage and “buzz” about the
new medicine. Public relations firms carefully craft the media attention
and buzz (Aziz 2004). In 2005 there was a major training event titled
“Pharmaceutical Public Relations and Communications Summit,”
where pharmaceutical companies and public relations agencies could
share ideas.

There is a plethora of evidence that DTC has impacted on society, in both
good and bad ways (Angell 2004). On the positive side, DTC has empow­
ered patients. Patients feel better informed about health issues and feel they
have more choices for treatment. DTC messages raise awareness of disease
and treatments. Both patients and physicians report that DTC leads people
to consult a physician and request treatment, visits that frequently do result
in treatment. Both also report that DTC facilitates patient–physician com­
munication (C. Lewis 2003; Sheehan 2003). Ultimately DTC is helping peo­
ple to realize they have a problem and to seek treatment for that problem.

On the negative side, DTC is helping to create new diseases, a concept
known as disease mongering. Disease mongering occurs when non­medical

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problems become defined and treated as diseases (Mintzes et al. 2005).
Otherwise healthy people are convinced they have a disease and must seek
treatment. The severity and extent of the illness is exaggerated, partly
through public­relations­generated news stories, in order to drive custom­
ers to a product. As Moynihan and Cassels observe, “With a little help
from a headline­hungry media, the latest condition is routinely portrayed
as widespread, severe, and above all, treatable with drugs” (2005: xiv).
Public relations is a key element in efforts to create new diseases. In the
language of public relations and marketing, conditions are being branded.
The communication efforts might rename an old problem or identify an
entirely new disorder (Moynihan and Cassels 2005).

Pharmaceutical companies are taking naturally occurring events, such
as balding or erectile dysfunction, and creating a dire disease (Moynihan
and Cassels 2005). Or problems that could be corrected through diet or
life­style changes are instead cured through chemicals (Angell 2004).
Disease mongering has been divided into four strategies: ordinary pro­
cesses or ailments become medical problems (balding), mild symptoms
are defined as markers of serious problems (irritable bowel syndrome),
personal or social problems become medical concerns (shyness), and a
naturally occurring risk becomes a disease (osteoporosis). A driving force
in all four is the public relations aspect of DTC. News media coverage
amplifies the advertisements to create greater awareness and fear of the
“disease” (Moynihan et al. 2002).

DTC becomes a variety of social marketing that fits perfectly into
Witte’s EPPM model (Witte et al. 2001). The fear of the new disease
becomes a motivator. People will become patients if they feel the disease
affects them and is serious enough to warrant attention. If patients believe
the media and advertisements, they ask for the medication because they
believe the drug will work (response efficacy) and they are more able
to take a medicine than make more complicated life­style changes (self­
efficacy). Social marketing efforts purport to find problems and try to
solve them. DTC, akin to the Catalytic Model, creates the disease and so
the need to fight it. In reality, social marketing often creates or defines
situations as problems that require attention. This is how DTC is in effect
a form of social marketing.

Another negative aspect of DTC is the one­sided nature of the mes­
sages. Even with FDA regulations, DTC advertising still utilizes spin. The
benefits of the drug are emphasized while the harmful side effects are

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downplayed. Against this, the FDA uses around only thirty people to eval­
uate around 2,000 DTC messages a year. Often a campaign ends before a
complaint letter can be issued by the FDA (Angell 2004). Even the U.S.
government has recognized that this is problematic (GAO, 2000). The
Vioxx problem brought the issue of risk and DTC to national attention. In
2004, the drug Vioxx was recalled because of a previously undetected neg­
ative side effect on the human heart. Millions of people had taken or were
taking Vioxx when it was recalled. Consumers wanted to know why the
risk was not known earlier and why the FDA had let this happen. This is
where public relations, via issues management, is called upon.

Congress and the FDA were under public pressure to act. DTC has
become an issue that various groups are trying to manage. How could
pharmaceuticals be made safer? Both sides viewed DTC as a concern.
Senator Bill Frist (Republican, Tennessee), a physician, issued a call in
2005 for no DTC to be done for the first two years of a new product. This
time period would allow unknown risks to emerge before the drug went
into wider circulation, for DTC does increase the prescription rate for a
drug (C. Lewis 2003). The FDA began assessing the need for greater over­
sight and has proposed the development of the “Drug Watch” website
(Guidance, 2005). The website would list any drug that the FDA is inves­
tigating for a serious side effect. As with Vioxx, a serious side effect often
emerges after a drug is introduced to the market. Patients would then
know when a medication was being investigated and what the side effects
might be. In 2005, for instance, there were reports linking Viagra to a
specific type of blindness (Reports of blindness, 2005). The argument is
that patients need information when making decisions about medica­
tions. The Drug Watch site would offer another form of information to
complement and perhaps counterbalance DTC messages. Only side
effects that posed a significant health threat would appear on the Drug
Watch site (Guidance, 2005).

Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry was less than enthusias­
tic about the Drug Watch website proposal. The industry contends that
patients would not understand the information and be scared for no real
reason. These are the same arguments critics level against DTC. Patients
do not fully understand the information and they could be scared into
seeking a medication. Underlying the reason to support DTC and the
Drug Watch website is the marketplace of ideas. Patients should be
exposed to all relevant information when trying to make a decision.

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The pharmaceutical industry has responded with a time­honored issues
management technique: self­regulation. In August of 2005, PhRMA, the
industry association for major pharmaceutical manufacturers, announced
a new fifteen point “Guiding Principles” document for DTC. Most of the
principles repeat existing FDA regulations such as that DTC information
should be accurate and not misleading. New measures included educa­
ting physicians prior to a DTC campaign and excluding DTC messages
in  media targeted to age­inappropriate audiences (PhRMA Guiding
Principles, 2005). Most of the major pharmaceutical companies publicly
endorsed the plan. This self­regulation is a private political effort designed
to prevent political action. Below are some sample support messages.

PFIZER INC.
Pfizer Inc. strongly supports PhRMA’s direct­to­consumer advertising prin­
ciples. Pfizer is especially pleased with the unambiguous commitment of
these principles to better meet patients’ needs with improved communica­
tion of risks and benefits, which will enhance the industry’s ongoing efforts
to raise disease awareness, educate the public about prescription medicines
and treatment options, and motivate patients to talk with their physicians
regarding health concerns. (Pfizer Statement, 2005)

WYETH
Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a division of Wyeth (NYSE:WYE), supports the
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Guiding
Principles for direct­to­consumer advertising, which were unveiled at the
American Legislative Exchange Council’s 32nd Annual Meeting today in
Dallas, Texas.

Like PhRMA, Wyeth believes that direct­to­consumer advertising pro­
vides value, particularly when it provides education about healthcare con­
ditions and their treatment options and encourages dialogue between
patients and their physicians,” says Bernard Poussot, President, Wyeth
Pharmaceuticals. (Wyeth support PhRMA, 2005)

Self­regulation is a strategy that directly links private politics and issues
management. The idea is that if an industry regulates itself (private politics
inspired by neoliberalism), there is no reason for the government to get
involved (traditional issues management). The pharmaceutical companies
are fixing the DTC problems that Frist and the FDA are so concerned
about. The self­regulations must be created and promoted through public

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relations. PhRMA had a media blitz with the new principles supported
by  the comments from its prominent members. The self­regulation is
an attempt to prevent change to society. Only time will tell if the issues
management effort will be effective. Oddly, the issue was created by the
pharmaceutical industry itself through some abuses and unintended
consequences of DTC. The social marketing of diseases prompted the call
to regulate this activity.

Conclusion

In the first three chapters we focused on the microlevel of public relations
with a focus on stakeholders and organizations. In this chapter we moved
to a more macrolevel focus with a concentration on how public relations
can be used to affect society (collections of stakeholders). Public relations
operates on different levels of influence. Some tactics try to influence rela­
tionships among stakeholders while others try to influence societal laws,
values, or actions. Consider an activist group attempting to alter how an
organization operates. The activist group can work with the organization
to instill change. Or it can use the government to force changes as in the
case of the NRDC and Alar. Moreover, microlevel relationships are lever­
aged to create macrolevel changes. The web of relationships is used to
build awareness of and concern for an issue or problem. Relationships
between stakeholders are the raw material from which larger societal
changes are constructed. Stakeholders influence others to recognize and
support the issue or the need to address a social concern.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Shifting the View of Public Relations

5

Throughout this book there has been a distinction and a tension drawn
between corporations and stakeholders. The practitioner definition of
public relations as strategic communication places the corporation at
the center of the public relations equation. While the general goal might
be mutually beneficial relationships, public relations uses the mutually
beneficial relationships as a means to achieve other organization ends
such as maximizing profits. In this chapter we shift attention to the other
side of the equation – society as comprised of stakeholders. What does it
really mean for public relations to privilege stakeholders and society?
Globalization, spurred by technological and economic developments, has
provided both the opportunity and the necessity of considering the role
of public relations in creating a better society. More comprehensive
knowledge of events from around the world, ranging from environmen­
tal abuses to human rights concerns to political upheavals compels us to
consider how public relations can aid society.

The societal focus of public relations is explored through two streams
of thought. First, the emerging public relations thought that emphasizes
the role of stakeholders, beyond strategic communication, is examined.
Second, our definition of public relations is revisited and implications for
stakeholders and society considered.

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Reconsidering the Positioning of Public Relations: A Societal Focus

Our earlier discussion of the positioning of public relations emphasized
the view that public relations is strategic communication employed by an
organization. This view is consistent with Excellence Theory’s emphasis
on effectiveness (Grunig 1992) and the general relationship management
approach (Ledingham 2005). The strategic communication view of public
relations is consistent with the marketplace of ideas as well. Various groups
employ public relations to make their ideas more competitive in the mar­
ketplace. This is a rather descriptive view of public relations that does not
consider its effects on society. However, there is a complimentary view of
public relations that shifts the focus from strategic communication by cor­
porations to a focus on broader society and stakeholders. We can trace this
conceptualization of public relations through a number of works to its
more complete articulation in the Fully Functioning Society Theory.

The Bled Manifesto, named for the city of Bled, Slovenia, where its
development was instigated, is a statement of how public relations is con­
ceptualized in Europe. The conceptualization was created through a Delphi
research method utilizing 37 experts representing 25 different countries.
This statement summarizes the Bled Manifesto’s view of public relations:

Seen from this standpoint public relations is not just a phenomenon to be
described and defined. It is first of all a strategic process of viewing
an  organization from an “outside” view. Its primary concerns are an
organization’s inclusiveness and its preservation of the “license to operate”.
As marketing is viewing an organization from a market view, public
relations is viewing an organization from a public view (meant as “public
sphere”). We, therefore, like to broaden the relational and communicative
approaches to public relations with or into a public or reflective approach
of which the relational and communicative approaches of public relations
can be seen as parts. (van Ruler and Verĉiĉ 2002: 16)

The Bled Manifesto also notes that public relations varies by culture and
that many countries in Europe do not even use the term public relations
(van Ruler and Verĉiĉ 2002).

The Bled Manifesto shifts attention to an external view of organiza­
tions, grounded in reflective management, and the idea of the license to
operate. The license to operate exists when stakeholders accept that an

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organization has a right to exist and be a part of a community or society.
We can think of it as a type of legitimacy an organization earns or is
granted from its stakeholders. A number of other research lines in public
relations have posited a similar view. Reflective management argues that
external views of the organization are critical because they provide unique
insights for managers (e.g., Holmstrom 2004). For examples, Molleda’s
research in Latin America has shown a strong social role for public rela­
tions practitioners. Public relations in Latin America emphasizes commu­
nity interests, the well­being of people, and social transformation (Molleda
2001; Molleda and Ferguson 2004). Even Excellence Theory demonstrates
a concern for the social responsibility of corporations in addition to its
drive for effectiveness (Grunig and Grunig 1996). And the civil society per­
spective contends public relations can be used to build social capital and
make society “a better place to live” (Taylor 2010: 9).

Robert Heath (2006) draws upon the emphasis on stakeholders (soci­
ety) to develop the Fully Functioning Society Theory (FFST). FFST is a
normative theory that prescribes how things should be rather than just
describing how things are. FFST posits that conflicts arise in society and
ideas compete with one another. Public relations can be essential to faci­
litating dialogues by creating “statement and counterstatement, where­
by ideas in public can be refined, vetted, and used for enlightened choice”
(Heath 2006: 109). Public relations gives voice to the competing ideas, a
notion Heath (2001) advanced in his discussion of rhetorical enactment.
However, there is a risk that power inequities can be manifested in public
relations and used to skew the discussion. Management views should not
be privileged over stakeholders. Therefore, management must be reflec­
tive and show a desire to cooperate and to avoid pursuing purely selfish
interests. The role of public relations should be to facilitate participation
and cooperation in order to allow the various groups to co­create mean­
ing. “Society is a complex of collectivities engaged in variously construc­
tive dialogues and power resource distribution through meeting socially
constructed and shared norm­based expectations whereby individuals
seek to make enlightened choice in the face of risk, uncertainty, and
reward/cost ambiguity” (Heath 2006: 107). Public relations should be
used to create structures that allow participative managers to advance
the interests of others in some form of collaborative decision making.

In a sense, FFST is the evolution of the marketplace of ideas. The mar­
ketplace of ideas simply describes how ideas compete in public space.

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FFST recognizes that power can corrupt the competition of ideas. Public
relations should be used to help elements of society to engage in produc­
tive efforts to address societal problems (Heath 2006). The word “should”
is what makes FFST normative rather than descriptive. FFST emphasizes
how public relations can be used to improve society while recognizing the
exact opposite can occur when public relations serves only the interests
of  the power elite. In FFST, public relations can be defined as “a force
(through reflective research and best practices) to foster community as
blended relationships, resource distribution, and shared meanings that
advance and yield to enlightened choice” (Heath 2006: 97). The Bled
Manifesto provides an important call to think beyond the descriptive defi­
nitions and conceptualizations of public relations to its effects on society.
FFST captures and synthesizes the various elements in public relations
that focus on stakeholders and the need to respect societal interests. FFST
is a reminder that public relations has the potential to benefit society but
can be abused and be harmful to society as well.

Revisiting the Definition of Public Relations

FFST affords an opportunity to revisit our definition of public relations,
“the management of mutually influential relationships within a web of
relationships comprised of stakeholders and organizations.” The empha­
sis on influence seeks to highlight the role of power in public relations.
Castells (2009) defines power as “the relational capacity that enables a
social actor to influence asymmetrically the decisions of other social
actor(s) in ways that favor the empowered actor’s will, interests, and val­
ues” (p. 10). In Castells’s (2009) view power relationships are naturally
imbalanced but the possibility of resistance to the dominant ideology
always exists. We see public relations as predicated on relationships where
influence is mutual but not equal. The various actors involved in the web
of relationships utilize public relations in attempts to exercise and to resist
power through influence processes. Public relations can be viewed as a
mechanism for the exercise and resistance of power.

Castells (2009) argues that communication plays a central role in power
through “the construction of meaning on the basis of the discourses
through which social actors guide their action” (p. 10). In concordance
with Castells, we view public relations as essentially a medium whereby

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127

discourse is employed in attempts to construct meaning. Affecting the
meanings attached to actions is a method of exercising influence. All of the
extended cases in Chapter 4 illustrate the use of discourse to construct
meaning. A fair critique of our initial definition of public relations is that it
does not include the goal of public relations. For instance, “mutually ben­
eficial relationships” is a common goal associated with contemporary defi­
nitions of public relations. The goal of mutually beneficial relationships
emphasizes the strategic communication nature of public relations and is
a rather general goal. The goal of public relations must be vague so that it
can be adapted and applied to the many sub­specialties that comprise the
field. As noted in Chapter 1, public relations is a rather amorphous prac­
tice. We envision the general goal of public relations to be the construction
of meaning. Various entities utilize public relations in attempts to con­
struct meaning as a way to exercise or resist power.

Another critical aspect of our definition is the web of relationships
comprised of stakeholders and organizations. By noting that stakeholders
and organizations all participate in the web of relationships, we hope to
move away from an organization­centric view of public relations. Public
relations is not viewed as something organizations “do” to stakeholders.
Granted, power in the network typically favors organizations. However,
that is not a reason to continually prioritize the organizational position in
public relations. Stakeholders can utilize public relations to amass power
and to influence organizations and other stakeholders.

Conflict: Exercise and resistance of power through
public relations

The various constituents often find themselves pursuing incompatible
goals resulting in conflict within the web of relationships. Conflict is a
natural element of society and considered an essential factor by some
public relations theories (e.g., Holtzhausen 2012; Pang, Jin and Cameron
2010). The conflict creates an exigency for the exercise of influence.
Constituents attempt to exercise and to resist power, through public rela­
tions, in order to shape meanings. The economic dimension of globaliza­
tion provides an excellent context for examining the stakeholders,
corporations, and the power dynamics within the web of relationships.

The economic dimension of globalization reflects the global incr­
ease  in  economic interrelatedness (Steger 2009). Economies are

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more interconnected through supply chains, investments, and the distri­
bution of goods. Transnational corporations lead the drive for globaliza­
tion as they seek to enhance markets, sales, and profits (Munshi and Kurian
2005; Stenzell 2000). Transnational corporations frequently find support
from government actors. Neoliberal policies adopted by government
actors attempt to remove barriers to commerce thus facilitating globaliza­
tion (Makawana 2006). The more precise term for governmental support
of its businesses is commercial diplomacy, a subset of public diplomacy.

Public diplomacy itself is the sub­field of diplomacy with the strongest
linkage to public relations (Signitzer and Coombs 1992). Public diplomacy
can be defined as “attempts, either public or private, to influence public
opinion abroad” (Manheim 1991: 90). The general target of public diplo­
macy is public opinion in another country: how stakeholders there feel
about one’s own country, or issue or action in it. Public diplomacy seeks
to influence stakeholders in order to affect the behavior of the other coun­
try, particularly its foreign policy decisions (Manheim 1994). Through
issues management, public diplomacy tries to influence policy decisions,
foreign aid allotment, and foreign policy choices. Policy decisions lead to
the laws and regulations created by a country.

Commercial diplomacy can be defined as “an activity conducted by
state representatives with diplomatic status in view of business promotion
between a home and a host country. It aims to encourage business devel­
opment through a series of business promotion and facilitation activities”
(Naray 2008: 2). Government representatives act to influence economic
decisions, such as regulations, in other countries. In other words, govern­
ment officials support business interests in their home country by trying
to manage issues in host countries. The outcome should be economic
gains for corporations in the home country (Kostecki and Naray 2007).
One example has been the controversial efforts of the U.S. government to
support Monsanto and DuPont by pressing other governments to accept
genetically engineered crops (Ludwig 2011). Genetic engineering of food
products is a very contentious issue. As this example illustrates, the corpo­
rations and government actors frequently work in concert to promote the
corporate interests. The two both seek to define globalization as a positive
and natural trend that should be supported.

The primary opposition to globalization is comprised of the anti­
globalization activists. Activists are unique stakeholders because they are
composed of a variety of stakeholders such as customers, community

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members, or investors. Moreover, you can have “professional activists”
whose job is to seek societal changes (Coombs and Holladay 2010).
Greenpeace exemplifies the complexity of activists. Greenpeace has per­
manent employees (professional activists) as well as volunteers (other
stakeholders) to support their causes. Thomas (2003) defines activism as
“an attempt to change the behavior of another party through the applica­
tion of concerted power” (p. 129). A common characteristic of activists is
that they attempt to create change through the exercise of influence
(Raymond 2003; Smith and Ferguson 2001).

One problem when discussing activism is the use of terminology. Are
the activists non­governmental organizations (NGOs), private voluntary
organizations (PVOs), or civil society organizations (CSOs)? In reality, an
activist group might be all three or just one. The term non­government
organization (NGO) was created in 1945 through the United Nations. An
NGO is any organization that is not part of the government and can
include both non­profit and for­profit entities. A PVO is a non­govern­
ment organization but must be a non­profit as well and has a general focus
on humanitarian and development concerns (Willetts n.d.; What is, n.d.).
A PVO is an NGO but not all NGOs are PVOs. Civil society organizations
are the third sector, meaning it is neither government nor business. The
underlying idea is that civil society organizations are people uniting to
advance a common interest and exist in the space between the family and
the state (Taylor 2010). An NGO or a PVO might be part of civil society
efforts or they may not; it depends on the mission of the NGO or PVO.

We can complicate matters further when we consider how activists
form coalitions. When activism is global, do we have transnational advo­
cacy networks or global civil society?

PVOs often enter into coalitions to increase their power (Paul 2000).
The Internet has made it easier for PVOs to link up with one another.
This reflects the notion of “power in numbers” discussed in Chapter 4.
Interconnected PVOs are referred to as transnational advocacy networks
(TANs) (Keck and Sikkink 1998). Thirteen PVOs, including the Union of
Concerned Scientists, Humane Society, Sierra Club, and the National
Catholic Rural Life Conference formed a TAN to combat the overuse of
antibiotics in producing food animals. The TAN targeted McDonald’s, the
world’s largest buyer of food animals. It believed that if McDonald’s said
“no” to antibiotics, the animal producers would have to listen. McDonald’s
did indeed draft a “Global Policy on antibiotic use in food animals.”

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The policy included a ban on the use of antibiotics in the poultry used by
McDonald’s (Greider 2003). A TAN had convinced one of the largest cor­
porations in the world to change a significant business practice, again
demonstrating that PVOs can influence corporations.

TANs are further evidence of the global nature of activism. TANs erase
national borders in the development of coalitions, selection of targets, and
choice of issues. They demonstrate the public relations orientation and savvy
of activists. It is through the exchange of information that TANs can form,
and through these pooled power resources that they can persuade corpora­
tions or governments to change their behaviors and policies. When PVOs
combine to form a more influential TAN (Keck and Sikkink 1998), the bal­
ance of power shifts to the benefit of the once­marginalized PVOs. With this
increase in numbers they find that corporations are more willing to listen.

Global civil society, also known as transnational civil society organiza­
tions, are networks of civil society organizations that transcend national
borders and seek to influence the practices of transnational organiza­
tions (e.g., World Trade Organization) and transnational corporations.
Global civil society is often considered the only counterbalance to glo­
balization (Loaner 2011). TANs and global civil society are not mutually
exclusive. A TAN might be a global civil society organization as well,
depending on the nature of its objectives. We will be using the term PVO
as the label for activists.

PVOs address a range of issues and topics. Reviewing a few of them will
provide a flavor for their diversity. The Bretton Woods Project tries to influ­
ence the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). This PVO
collects and shares information about the activities of these powerful eco­
nomic entities. By sharing information and building coalitions, the Bretton
Woods Project hopes to be a voice for greater transparency for the World
Bank and IMF (About Bretton Woods, n.d.). The International Rivers
Project seeks to aid local communities trying to protect their rivers and
watersheds. It supports local efforts to preserve rivers and ecosystems that
benefit humans and other biological communities (About international,
n.d.). Oxfam is a collection of 12 organizations working in over 100 coun­
tries to develop lasting solutions to poverty and suffering. The organization
believes coalitions enhance power. Oxfam champions economic and social
justice (About us, n.d.). Search for Common Ground is trying to change
how the world approaches conflict. The focus is to shift conflict manage­
ment from adversarial to cooperative approaches (Our mission, n.d.).

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131

PVOs are emerging as important actors in stakeholder networks, and
are playing a larger role in international policy. They have been influential
enough to help shape global agreements on such issues as the environ­
ment, women’s rights, arms control, and the rights of children. PVOs
were instrumental in the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances
Depleting the Ozone Layer of 1987 and the Mine Ban Treaty of 1997.
They are often as important or more important than governments when
it comes to making global policies. Even the United Nations views PVOs
as an important legitimizing force in policy development (Paul 2000).

Corporations recognize the power and influence of PVOs as well, and
international corporations are seeing their policies shaped by them. Often
a PVO is engaged to create new policies in partnership with the corpora­
tion while at other times the PVO uses its power to influence corporate
policies. PVOs draw heavily on their credibility. Edelman’s Trust
Barometer (2013) surveyed global opinion leaders about PVOs and corpo­
rations, including respondents from Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the
United States. PVOs were generally the most trusted institutions, well
ahead of corporations and governments, providing a compelling force for
corporations to partner with PVOs. For instance, Walmart has partnered
with the Environment Defense Fund (EDF) to find ways to become more
environmentally friendly. The first move by the EDF was to have Walmart
reduce packing waste for toys. As Taylor notes, “Partnerships between
NGOs and business organizations are a win–win situation for both par­
ties” (2005: 577). Other PVOs can leverage corporations into changing
their practices. Greenpeace influenced Whirlpool to use environmentally
friendly insulation while the Rainforest Action Network convinced Home
Depot and Lowes not to buy products harvested from Canada’s Great
Bear rainforest. Richard Edelman, president of Edelman Public Relations
is another who has observed that corporations are borrowing credibility
from PVOs (Iritani 2005).

PVOs are built around managing mutually influential relationships. By
leveraging their power, PVOs can alter the course of ships of commerce.
They draw on a wide range of public relations tactics to inform, persuade,
and activate stakeholders and corporations (Taylor 2005), including pro­
tests, websites, email alert systems, advocacy advertising, news releases,
news conferences, and lobbying. PVOs are essentially public relations
entities. These are the forms of communication that can influence corpo­
rations and governments.

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132

Corporations, governments, and PVOs can find themselves in conflict
over issues relating to globalization and corporate social responsibility.
Through issues management, private politics, or a combination of the two,
these stakeholders are trying to influence the policies and actions of the oth­
ers. A quick illustration of this point is the nearly 20­year banana tariff battle
between the EU and Latin American banana producers. The EU imposed
the tariffs to help their former colonies in Africa that grow bananas to be
more competitive within the EU (Miller 2009). The tariffs made the Latin
American bananas less competitive in EU markets because of the higher
prices. Various governments, corporations, and PVOs were involved in
efforts to maintain and to eliminate the tariffs. In December of 2009, the EU
announced the tariffs would be phased out with the final reduction occur­
ring in 2017 (The EU–Latin America 2009). The United States was instru­
mental in creating the change. Dole and Chiquita, two of the top banana
producers in Latin America, are U.S. companies (Miller 2009). Ending the
tariff on bananas is consistent with the neoliberalism policies that foster
globalization. The meaning of the tariffs was shifted from something good
for developing nations growing bananas to an impediment to free trade.

Detox campaign: exercising influence through public relations

The Detox campaign is an excellent way to illustrate how PVOs utilize
public relations in efforts to influence behavior and policies of corpora­
tions and governments. Greenpeace created the Detox campaign to
reduce the problem of toxins entering water supplies around the world
due to their use in the textile industry. Textile manufacturers use toxins
such as phthalates and nonylphenol ethoxyates (NPEs) when creating
clothing for adults and children. One common use of the toxins is in cloth­
ing dyes. The toxins enter the water supplies in the countries where they
are produced and in the countries where they are sold. When used in pro­
duction, the toxins are released into the local water supply. When people
wash their clothes at home, the toxins have another opportunity to enter
their water supply. The toxins present health hazards for humans includ­
ing some being carcinogenic (Hidden consequences, 2012). The toxins
from textiles pose a global threat to water because they are being released
in so many locations. The Greenpeace research found the toxins used in
clothes made in 18 different countries and clothing sold in 27 different
countries covering the continents of Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, South

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133

America, and North America (Brigden, Labunska, House, Santillo, and
Johnston 2012; Toxic Threads 2012).

The term “textile industry” is rather vague. People are more likely to
know textiles through the brand names of fashion. Brands found to con­
tain toxins include: Zara, Gap, Levi’s, Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger,
C&A, Marks & Spencer, Only, Jack & Jones, Vero Moda, Calvin Klein,
Diesel, Benetton, and Armani (Brigden et al. 2012). The brands are global
in reach and are based in a number of different countries. The Detox issue
is global in reach, thus, it demands a global activist effort.

The goal of the Detox campaign is “zero discharge.” Zero discharge
seeks the elimination of toxins by replacing them with safer alternatives.
The Detox campaign works through both issues management and private
politics. Greenpeace is attempting to get governments to adopt regula­
tions that reflect zero discharge for the toxins. However, the Detox cam­
paign is much more active in private politics by harnessing people power.
People can pressure brands by demanding they stop the use of toxins. The
early victories for Detox included convincing Puma, Adidas, Nike, H&M,
Li Ning, and C&A to commit to zero discharge (Toxic Threads 2012).

People pressure is the application of public relations tactics to private
politics. The Detox campaign is a mix of traditional public relations, digi­
tal public relations, and non­traditional public relations. The traditional
public relations tactics include sending news releases to media outlets and
holding press conferences. The digital public relations uses social media, a
website, and email alerts to create awareness, recruit supporters, mobilize
supporters to action, and to solicit donations. For instance, Twitter and
Facebook were used in private politics directed toward H&M. A Twitter
petition calling on H&M to Detox was signed by over 600,000 Twitter
users while people posted questions to H&M’s Facebook page asking why
the company would not Detox.

Non­traditional public relations employs direct actions including stag­
ing protests in front of brand stores which then become YouTube videos
and protest messages. For example, there is a YouTube video of protestors
dancing outside Adidas and Nike stores in many different countries to
bring awareness to the issue and pressure the corporations. H&M was the
target of protest messages. People targeted H&M stores in 12 separate
nations for window stickers. The removable stickers said “Detox our
future” and “Detox our water.” The direct actions are non­traditional pub­
lic relations because they too help to attract legacy media attention and to

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134

raise awareness among customers at those stores (Clickers 2011). Private
political action, as discussed in Chapter 4, involves harnessing a number
of public relations tactics to pressure corporations by increasing aware­
ness of and support for an issue. Greenpeace has exercised influence by
convincing other actors, including garment companies, that certain chem­
icals should not be used in the textile industry. The meaning of certain
chemicals was changed from something that was acceptable to use to
something that was toxic and to be avoided. Pressure for greater corpo­
rate social responsibility produced commitments to alter harmful impacts
on the environment and people.

The UN places human rights on the corporate agenda

The successes of activist groups demonstrate how public relations can be
used to instigate tangible changes in corporate behaviors that pose a
threat to society. While the use of public relations in the Detox campaign
focused on altering a limited set of practices within the textile industry,
public relations also has the potential to effect change in other areas of
concern to society and contribute to the ideals associated with Heath’s
Fully Functioning Society Theory.

Perhaps no issue in society produces such outrage and visceral reac­
tions as human rights violations. Consider how stakeholders were appalled
and demanded change when they learned about child labor in the gar­
ment industry and the utilization of diamonds to fund violence (blood
diamonds). Addressing this enormously complex social concern may be
the most significant challenge facing public relations. Unfortunately,
human rights violations have always existed and stem from a basic lack of
regard for others’ lives. Critics argue that globalization breeds human
rights abuses. Organizations, including both corporations and govern­
ments, have committed human rights violations, and these violations
often have become institutionalized. So the issue is indeed complex and
difficult to confront.

In spite of the tenure and ubiquity of human rights violations across time
and around the world, the United Nations (UN), formed in 1947 and boast­
ing an international membership, is committed to pressing for respect for
human rights. In addition to its concern for human rights, the UN has deve­
loped the UN Global Compact which identifies three other primary areas
of concern for corporations: labor, the environment, and anti­corruption.

Shifting the View of Public Relations

135

The UN Global Compact’s 10 Principles (see Box 5.1) codify its concerns
about corporate behavior. The UN has worked with its member nations to
encourage corporations to conform to the 10 principles. The UN’s Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, contains 24  articles

Box 5.1 The 10 Principles of UN Global Compact

The UN Global Compact asks companies to embrace, support and
enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values in the
areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and
anti­corruption:

Human Rights
• Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protec­

tion of internationally proclaimed human rights
• Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human

rights abuses

Labour
• Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of associa­

tion and the effective recognition of the right to collective
bargaining

• Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compul­
sory labour

• Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour
• Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of

employment and occupation

Environment
• Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach

to environmental challenges
• Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environ­

mental responsibility
• Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of envi­

ronmentally friendly technologies

Anti­Corruption
• Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its

forms, including extortion and bribery (UN, n.d.)

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society

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pertaining to human rights as well. These documents demonstrate the UN’s
ongoing commitment to social justice.

In 2011, the UN further addressed human rights by endorsing the
Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN Protect, Respect
and Remedy Framework. The Guiding Principles focus on human rights,
Principle 1 of the UN Global Compact. Box  5.2 provides foundational
principles for the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights
section of the Guiding Principles. Here is a summary of the Guiding
Principles’ view of the connection between corporation and human
rights: “The responsibility to respect human rights and to thereby not
cause harm is the baseline standard for all companies in all situations.
Companies should exercise due diligence to become aware of, prevent and
address adverse human rights impacts linked to their activities” (UN 2011).
The clear message is that corporations must be cognizant of and respect­
ful of human rights.

The European Commission’s (EC) 2012 endorsement of the Guiding
Principles strengthens the legitimacy of those principles and the role of
the UN in providing a leadership role in protecting human rights. It is
possible that the development of the guiding principles may provoke con­
flict among groups that oppose the UN’s emphasis on human rights.
However, the guiding principles provide a powerful rationale for coop­
eration among governments, corporations, and activists as they pursue
the ideals of the principles. For example, activists who function as the
watchdogs of corporate activities may be in a position to interrogate
practices that violate the principles. No doubt PR should be an integral
part of creating awareness of human rights issues, facilitating coalition
formation, and engaging in conflict management among groups contest­
ing those issues.

The availability of the technology that can be used to document and
broadcast abuses of human rights, including video recording and social
media, may be able to pressure corporations to reform their activities
such as the use of sweatshops and forced labor. Previous success in uncov­
ering human rights abuses to force changes in operations bodes well for
the potential of public relations to make a difference. The Internet pro­
vides the capacities for information sharing, generating public concern
over abuses, and leveraging public outrage to shame corporations and
perhaps prompt government intervention to convince corporations to
modify their behavior. Public relations may be facing its most daunting

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Box 5.2 Foundational Principles for the Corporate
Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that
they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and
should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are
involved.

The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human
rights refers to internationally recognized human rights – under­
stood, at a minimum, as those expressed in the International Bill of
Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights
set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on
Funda mental Principles and Rights at Work. (p. 13)

The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business
enterprises:
(a) Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights

impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts
when they occur;

(b) Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that
are directly linked to their operations, products or services by
their business relationships, even if they have not contributed
to those impacts. (p. 14)

The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights
applies to all enterprises regardless of their size, sector, operational
context, ownership and structure. Nevertheless, the scale and com­
plexity of the means through which enterprises meet that responsi­
bility may vary according to these factors and with the severity of
the enterprise’s adverse human rights impacts. (p. 15)

In order to meet their responsibility to respect human rights,
business enterprises should have in place policies and processes
appropriate to their size and circumstances, including: (p. 15)
(a) A policy commitment to meet their responsibility to respect

human rights;
(b) A human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent,

mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on
human rights;

(c) Processes to enable the remediation of any adverse
human rights impacts they cause or to which they contrib­
ute. (p. 16)
(Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, 2011)

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138

challenge as it seeks to create networks to facilitate the development of
relationships among those stakeholders, whether PVOs, governments,
or other stakeholders, aid coalition formation among PVOs, and pressure
for reform from within corporations that are confronted with accusations

On June 16, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council
endorsed the Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN
“Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework.

The Guiding Principles clarify the meaning of the corporate
responsibility to respect human rights, which is also a key compo­
nent of Global Compact Principle 1, which calls on business to
support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed
human rights.

The SRSG’s framework adopted by the UN Human Rights
Council is relevant to the UN Global Compact, in particular, the
SRSG’s elaboration of corporate responsibility to “respect” human
rights and of “complicity,” which are some of the main concepts in
UN Global Compact Principles 1 and 2.

The work of the SRSG on business and human rights has shown
that all human rights have the potential to be relevant to all busi­
nesses, regardless of sector or country of operation. It also empha­
sizes that respecting human rights means not causing harm to
human rights.

Exercising “due diligence” in identifying and managing human
rights risk will help business respect human rights and avoid com­
plicity in human rights abuse.

The responsibility to respect human rights and to thereby not
cause harm is the baseline standard for all companies in all situa­
tions. Companies should exercise due diligence to become aware
of, prevent and address adverse human rights impacts linked to
their activities.

The due diligence process should consider three sets of factors:
the country contexts in which the companies operates; the poten­
tial and actual human rights impacts resulting from the compa­
ny’s activities; and the relationships connected to those activities.
How far or how deep this process must go will depend on the
circumstances. (UN, 2011)

Shifting the View of Public Relations

139

of abuses. As discussed earlier, the idea that there is power in numbers
applies to the potential of PR to aid change that will benefit society.

FFST posits that the various societal actors should work together,
through public relations, to address human rights. Governments can for­
mulate and enforce policies designed to respect and to protect human
rights. These governmental actions can be supported by corporations
and PVOs that contributed to the development of the new policies.
Public relations can foster the engagement necessary for governments,
corporations, and PVOs to collaborate on human rights policy develop­
ment. Government agencies will employ public relations to create
awareness of news policies among corporations and stakeholders.
Through private politics, stakeholders (including PVOs) and corpora­
tions can engage with one another to reach an agreement on how cor­
porate behavior can support human rights more fully. Again, public
relations can help to facilitate this type of engagement. Corporations
will refer to their human rights actions as part of their CSR communica­
tion. Public relations is an integral part of communicating a corpora­
tion’s CSR actions to stakeholders (Coombs and Holladay 2012c). PVOs
will monitor the corporate CSR communication for accuracy while
some might even serve as endorsers of the corporate behavior by help­
ing to verify a corporation is protecting human rights. PVOs utilize a
variety of public relations tactics for communicating their evaluations of
corporate behavior to other stakeholders, including the government.
Public relations has the potential to play a critical role if governments,
corporations, and PVOs choose a collaborative approach to promoting
and protecting human rights.

Where We Have Been

We began this book by wondering if society really needs public relations.
The answer is still “yes.” Public relations plays a vital role in building and
maintaining the networks of stakeholders and organizations that make
society possible. The connections and corresponding social capital allow
these various actors depicted in Figure 3.1c to engage in mutual influence.
This engagement naturally will be a mix of conflict and cooperation.

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140

The parable of the blind men and the elephant is found in writings
from ancient China and India. The parable involves six blind men led to
meet an elephant. Each feels a different part of the great beast. The men
are then asked what an elephant is. The first man touched its side and
described the elephant as a wall. The second touched the tusk and believed
the elephant to be a spear. The third felt the trunk and thought the
elephant to be a snake. The fourth encountered the knee and believed
the elephant to be a like a tree. The fifth touched the ear and thought the
elephant to be a fan. The sixth man felt the tail and knew the elephant
must be like a rope. The six men then argued about what an elephant is.
One of the morals of this parable is the problem of looking at parts rather
than the whole.

We feel the parable of the blind men and the elephant fits public rela­
tions. People often see bits and pieces of public relations through mass­
media filters. Some see it as a way for corporations to dupe stakeholders,
some as words over substance, some as a mechanism for activists to
change society for the better, and some as a way to improve the health of
a nation. The truth is that public relations can be all of these. We defined
public relations as the management of mutually influential relation­
ships within a web of stakeholder and organizational relationships. The
outcome will not always be positive for stakeholders or even society.
Corporations still have the most power and the exercise of that power can
harm stakeholders. But public relations can also benefit society.

The point is that public relations plays a valuable role in society. A soci­
ety cannot function effectively if the various webs of stakeholder and
organizational relationships are fractured. Yes, at times the relationships
are damaged, sometimes purposefully and through public relations.
However, the relationships can be repaired and public relations has a vital
role in those repair efforts. Public relations is not perfect; but it is an over­
statement to call it a “necessary evil” in society. Like all elements of soci­
ety, it has its good points and its bad points. Public relations is a societal
tool, and tools can be misused. People have used crowbars in robberies
and murders. But that does not mean crowbars are inherently evil. Public
relations provides valuable societal benefits; it helps to maintain the rela­
tionships necessary for the effective functioning of society.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Index

abolitionists 72–73, 76
activists, activism 129–132

antagonistic view 63–64
challenges 71–72
Internet activism 82–87

Alar 95–97
Alinsky, Saul 79–81
American Family Association (AFA)

83–85
American Medical Association

(AMA) 97–99
apple industry 96
Armed Forces of the Philippines 6
Armstrong, Lance 5

banana tariff 132
Chiquita 132
Dole 132

Barcelona Principles 24
Baxter, Leone 61–62
Bernays, Edward 61–62
Bled Manifesto 124
boundary spanner 45–49, 56–57
boycott 84
Bretton Woods Project 130
bribery 15–16
Burger King 64

Burson-Marsteller 10
Byoir, Carl 61–62

Canada’s Great Bear rainforest 131
Catalytic Model 93–94, 119
Centers for Disease Control

(CDC) 106–107
Center for Media and Democracy 12
Chase–Jones Model 91–92
Chief Iron Eyes Cody, crying Indian 104
civil society, civil society organizations 129
Clean Clothes Campaign 86
Coalition for a Better Inglewood 99
co-creation perspective 125
Command PR 6
commercial diplomacy 128
conflict between organization and

stakeholders 127
corporate-centric view 60–63, 66–67, 124
corporate social responsibility

(CSR) 40–41, 49, 114–117, 125, 139
Cutlip, Scott 61

daminozide see Alar
Declaration of Principles 49
deontology 39–40
Detox campaign 132–134

Index

160

Dinan, William 18
direct-to-consumer advertising

(DTC) 118–122
criticisms 101
response to critics 101–102

disease mongering 118–119

Edelman’s Trust Barometer 131
Enron 4
Environmental Protection Agency

(EPA) 95–99
ethic of care 40–41
ethics 36–37, 38–49, 58–59

Canadian Public Relations Society
(CPRS) 42

Global Alliance 42–43, 45
influence 46, 48
IPRA 41
International Association of Business

Communicators (IABC) 41
listening 47
perspectives 39–42
professional codes 41–45
Public Relations Society of America

(PRSA) 43–45
resides in individual 58–59
tensions for practitioners 49–50

European Commission 136
Ewan, Stuart 4
Excellence Theory 65, 124
extended parallel process model

(EPPM) 102–103, 119
efficacy 102, 103
fear appeal 102
threat 102–103

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 14
Fenton Communications 96
First Reform Era 72–76
food disparagement laws (food libel laws) 96
Food and Drug Administration

(FDA) 119–120
Ford Motor Company 83–85
Free-standing Ambulatory Surgery Center

(FASC) 100–101
front groups 14
Fully Functioning Society Theory

(FFST) 124–126, 139

general hospitals 100
genetic engineering 128

DuPont 128
Monsanto 128

Gilligan, Carol 40
Global Fund 108
global civil society 130
globalization 127–8
Greenpeace 114–116, 132–134

H&M 133
HealthSouth 4
Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 106
Heath, Robert 94, 125–126
Hill, John 61–62
Hill and Knowlton 10
History of Standard Oil, The 78
HIV/AIDS 109
Holiday, Ryan 22
Huffington Post 22

image 13
see also reputation

influence, see power
interdependence 40
International Association of Business

Communicators (IABC) 41
Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft

(INSM) 111–112
Instagram 6

Systrom, Keven 6
Internet Contagion Theory

(ICT) 87
issues management 81–82, 90–101

communication 94
definitions 91
power 94–95
process definition 91

Jungle, The 77

Keep America Beautiful 103–105
Kodak 80

labor unions 87–89
Labour Behind the Label 86
Lee, Ivy 61–62, 63–64, 78
legacy media 22, 133

Index

161

Let’s Move 105–106
Ludlow Massacre 87–88

marketplace of ideas 28–29
McClure’s 78
Meat Inspection Act 77
Miller, David 18
Mothers and Others for Pesticides

Limits 96
muckraking 76–77
mutually influential relationships 35, 58, 127
mutually beneficial

relationships 35, 127

Naked Corporation, The 15
Nation, Carry A. 75
national health insurance 97–99
National Resource Defense Council

(NRDC) 95–96
neoliberalism 105, 110–111, 128
Nestlé 114–116
News Corporation 5
Newsom, Earl 61–62
non-government organizations

(NGOs) 129
see also private voluntary

organizations

Obama, Michelle 105
Obama, President 97
one-way communication 39, 48
Olympus 5

Page, Arthur 60–61
palm oil 114–116
parable of the blind men and the

elephant 140
People for the Ethical Treatment of

Animals (PETA) 64
Persian Gulf War 10
Pfizer 121
pharmaceutical companies 118–121
PhRMA 121–122

guiding principles 121
Pilgrim’s Progress, The 77
Policy making 71–72, 81–82, 90–91

inside champion 72
postmodernism 55–58

Potter, Wendell 17–18
power 11, 15, 23–27, 30, 32, 38, 40–42, 44,

47, 53–56, 58, 65, 68, 73, 103,
122, 125–126

power over 53–54
PR! A Social History of Spin 8
private politics 112–122

defined 112
leverage points 113

private voluntary organizations (PVOs)
129–132, 139

Professional Air Traffic
Controllers Organization
(PATCO) 88

Progressive Era 76
Prohibition 73
propaganda 16

Goebbels, Joseph 16
pseudoevent 74
public agenda 60
public communication 28
public diplomacy 128
public interest 38–40
public relations

activist role 56–57
as confrontations 7
conscience of organization 37
critics 4–5, 8–13
critiques 13–20
definition 34–35, 126–127, 140
media portrayals 19
media use of term 6–7
popular press attacks 8–13
popular press books 20–23
postmodern perspective 55–58
profession or practice 22–26
PRSA definition 24
stakeholder view 124–125
strategic focus 24
see also spin

public relations literacy 29–31
Public Relations Society of

America (PRSA) 7, 19, 21–23,
33–35

public service announcement
(PSA) 103–104

publicity 6
Pure Food and Drug Act 77

Index

162

Railroad Labor Act 88
Rainforest Action Network 131
Rampton, Sheldon 9–12
RED Campaign 108–109
reflective management 125
reputation, 113–114, 116

see also image
robber barons 77
Rockefeller, J. D. 61–62, 64, 78
Roosevelt, Theodore 76–77
Ruder Finn Group 18
Rules for Radicals 80–81

Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System
100–101

“Scandal” (television show) 19
Scotts, David Meerman 21
Second Reform Era 76–79
self-regulation 121–122
Sinclair, Upton 77, 78
Smith, Judy 19
social capital 35
social marketing 101–110
social media 14, 21–23, 126–128

activism 85–86
blogs 16, 21–23
Facebook 14, 27, 86, 105, 115, 133
monitoring 27
Twitter 14, 27, 105, 116–117, 135

social networks 25–26
social reform 62, 68
socialized medicine 88
sockpuppeting 14
spin 4, 23
“Spin Crowd, The” (television

show) 20
stakeholders 24–25, 38, 40–43, 47,

54–60, 70, 103, 121
challenges 69
defined 31, 32
definitive 70
expectant 70–71
latent 70
legitimacy 69–70
power 69–70
salience 69–71
urgency 69–70

Standard Oil 78

Starbucks 116–117
Stauber, John 9–12
Stockholm Accords 24
Stowe, Harriet Beecher 73

Tappan brothers 72
Tarbell, Ida 78
teleological approach 39
temperance 73–76
Toxic Sludge is Good for You! 9–12
transnational advocacy networks

(TANs) 129–130
transparency 14, 15–16
Triangle Waist Companies 88
Truman, Harry 97
Truth, Sojourner 73
two-way asymmetrical model 46
two-way communication 39, 48, 58
two-way symmetrical model 46–47
Tyco 4

UK Uncut 116–117
UN Global Compact 134–135
Uncle Tom’s Cabin 73
Uniroyal 95–96
United Nations 6, 134–138

human rights 6, 135–138
Unseen Power, The 61

Versace 85–86
Vioxx 120

Waist factory fire 74
Walden Two 35
Walmart 99–100
web of relationships 34, 127
Weber Shandwick Worldwide 18
Whitaker, Clem 61–62
Whitaker & Baxter 98
Williams, Armstrong 56
Witte, Kim 102–103
Women’s Christian Temperance

Union 74
Wyeth 121

YouTube 105, 115–116, 133

Zombie Apocalypse 106–108

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Coombs, W. Timothy.
Managing corporate social responsibility : a communication approach /
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4443-3629-0 (hardback) – ISBN 978-1-4443-3645-0 (paperback)
1. Social responsibility of business. 2. Business communication.
I. Holladay, Sherry J. II. Title.
HD60.C6347 2011
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2011017060

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We dedicate this book to Jeanne, Tom, and Dorothy.

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Contents in Detail ix

Acknowledgments xiii

1 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 1

2 Strategic CSR 29

3 CSR Scanning and Monitoring 51

4 Formative Research 63

5 Create the CSR Initiative 89

6 Communicate the CSR Initiative 109

7 Evaluation and Feedback 137

8 CSR Issues 153

References 165

Index 177

Contents

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Acknowledgments xiii

1 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 1

Box 1.1: The Sullivan Principles 2
Corporate Social Responsibility: Seeking Parameters 5

Defi ning CSR 6
Box 1.2: Defi nition of CSR 8

Benefi ts and Costs of CSR 9
Two Sides of CSR Cost-Benefi t Analysis 9
CSR Costs for Corporations 10
CSR Costs for Society 12
CSR Benefi ts for Corporations 13
CSR Benefi ts for Society 14

Winning and Sustaining Support for CSR 14
Other Conceptual Questions about CSR 16

CSR: Modern or Historic? 16
Box 1.3: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Standards 19
Forms of CSR 20
Where Is CSR’s Home? 22
Should CSR Standards Be Localized or Globalized? 24

Conclusion 27

2 Strategic CSR 29

Characteristics of the Corporation 31
Stakeholder Expectations and the Importance of

Organizational Identifi cation 32
Reputational Benefi ts of CSR 35

Contents in Detail

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x Contents in Detail

Perceived Motives for CSR Initiatives 38
General Strategic Guidance: Approaching the CSR Process

as Change Management 44
Everyone Loves a Good Story 45

The CSR Process Model: A Brief Preview 47

3 CSR Scanning and Monitoring 51

Issues Management 53
Scanning and CSR 54

Prioritizing CSR Concerns 54
Monitoring and CSR 57
Scanning and Monitoring in Concert 58
Stakeholder Engagement’s Role in Scanning and Monitoring 58
Conclusion and Critical Questions 60

4 Formative Research 63

Researching Stakeholder Expectations for CSR 67
Box 4.1: MyStarbucksidea CSR Suggestions 68
The Expectation Gap Approach 69
Box 4.2: IKEA Child Labour Code of Conduct 71
Origins of Expectation Gaps 73
Box 4.3: Pinkwashing Detection 75
Relevance of Operant Conditioning Theory to

Stakeholder Challenges 77
The Alignment Approach 80

The Counterbalance: Corporate Concerns 85
Conclusion and Critical Questions 85

5 Create the CSR Initiative 89

Selecting the CSR Initiatives: Appreciating the
Contestable Nature of CSR 90

Differing CSR Expectations among Stakeholders 90
Stakeholder Salience 91
Box 5.1: Stakeholder Salience 92

What Constitutes CSR? 92
Stakeholder Participation in Decision Making 94
Organizational Justice in the Engagement Process 96

The “Right Amount” of CSR 98

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Contents in Detail xi

When Employees Challenge CSR: Considering
Internal Stakeholders 99

Preparing for Negative Stakeholder Reactions:
Message Mapping 101

Developing CSR Objectives 101
Box 5.2: Message-Mapping Template 102
Process versus Outcome Objectives 103

Conclusion and Critical Questions 105

6 Communicate the CSR Initiative 109

CSR Promotional Communication Dilemma 110
Box 6.1: Overview of Corporate-Activist Partnerships 116

Communication Channels for CSR Messaging 116
Overview of Communication Channels for CSR 117
Box 6.2: Social Media Overview 118
Employees as a Communication Channel 122
External Stakeholders as a Communication Channel 123
Strategic Application of Social Media to

CSR Communication 124
The Overall CSR Promotional Communication Strategy 128

Annual Reports and CSR Communication 128
Conclusion and Critical Questions 133

7 Evaluation and Feedback 137

Evaluation 138
Assurance and CSR Evaluation 141

Stakeholder Engagement in the Evaluation Process 142
Box 7.1: Musgrave Group Assurance Statement 2006 143
Box 7.2: Basic ROI Formula 145
Considering Return on Investment 145

Feedback 146
Feedback from Stakeholders on the CSR Process 147
The Communication Audit 148

Conclusion and Critical Questions 148

8 CSR Issues 153

Overarching Concerns for CSR Initiatives 154
Responsibility for CSR Initiatives 155
Limitations from Industry, Culture, and Law 157

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xii Contents in Detail

Industry Standards 157
The Culture and Socioeconomic Context 158
Box 8.1: Culture and Activism 160
The Legal Context 161
Beyond Limitations 161

Parting Thoughts 162

References 165

Index 177

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Many individuals supported us along the way to make this text a reality,
and to all we are very grateful. Most importantly, we thank Elizabeth
Swayze, our editor at Wiley – Blackwell, for continuing to be an enthusiastic
and responsive advocate for our work. This text, along with our previous
publications with Wiley – Blackwell, has benefi ted from Elizabeth ’ s encour-
agement and judicious feedback. Elizabeth ’ s guidance has enabled us to
pursue projects that are important to our discipline, accessible to our
readers, and often enable us to push the boundaries of the status quo.

We owe thanks to our production team who worked hard to get our
manuscript into shape. Matthew Brown ably supervised the process and
amazingly kept everyone on a tight schedule. We acknowledge Dave Nash,
who worked with permissions and images to secure visual elements we
believed would enhance the book. Dave persistently sought permissions
from often reluctant (and sometimes completely uncooperative) sources. We
also thank Cheryl Adam, our copy – editor. Cheryl ’ s competence undoubtedly
makes us look better and adds to our readers ’ experiences with the material
in our book.

We also thank the scholars who reviewed the early version of the manu-
script and offered suggestions that enhanced the book.

W. Timothy Coombs
Sherry J. Holladay

University of Central Florida, Orlando

Acknowledgments

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Home Depot, the world ’ s largest home improvement retailer, operates in the US,
Canada, Mexico, and China. Home Depot supports “ Team Depot, ” a volunteer
program led by store associates that participates in community programs. Courtesy
of Volunteer Canada

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1

Conceptualizing Corporate Social
Responsibility

Apartheid is an historical artifact for many people reading this book rather
than a current issue or reality. Apartheid was a severe, state – sanctioned
racial segregation practiced in South Africa and what was then called
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). A white minority used apartheid to oppress the
indigenous black populations. In the 1970s, Dr. Leon Howard Sullivan, a
US minister, plotted a corrective course of action that became known as the
Sullivan Principles. The Sullivan Principles were designed to help end apart-
heid in South Africa by placing requirements on US corporations wanting
to conduct business in South Africa. Box 1.1 lists the fi nal seven points to
the Sullivan Principles (Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, n.d. ). The Sullivan
Principles, along with the divestment campaign of the 1980s, did exert some
pressure on the South African government. The divestment campaign
worked in tandem with the Sullivan Principles. Investors were asked to
divest (remove investments) from any US companies that did not adopt the
Sullivan Principles. College campuses were a hotbed of activity for divest-
ment pressures in the 1980s. Campus protests brought attention to the issue
and pressured universities to cease investing in corporations doing business
in South Africa. While the Sullivan Principles alone precipitated very little
change, the divestment campaign is credited with having a signifi cant effect
on eradicating apartheid in South Africa.

The Sullivan Principles and related divestment efforts are indicators of
corporate social responsibility (CSR) making a difference on a global scale.
Fair treatment of workers and socially responsible investing are recognized
today as CSR. The Sullivan Principles provide a foundation for socially

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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2 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

responsible investing and, therefore, comprise a form of CSR as well. The
focus of the Sullivan Principles was social improvement through the elimi-
nation of apartheid. The Sullivan Principles were not the fi rst CSR effort
or the fi rst socially responsible investing guidelines to appear in the business
world. However, the anti – apartheid efforts illustrated the potential power
of CSR. Corporations were pressured to change their behavior not because
their actions were illegal but because their actions failed to meet expecta-
tions for responsible behavior.

On December 3, 1984, the Union Carbide India Limited facility in
Bhopal, India, leaked tons of deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. Bhopal
quickly became the worst industrial accident in the history of the world.
Estimates place the death toll at between 3,000 and 10,000 people in the
fi rst 72 hours. One estimate places the number of those who have died since
being exposed at around 15,000. Between 120,000 to 500,000 people suf-
fered permanent medical conditions from the exposure (Amnesty, 2009 ).
Investigative reports since the accident all noted lax safety as the cause.
Union Carbide ’ s own investigation identifi ed procedural violations and
operating errors (Diamond, 1985 ). Many safety systems did not function,
and overall the facility was in disrepair. This created a very unsafe operating

Box 1.1 The Sullivan Principles

1. Non – segregation of the races in all eating, comfort, and work
facilities.

2. Equal and fair employment practices for all employees.
3. Equal pay for all employees doing equal or comparable work for

the same period of time.
4. Initiation of and development of training programs that will

prepare, in substantial numbers, blacks and other nonwhites for
supervisory, administrative, clerical, and technical jobs.

5. Increasing the number of blacks and other nonwhites in manage-
ment and supervisory positions.

6. Improving the quality of life for blacks and other nonwhites
outside the work environment in such areas as housing, transpor-
tation, school, recreation, and health facilities.

7. Working to eliminate laws and customs that impede social, eco-
nomic, and political justice. (added in 1984)

Source : Leon H. Sullivan Foundation (n.d.) .

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 3

environment that led to tragic consequences for employees and those living
near the facility (Bedford, 2009 ).

People in the United States were concerned because Union Carbide was
using the same chemical at a US facility. Union Carbide reassured US citi-
zens that the facility in the United States was safer. That led some people
to question the original safety commitment in Bhopal (Diamond, 1984 ).
Here is one description of the safety discrepancies between Bhopal and the
United States.

Carbide had dropped the safety standards at the Bhopal plant well below
those it maintained at a nearly identical facility in West Virginia. It is also
important to note here that Carbide was able to operate its deteriorating plant
because industrial safety and environmental laws and regulations were lacking
or were not strictly enforced by the state of Madhya Pradesh or the Indian
government making them indirectly responsible for the tragedy at Bhopal.
(Trade Environmental Database, 1997 )

The US facility was slightly different as it had fewer control systems and
relied more on manual rather than automatic systems (Shabecoff, 1984 ). In
fact, Union Carbide documents released during litigation indicated the
Bhopal facility was built using some untested technologies (Trade
Environmental Database, 1997 ).

Bhopal should not be forgotten so that it is never repeated. Bhopal stands
as an appalling example of the exploitation of developing countries. The
same deadly chemical was present in Bhopal, India, and in the United States.
In Bhopal, the safety standards were lax from the start and were allowed
to deteriorate. In the United States, the safety standards were maintained
to a higher standard. Why the neglect in Bhopal? The answer is fi nancial
gain. Union Carbide saved money by requiring less rigorous safety stand-
ards in India and by not investing in preventative maintenance (Bedford,
2009 ). We cannot assume corporations will naturally act in a responsible
or even a humane manner. This is not to say that all corporations are inher-
ently evil and callous toward constituent safety. Bhopal reminds us that
CSR may not be naturally occurring within the corporate environment. The
allure of profi t sometimes can be deadly for constituents.

Nike remains the leader in the athletic shoe and garment market globally.
The brand is widely recognized around the world and associated with
winning. In the 1990s, Nike became associated with sweatshops and exploi-
tation of workers. Many nongovernment organizations (NGOs), such as
Global Exchange and Sweatshop Watch, began to complain about the
treatment of workers in facilities that supplied Nike with products and
materials. This mix of religious, student, and labor groups noted problems
with corporal punishment, low wages, forced overtime, inhumane working

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4 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

conditions, and child labor (Team Sweat, 2008 ). An awareness campaign
used public relations to inform constituents about the origin of Nike prod-
ucts. Combining the Internet with traditional news expos é s, the NGOs were
able to exercise a signifi cant amount of pressure on Nike to reform its
practices. Constituents increased public awareness of supplier practices, and
this created negative publicity and pressure for Nike to change (Carty,
2002 ). We should note that the sweatshop issue was (and continues to be)
endemic to the entire garment and shoe industry, not just Nike. Nike was
targeted because activists know that confronting the market leader maxi-
mizes the attention that activists attract for their efforts.

NGOs included universities in the United States as their targets for the
Nike effort. Students used various public relations tactics to pressure admin-
istrations into changing contracts if Nike did not alter its business practices.
US universities have lucrative athletic shoe contracts with major shoe manu-
facturers such as Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. The Nike labor case illustrates
how public relations becomes translated into political pressure via fi nancial
threats. Negative attention on the supply chain created policy changes
(Bullert, 2000 ). O ’ Rourke (2005) notes that the NGOs used public relations
and marketing campaigns to alter global production and consumption. The
public relations efforts shifted demand from “ problematic to improved
products ” (O ’ Rourke, 2005 , p. 116). In essence, socially responsible con-
sumption was creating more socially responsible corporate behavior – con-
sumers were pushing for CSR.

These three vignettes are all pieces of the mosaic that comprise corporate
social responsibility. They offer different insights into CSR and its trans-
formative potential while reminding us that CSR transpires within a busi-
ness landscape, not some abstract utopia. In these three cases, corporations
engaged in “ bad behavior ” while experiencing economic success. But the
public scrutiny of their actions contributed to outrage and pressure for
change. As we shall see, pressure for “ responsible behavior ” may originate
from inside the organization (e.g., it is seen as central to its mission), or
they may emanate from pressures outside the organization as we saw in the
three cases at the beginning of this chapter.

The challenge in discussing CSR is that it is not reducible to one simple
concept. Our examples illustrate how irresponsible corporate behavior may
take many forms. Similarly, responsible behavior is not easily defi ned. Nor
can concerns surrounding CSR be traced to one common history. CSR is a
composite of activities drawn from different academic and professional
disciplines. Moreover, what constitutes CSR actions will differ from country
to country. The complex nature of CSR results in a challenging fi rst chapter
that explains the conceptualization of CSR we have developed for this book,
identifi es costs and benefi ts for the corporation and society, and demon-
strates the value of a communication – centered approach to CSR.

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 5

Throughout this book, we refer to stakeholders, their relationship to
CSR and the corporation, and their role in the CSR process. Edward
Freeman (1984) provides the classic defi nition of a stakeholder as “ any
group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of
organizational objectives ” (p. 46). How the group or individual affects or
is affected by the organization is the stake that binds them to the organiza-
tion. We acknowledge that this is a broad defi nition and can even include
nonhuman entities such as the environment. Our communication approach
to CSR focuses on the importance of stakeholders and the stakeholder
engagement process in conceptualizing, implementing, and evaluating CSR
initiatives.

Thinking in terms of stakeholders represents a way of classifying or
segmenting people – dividing people into similar groups. That is why writers
often refer to types or categories of stakeholders. The stake is used to create
the categories for segmentation. Typical stakeholder categories include
employees (for whom employment is the stake), members of the community
(for whom living near the organization is the stake), customers (for whom
the product or service is the stake), and investors (for whom fi nancial inter-
est is the stake). Stakeholders also can be conceptualized in terms of CSR
concerns or interests. For example, some stakeholders are especially con-
cerned about and segmented according to environmental issues like air and
water pollution, depletion of natural resources, or organizational impacts
on endangered species. Their interest in environmental concerns is the stake
that binds them to the organization. Other stakeholders are concerned with
human rights and labor issues. They may focus on issues like child labor,
the rights of workers to unionize, or workplace safety. The concerns of
stakeholders can change and lead them to redefi ne their memberships. For
example, those living near or working at Union Carbide ’ s Bhopal facility
may have thought of themselves as having an economic stake in its success.
But that stake may have shifted dramatically following the Bhopal industrial
accident and be broadened to include health and life – and – death concerns.
Stakes also can shift when people are made aware of the relevance of the
corporation to their interests. For instance, campaigns have helped to
inform consumers of the conditions under which their apparel is manufac-
tured and have led them to demand change. Stakeholders, their relation-
ships with corporations, and communication ’ s role in this relationship and
the CSR process comprise the major theme woven throughout this book.

Corporate Social Responsibility: Seeking Parameters

When introducing a concept, it is important to defi ne that concept and to
articulate its parameters. We cannot assume everyone is working from the

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6 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

same conceptualization. That is especially true for CSR since it lacks one
accepted defi nition and is a concept utilized in a variety of academic and
professional disciplines. Moreover, the actions that constitute CSR can vary
widely. Conceptualizing CSR is much like trying to map sand dunes in a
desert. We can see the dunes, but they shift over time in both location and
the grains of sand that comprise the dunes. What we can understand about
dunes is that they are composed of sand and that certain forces, such as
wind, serve to shape them. As we conceptualize CSR, we need to take a
macro rather than a micro view to identify common elements within CSR.
In a way, we are treating CSR as a philosophy and a process that anchors
practices that can transform organizational behavior. We realize not every-
one will agree with this approach and how we conceptualize CSR. However,
we need to make a stand somewhere, and hopefully our conceptualization
will stimulate discussion – even if part of that discussion targets what people
feel we have failed to include.

At its most abstract, CSR is about the role of business in society. Nobel
Prize – winning economist Milton Friedman (1962) is the most notable voice
to claim that the primary role of business is to make money. We cannot
deny this conclusion because if businesses do not make money they cease
to operate, resulting in lost jobs, tax revenues, and investments. But a CSR
orientation challenges the notion that the pursuit of fi nancial concerns
should be the sole or even the dominant concern of corporations. Instead,
businesses are urged to consider their effects on the entire range of stake-
holders connected with their operations, not just the fi nancial stakeholders.
In addition, businesses must consider their effects on the natural and social
environments. The CSR philosophy encourages businesses to use their
expertise and other resources to improve society.

Defi ning CSR

Our conceptualization of CSR is infl uenced by defi nitions that have pre-
ceded this book. For example, we appreciate Werther and Chandler ’ s (2006,
2011) characterization of CSR as both a means and an end. They explain
that CSR is a means because it “ is an integral element of the fi rm ’ s strategy:
the way a fi rm goes about delivering its products or services to markets ”
( 2006 , p. 8). CSR is an end because it “ is a way of maintaining the legiti-
macy of its actions in the larger society by bringing stakeholder concerns
to the foreground ” ( 2006 , p. 8). We concur and believe that CSR is both
a means and an end, a process and an outcome. Being socially responsible
necessitates a focus on business practices and the outcomes associated with
those practices. Those outcomes are not merely fi nancial; rather, outcomes
include sensitivity to the impacts on stakeholders. CSR can best contribute

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 7

to the societal good when CSR acknowledges and incorporates the concerns
of the wider society.

Along the same lines, the European Commission (EC) defi nes CSR as
follows: “ A concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental
concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their
stakeholders on a voluntary basis ” (European Commission, 2010 ). This
defi nition also joins business practices with stakeholder concerns. As
refl ected in the EC ’ s defi nition and Werther and Chandler ’ s (2006, 2011)
work, we endorse the idea of strategic corporate social responsibility. A
corporation ’ s CSR initiatives should be driven by the organization ’ s vision
and purpose. What needs does the organization seek to meet? An organi-
zation may develop a mission statement and develop strategies for pursuing
the mission that include CSR objectives. As Vogel (2005) states, many
corporations are “ doing good to do well ” (p. 19). We see CSR as com-
plementary to, not competing with, the corporation ’ s mission.

We also concur with the European Commission and Werther and
Chandler ’ s (2006, 2011) view that strategic CSR focuses more on voluntary
ethical and discretionary concerns that lack clear mandates for perform-
ance. We do not consider behaviors that are required by law to be part
of corporate social responsibility. We assume corporations must conform
to legal requirements, and CSR extends beyond those legal requirements
to include additional voluntary initiatives consistent with the public good.
We view specifi c CSR initiatives , the enactment of particular forms or
means of pursuing CSR, as voluntary . That is, corporations select which
(if any) CSR processes and activities to engage in and how to enact those.
However, as noted earlier, the expectations of relevant internal and external
stakeholders, irrespective of where those stakeholders may be located, may
have a strong infl uence on CSR strategy. For example, corporations may
be pressured by stakeholders to conform to certain expectations and be
rewarded for doing so (through purchase decisions, support, etc.) and be
punished for violating those expectations (e.g., through boycotts, negative
word of mouth, or negative media attention). In a global society fi lled
with multinational corporations (MNCs), a macro view of CSR would
hold that the larger society itself functions as a stakeholder for the cor-
poration. Along the same lines, many people may view the environment
as a stakeholder. While it may seem too broad to conclude that we are
stakeholders of every corporation in our known world, we may feel that
as members of humanity we have a vested interest in the operations
and effects of all corporations. Later in this chapter, we explore the
tension between localization and globalization in a corporation ’ s CSR
orientation.

Based on the previous discussion of central concerns, we propose
this defi nition of CSR: CSR is the voluntary actions that a corporation

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8 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

implements as it pursues its mission and fulfi lls its perceived obligations to
stakeholders, including employees, communities, the environment, and
society as a whole .

Our defi nition is sensitive to the “ triple bottom line ” : concern for people,
the environment, and profi t. We believe that CSR initiatives involve volun-
tary actions. As mentioned above, if a corporation is required by law to
perform an action, it does not qualify as a CSR action. Corporations must
choose to exceed the minimum legal expectations. Some readers may notice
that our defi nition (like many others) sidesteps the issue of specifi c business
motivations for engaging in CSR. Although we have not included motiva-
tions for pursuing CSR as part of our defi nition, we note that CSR actions
must be consistent – or at least not inconsistent – with an organization ’ s
mission. The mission is what the organization does to provide products and
services that meet others ’ needs.

Our defi nition also acknowledges the importance of stakeholder expecta-
tions in infl uencing CSR initiatives. Corporations have obligations to stake-
holders, and these include the obligation to understand and be responsive
to stakeholder expectations. The phrase perceived obligations is included
to denote that corporations can act only on what is known and accepted
as legitimate. For example, stakeholders concerned with animal rights may
believe that any corporations that serve meat are irresponsible. However,
the fast food industry is built around supplying meat products to consum-
ers. The industry would not survive without serving meat products. So the
expectations of serving no meat would be perceived as unrealistic and
would be rejected as inconsistent with their mission. However, the industry
could meet with animal rights representatives to explore ways of trying to
satisfy some expectations. In fact, this is what McDonald ’ s, Burger King,
and Wendy ’ s have done to address issues related to the humane treatment
and slaughter of animals they use for meat. We will explore these and other
issues implicated in our defi nition of CSR in more detail in chapter 2 on
strategic corporate social responsibility.

Box 1.2 Defi nition of CSR

CSR is the voluntary actions that a corporation implements as it
pursues its mission and fulfi lls its perceived obligations to stakehold-
ers, including employees, communities, the environment, and society
as a whole.

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 9

Benefi ts and Costs of CSR

The discussion of the benefi ts and costs of CSR is complex and riddled with
ideology. The complexity stems from two factors. First, the benefi ts and costs
of CSR must be considered from both the corporation ’ s perspective and soci-
ety ’ s (stakeholders ’ ) perspective. Where is there congruency and where is
there confl ict between the benefi ts and costs for a corporation and society?
Moreover, as chapter 1 illustrates, CSR is not simply one thing but a wide
variety of activities. Second, the same argument is often used as both a
benefi t and cost of CSR. For instance, CSR is said to both reduce the com-
petitiveness of a corporation (a cost, because engaging in CSR can consume
resources) and increase the competitiveness of a corporation (a benefi t,
because the CSR effort can attract positive attention). The interpretative
frame is largely a function of ideology. Those who favor the free market and
profi t view of corporations may view CSR as decreasing competitiveness,
while those who support the business case for CSR favor CSR as increasing
competitiveness. Although there is a lack of consensus in the existing data on
CSR costs and benefi ts, trends are emerging. This section navigates the com-
plexities of CSR costs and benefi ts by reviewing the arguments that manag-
ers should consider when developing their cost – benefi t analysis for CSR.

Two Sides of CSR Cost – Benefi t Analysis

Managers should construct a CSR cost – benefi t analysis around their own
organization. How is CSR – as a process and as a general outcome or end
– a benefi t for their corporations, and how is it a cost? This analysis is
complicated by the fact that CSR is not unidimensional. Myriad initiatives
count as CSR. But we recommend that managers begin with the general
idea of CSR (the philosophy) and then move to considerations of specifi c
activities that might mesh well with the corporation ’ s mission and stake-
holder expectations (the means or process).

But that is only half of the CSR picture. Managers also must consider
the effects of CSR on society. How will engaging in CSR benefi t society,
and how will engaging in CSR activity cost society? CSR is about infusing
a variety of stakeholder interests into the corporation ’ s thinking and strat-
egy. Focusing solely on the corporation ’ s concern recreates a corporate –
centric perspective that marginalizes social interests while privileging
fi nancial concerns. A corporate – centric perspective not only devalues society
but also may alienate nonfi nancial stakeholders, lead to criticism, and
make it more diffi cult for the corporation to operate. Therefore, manage-
ment must consider the CSR costs and benefi ts associated with society and

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10 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

stakeholders. The two cost – benefi t analyses are related. For instance, a
failure to address CSR concerns can create stakeholder churn – where
stakeholders mobilize against an organization (Marquez & Fombrun, 2005 ;
Sethi, 1977 ) – and create costs for the corporation.

We have developed a summary table for the CSR cost – benefi t analyses.
Table 1.1 includes separate lists of primary costs and benefi ts for the cor-
poration and for society. The list, though clearly not exhaustive or mutually
exclusive, provides a starting point for the discussion of CSR costs and
benefi ts.

CSR Costs for Corporations

The CSR costs for corporations often are seen as rooted in Milton Friedman ’ s
view, mentioned earlier in this chapter, that the primary purpose of a busi-
ness is to make money for shareholders (Friedman, 1962, 1970 ). Let us
reconsider that view before reviewing CSR costs. In Friedman ’ s (1962)
words,

There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its
resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profi t so long as it
stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free
competition, without deception or fraud. (p. 133)

Friedman is advocating for the free market ideology, and that does not
entirely rule out social concerns. For example, the market (stakeholders)
shapes the actions of business through their investing and consumer behav-
iors. That means the market can demand social responsibility from busi-
nesses, thus creating a scenario where social and fi nancial concerns become
complementary if not isomorphic. The business case for CSR is tied to free
market ideology as well. However, businesses are not compelled to address
social and environmental concerns if strong market pressures are absent.

We have distilled our discussions of CSR costs for corporations into
three major themes. First, the dominant theme associated with costs for
corporations is that CSR initiatives detract from the business ’ s focus on
profi ts. Profi ts, effi ciency, and competitiveness are reduced by CSR spend-
ing; customers ultimately will bear the costs of CSR; management is dis-
tracted by CSR and does not focus on strategic organizational goals; and
shareholders suffer less return on their investments. From this perspective,
CSR is essentially a fi nancial burden for the corporation and its stakehold-
ers. Moreover, managers must devote part of their time to CSR, and this
detracts from profi t making. The new demands of CSR become a distrac-
tion, represent a fi nancial loss for the business, and are a time drain on
management.

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Table 1.1 CSR costs and benefi ts

CSR Costs CSR Benefi ts

Costs to
the Corporation

Costs to
Society

Benefi ts to the
corporations

Benefi ts to Society

Businesses have a legal
obligation to manage
the company in the
interest of shareholders
– and not other
stakeholders.

Large capital investments
(e.g., in green
technology) may be
diffi cult to justify to
shareholders who invest
for the short term.

The pursuit of social goals
dilutes businesses ’
primary purpose.

Stock devaluation may
occur if fi nancial
analysts see the CSR
initiatives as too costly.

The effi cient use of
resources will be
reduced if businesses
are restricted by CSR in
how they can operate.

Developing and
implementing a CSR
policy will be a
complex, costly, and
time – consuming activity.

CSR costs will be passed
on to consumers and
reduce competitiveness.

CSR places unwelcome
responsibilities on
businesses rather than
on governments or
individuals.

Failing to meet stakeholder
expectations will create
churn.

Stakeholders will place
increasing CSR
demands on
organizations that
commit to CSR.

Employees may fear that
CSR threatens their jobs.

Discourages
government
regulation
and uniform
application of
rules.

Stakeholders
may be
co – opted by
the
corporation.

Marginalized
stakeholders
may remain
marginalized.

Environmental
and social
degradation
may continue
without CSR.

Governments
and social
welfare
organizations
may allow
corporations
to determine
what is in the
public
interest.

CSR – related
costs may
simply be
passed on to
consumers.

CSR can help avoid
excessive
governmental
regulation.

CSR initiatives can
enhance the social
legitimacy of the
corporation.

Socially responsible
actions can be
profi table; CSR can
create cost – saving
improvements.

CSR can improve the
corporation ’ s
reputation.

CSR initiatives will be
attractive to some
investors.

CSR profi les will attract
customers.

Employee motivation
and identifi cation may
be increased.

CSR can enhance their
identity and corporate
culture through values
reinforcement and an
other – orientation.

Discussions about CSR
encourage employees
to think in new ways
and develop new skills.

CSR initiatives may
attract positive media
coverage.

An improved stakeholder
environment will
benefi t the corporation
by reducing churn.

Partnering with other
organizations and/or
third parties to share
ideas can enhance
capabilities, credibility,
visibility, and
reputation.

CSR helps to
correct social
and
environmental
problems caused
by business
operations.

CSR holds
corporations
accountable for
their actions.

CSR leads
corporations to
avoid
externalizing
costs.

Dialogue and
partnerships
among diverse
stakeholders are
encouraged.

CSR programs
encourage
corporations to
see a wider range
of perspectives.

Successful CSR
initiatives lead
other
corporations to
imitate those
initiatives.

CSR contributes to
social justice.

CSR can
supplement
governmental
and social
welfare programs
to improve social
and
environmental
concerns.

Note : The inventories of costs and benefi ts presented here are not intended to be exhaustive. They
represent common arguments for and against a CSR philosophy and/or initiatives.

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12 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

A second major theme linked to CSR costs for corporations is that social
issues are outside of the responsibility and expertise of businesses.
Governments, not businesses, were designed to address social concerns.
How can managers effectively identify and address social concerns?
Corporations are not responsible for social concerns and lack the skills to
confront them. Corporations should leave social issues to those best suited
to addressing them (Friedman, 1970 ; McMillan, 2007 ).

The fi nal theme is the corporation ’ s loss of power and control. At
various points throughout this book, we address how corporations ’ use of
collaborative decision making requires sharing power and control over
decisions with stakeholders. Also, simply adjusting business policies to
accommodate stakeholder complaints cedes some power to stakeholders.
Some critics of CSR consider power sharing a dangerous proposition
because it represents a concession to stakeholders. They see concessions as
signs of weakness that will encourage other stakeholders to make demands
and push around the corporation. Corporations must be free to pursue
their business operations, and accommodating stakeholders could interfere
with that mandate.

CSR Costs for Society

The dominant concern surrounding CSR costs for society is that the success
of CSR actually creates harm for many stakeholders. First, if CSR efforts
are successful, there will be no government regulation of business. In
essence, the CSR efforts become a form of industry self – regulation.
Corporations favor self – regulation over government regulation because it is
cheaper and corporations control the content and enforcement of the rules.
Application can be spotty if the CSR is not codifi ed into a specifi c set of
self – regulatory guidelines. If CSR practices are assumed to be self – regulation
but are not formalized, corporations are free to choose whether or not to
engage in the suggested CSR practices. This includes the possibility that
some corporations will simply ignore the rules in favor of operating in their
own self – interest and produce negative consequences for society. CSR initia-
tives cannot substitute for government regulation of business. If CSR is
ignored or is superfi cial, there will be social and environmental degradation.
Society becomes a worse place due to business practices.

The second theme concerns the role of governments versus corporations
in supporting social welfare and is interrelated with the fi rst theme of self –
regulation. Society may suffer if corporate efforts are expected to substitute
for government efforts to address social problems. Corporations should not
make decisions that previously were made by democratically elected govern-
ments and social welfare organizations. Ideally, governments should be
more aware of and better suited to addressing the social concerns and

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 13

problems of their people. Relying on corporations to adequately confront
social problems essentially externalizes government costs to organizations.
Corporate interests are relatively narrow compared to what should be the
broader focus of a government designed to represent the interests of the
people.

Third, the stakeholder engagement process that characterizes “ best prac-
tices ” in CSR has the potential to co – opt stakeholders. Stakeholders may
begin to see the world from the perspective of the corporations and lose
their own identity and vision for CSR. The stakeholders become part of the
problem when they think they are helping to create a solution. Co – optation
fears are real. This idea is elaborated in our discussion of stakeholder –
corporate partnerships in chapter 6 . In addition, marginalized stakeholders
are likely to remain on the fringe. Their lack of power and voice makes
them easy to overlook when engaging more salient stakeholders (e.g.,
Prieto – Carron, Lund – Thomsen, Chan, Muro, & Bhushan, 2006 ).

CSR Benefi ts for Corporations

Although there are numerous benefi ts for corporations that engage in CSR,
we focus on two primary themes. Benefi ts for corporations refl ect themes
related to reducing business costs and enhancing reputations. Corporations
are profi t conscious and seek ways to minimize costs. Stakeholder support
for a corporation can reduce the costs of doing business. CSR may reduce
stakeholder churn, enhance the social legitimacy of the corporation, and
help to avoid costly government regulation (Levine, 2008 ). CSR initiatives
themselves may reduce costs when they focus on issues like sustainability,
energy effi ciency, and renewable resources.

Corporations benefi t from a favorable reputation. A corporation ’ s CSR
initiatives may attract investors, employees, consumers, and positive media
coverage. Socially responsible investors will be interested in corporations
with a strong CSR identity. Talented potential employees (as well as current
employees) could fi nd working with a socially responsible corporation
intrinsically rewarding. Aligning stakeholder interests and corporate inter-
ests builds identifi cation with and support from stakeholders. This idea is
elaborated in chapter 2 ’ s discussion of strategic CSR. In addition, consum-
ers may be attracted to companies with a positive CSR record (Bhattacharya
& Sen, 2004 ; Sen & Bhattacharya, 2001 ; Vogel, 2005 ). Consumers can
support the corporation through purchases as well as positive word of
mouth and online communication. Traditional and online media may high-
light the activities of socially responsible corporations and help cultivate a
positive reputation (Tench, Bowd, & Jones, 2007 ).

This is merely a brief inventory of positive outcomes that may derive
from CSR initiatives. This book includes numerous illustrations of these

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14 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

benefi ts and offers recommendations for realistically appraising and con-
fronting the challenges of implementing successful CSR programs.

CSR Benefi ts for Society

Society benefi ts when corporations take responsibility for their actions and
impacts on society. For example, CSR initiatives can discourage corpora-
tions from externalizing their costs. Externalized costs are costs that are
passed onto others in the environment. This includes profi ting from exter-
nalities like pollution, the consumption of natural resources, and the exploi-
tation of marginalized groups in society. Although the exploitation of
shared (societal) resources can be externalized by the corporation, CSR
initiatives help hold corporations accountable for these externalities.
Corporations can be pressured by stakeholders to recycle, invest in more
environmentally friendly technologies, and engage in labor practices that
respect human rights.

Another common theme in discussions of CSR benefi ts to society is how
recognizing shared social concerns can lead diverse corporations and groups
to work together. Pursuing shared social concerns might unite corporations,
including NGOs and other organizations interested in similar concerns.
Partnering with other corporations can help to pool resources like expertise,
fi nancial capital, and social capital and thereby amplify the good that can
accrue from these collaborations.

Imitation is not a bad thing when it comes to CSR initiatives. Corporations
look to enhance their success and are quick to mimic successful businesses.
If corporations see other corporations achieving positive outcomes such as
increased profi ts, more favorable reputations, and positive media coverage
when they pursue CSR initiatives, they may try to mimic the corporation,
and more societal good will be done. Although criticism may arise when
businesses seem to “ jump on the CSR bandwagon, ” following the lead of
other corporations with successful CSR programs could magnify positive
societal outcomes.

This discussion of the costs and benefi ts of CSR to both corporations
and society has illustrated common concerns surrounding the development
of CSR programs. Issues surrounding these costs and benefi ts are addressed
at various points throughout this book.

Winning and Sustaining Support for CSR

One reason for reviewing the corporate costs of CSR is to prepare manag-
ers for attacks on proposed CSR efforts. The corporate costs represent the
likely reasons why other managers will oppose CSR efforts. Pro – CSR man-

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 15

agers must be ready to refute these arguments against engaging in CSR.
The best option is to be aggressive from the start by formulating
arguments in favor of the corporation ’ s involvement in CSR, anticipating
the attacks, and developing messages designed to counter the attacks
against CSR. As we know from decades of persuasive research, people
who oppose an idea are unlikely to be convinced to support it. Persuasive
communication is designed to reinforce positive attitudes and to win
support from those who are generally undecided or neutral on the topic.
Presenting the case for CSR and specifi c CSR efforts can be more effective
when the potential attacks are anticipated and incorporated into the initial
messages.

When presenting the case for CSR, managers should acknowledge the
potential costs to the corporation. The technical term for this strategy is a
two – sided message . The two sides are the benefi ts and the costs of CSR.
Other managers are educated, and educated audiences prefer two – sided
messages (e.g., presenting both costs and benefi ts) over one – sided messages
(e.g., presenting benefi ts only). The next step is to include refutation in the
two – sided message. A refutational message includes reasoning that explains
why the opposing argument (e.g., cost) is wrong or much weaker than the
primary argument (O ’ Keefe, 2002 ). The message provides reasons for
rejecting the cost – based attacks on the CSR efforts.

Refutational two – sided messages are persuasive initially and in the long
run, in comparison to one – sided or nonrefutational two – sided arguments
(Miller, 2002 ; O ’ Keefe, 2002 ). The long – term effect is important in the
organizational setting. We want others to remain committed to CSR. The
initial push for the CSR efforts can build a base of support. That base of
support can erode over time as opponents begin to argue against the CSR
efforts. However, the use of refutational two – sided arguments “ inoculates ”
supporters against later critics who oppose CSR. A persuasive message is
fortifi ed (inoculated) against those arguments designed to weaken it (Miller,
2002 ; Pfau, 1992 ). By presenting and refuting the cost arguments from
the beginning, the pro – CSR managers should gain support for CSR that
remains robust over time. People in the organization have the information
necessary to resist the arguments offered by the opposition (Miller, 2002 ).
Follow – up CSR messages can reinforce support as well. An initial refuta-
tional two – sided argument coupled with occasional reinforcing messages
should create sustained support for CSR efforts.

To help managers craft their pro – CSR messages, we have identifi ed pos-
sible counterarguments to the most common attacks based on the organi-
zational costs of CSR. The most common attack may be loss of profi t or
lack of return on investment (ROI). True, some studies fail to demonstrate
any fi nancial benefi t from CSR. However, the bulk of the studies do prove
there is a fi nancial return. Hence, CSR is not just a cost. The likelihood of

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16 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

a fi nancial return is enhanced when the CSR effort is strategic and com-
municated effectively.

A second point of attack against CSR is that social concerns are outside
of corporate responsibility and expertise. But stakeholders now expect
corporations to address social issues, especially those related to their busi-
nesses. It will be costly for a corporation to ignore this societal trend. They
can no longer afford to deny the responsibility. Engaging stakeholders will
provide added expertise to CSR efforts and contribute to success.

Finally, there is the concern over the loss of power and control. We need
to ask, “ Are stakeholders enemies or allies? ” and “ Is it better to consider
stakeholders allies rather than enemies? ” The amount of power and control
that is shared is relatively minimal and should be benefi cial to both sides.
The CSR expertise of the stakeholders will improve the quality of and the
benefi ts derived from the co – created CSR efforts. It is better to embrace
stakeholders as allies than to fear them as enemies. The shared power and
control can yield valuable returns for the corporation.

Other Conceptual Questions about CSR

A precise and comprehensive history of CSR is problematic. Experts disa-
gree as to when CSR was fi rst used, and no single academic or professional
discipline can claim it. So we are left with some important yet bewildering
questions:

• Is CSR a relatively modern development or a concept that has appeared
sporadically throughout history to infl uence businesses?

• What behaviors count as CSR?
• Is CSR ’ s “ home ” located in accounting, marketing, or public relations,

or should it be a separate unit unto itself?
• Should CSR standards be localized or globalized?

Addressing these questions helps us to begin setting parameters for what
constitutes CSR.

CSR : Modern or Historic?

Is CSR a relatively recent phenomenon or part of a long but sporadic chain
of thought in business? The answer is both. CSR can trace its roots to a
number of ideas, including social investing and social audits of businesses.
The concept of noblesse oblige originated with concerns over the proper
behavior of nobles toward others. The assumption was that privilege brings
with it responsibility: “ nobility obligates. ” The concept has evolved to the

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 17

idea that responsibility is commensurate with wealth, power, and prestige.
It should be noted that the term has been applied in a mocking fashion to
CSR. However, the phrase demonstrates the roots of concern over obliga-
tion to society and how concerns with effects on society predate modern
corporations (MerriamWebster.com, n.d.).

Social investing can be traced back as far as the 1700s. The early socially
responsible investing (SRI) movement had religious origins with links to the
Quakers (avoiding businesses in the slave trade) and Methodism (Wesley ’ s
urging to avoid companies that caused harm to workers such as the tanning
of hides). However, it would be incorrect to say SRI was widespread glo-
bally since the 1700s (L ’ Etang, 2006 ). The concept of SRI requires stake-
holder knowledge of corporate actions relative to some standard of social
performance, thus introducing the concepts of social accounting, social
auditing, and social reporting. Social accounting is the collection and meas-
urement of social performance. Social auditing is the assessment of a cor-
poration ’ s performance against some specifi ed criteria. Social reporting is
the dissemination of the social performance evaluation to stakeholders
(Hess, 2008 ).

Social accounting, audits, and reporting were developed to provide a
richer picture of a business ’ responsible and irresponsible behavior. Stanford
professor Theodore Kreps used the term social audit in the 1930s to describe
businesses reporting their social responsibility. Kreps was seeking to extend
the evaluation of a corporation ’ s societal contributions beyond fi nancial
concerns to include social concerns such as health, education, and interna-
tional peace. In the 1950s, Howard Bowen sought to develop a system that
auditors could employ to assess concerns such as human relations, com-
munity relations, and public relations. Kreps envisioned social auditing as
an external assessment of a corporation ’ s contribution to society. Bowen,
on the other hand, conceptualized social auditing as an internal mechanism
to help managers understand their corporations better (Hess, 2008 ). This
distinction actually marked the start of the tension between the public and
private applications of social auditing. While the idea of CSR existed, it
was not prominent in either the academic writings or businesses practices.
It was not until the 1970s that the term CSR became widely used in discus-
sion, but it was still with limited application.

The 1970s witnessed the crude introduction of social reporting by busi-
nesses. Some annual reports began to include sections on the environment.
This development corresponded with the increased societal interest in the
environment. The term crude is used to describe the reported use of infor-
mation that focused on the value of the environment without providing
information about corporate performance relative to the environment. In
fact, it would be safe to conclude that most of these early social reports
were greenwashing , efforts to benefi t from a corporation ’ s green efforts

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18 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

without truly committing to a green agenda (Marlin & Marlin, 2003 ). Hess
(2008) reported that, in 1974, 76% of major corporations conducted social
audits. However, most were produced for internal consumption and never
made public. Ben & Jerry ’ s led the move to hire social auditors for creating
social reports. They hired a social auditor in 1989 to evaluate their corpo-
rate social performance. The use of social auditors marks what can be
termed the second phase of social reporting .

In the 1990s, social auditing (and reporting) started the movement
toward normative behavior in corporations. During this time, social inves-
tors and consumers began voicing their concerns, and this led to the refi ne-
ment of environmental auditing. Most importantly, the Global Reporting
Initiative (GRI) began in 1997. The GRI provides guidelines for what
should be included in social reports (Hess, 2008 ). Additional information
about the GRI and ISO 26000 performance indicators is provided in chapter
6 . The third phase of social reporting involved the use of third – party certi-
fi cation of reports and certifi cation by groups that compare corporate
performance against specifi c social and environmental standards. The fi rst
of the third – phase reports appeared in 1998 and were created by Social
Accountability International (SAI) (Marlin & Marlin, 2003 ).

The new millennium witnessed a growth in both certifying bodies and
corporations creating social reports. In 2000, only 50 corporations made
their social reports (social audit results) publicly available. By 2007, that
number had reached over 1,000 (Hess, 2008 ). Among the certifying bodies
are FairTrade, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the International
Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM). Box 1.3 provides
a summary of the standards utilized by the FSC. The certifi cation process
includes certifi ed auditors conducting onsite inspections. A number of the
certifying bodies have united to form the International Social and
Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL). The social audit
and social reporting link CSR to accounting given the connection each has
to SRI.

Overall, social reporting (the results of social audits) is designed to
improve a corporation ’ s social performance by verifying that it is contribut-
ing to social betterment. To put it another way, social reporting documents
changes in corporate behavior to improve social concerns. Hess (2008)
distills social reporting into three pillars: (1) dialogue, (2) development, and
(3) disclosure. Dialogue involves understanding what social concerns are
important to a corporation ’ s stakeholders so that a corporation can address
shared social concerns. Chapter 2 examines this topic in more detail under
the guise of engagement. Development is how the corporation embodies
these social concerns and improves society. Disclosure publicly displays a
corporation ’ s behavior so that stakeholders can determine whether or not
the corporation has lived up to the espoused shared social concerns. The

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 19

Box 1.3 Forest Stewardship Council ( FSC )
Standards

Forestry Stewardship Council Principles and Criteria

Principle 1: “ compliance with all applicable laws and interna-
tional treaties ”

Principle 2: “ demonstrated and uncontested, clearly defi ned, long –
term land tenure and use rights ”

Principle 3: “ recognition and respect of indigenous peoples ’
rights ”

Principle 4: “ maintenance or enhancement of long – term social and
economic well – being of forest workers and local communi-
ties and respect of worker ’ s rights in compliance with
International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions ”

Principle 5: “ equitable use and sharing of benefi ts derived from
the forest ”

Principle 6: “ reduction of environmental impact of logging activi-
ties and maintenance of the ecological functions and
integrity of the forest ”

Principle 7: “ appropriate and continuously updated management
plan ”

Principle 8: “ appropriate monitoring and assessment activities to
assess the condition of the forest, management activi-
ties and their social and environmental impacts ”

Principle 9: “ maintenance of High Conservation Value Forests
(HCVFs) defi ned as environmental and social values
that are considered to be of outstanding signifi cance
or critical importance “

Principle 10: “ in addition to compliance with all of the above, plantations
must contribute to reduce the pressures on and promote the
restoration and conservation of natural forests. ”

Source : Forest Stewardship Council (n.d.).

ideas supporting these three pillars of social reporting are signifi cant and
woven throughout this book.

From the theoretical side, Sethi (1975) is among the earliest researchers
to provide a detailed discussion of CSR. He used the term corporate social
performance . Sethi (1975) identifi ed three levels of corporate social

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20 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

performance: (1) social obligation, (2) social responsibility, and (3) social
responsiveness. Social obligations included compliance with regulations and
market demands. Social responsibility moved beyond compliance to the
need to meet societal expectations. Here we see the early recognition of the
importance of stakeholder expectations on CSR activities. This also included
the realization that culture shaped CSR. Social responsiveness is anticipa-
tory of emerging expectations that require an understanding (engagement)
of stakeholders. Chapter 2 ’ s discussion of the idea of strategic CSR refl ects
Sethi ’ s social responsiveness level of corporate social performance.

Carroll (1979) extends Sethi ’ s work to create a four – dimensional model
of corporate social performance. The four dimensions are (1) economic ,
in that a business produces goods and services to make a profi t; (2) legal ,
in that a business must obey societal laws and regulations; (3) ethical,
which are ill defi ned but are the ethical norms in society that must be
followed even though they are not laws or regulations; and (4) discretion-
ary , which are voluntary (such as philanthropy) and represent yet another
set of societal expectations that are less defi ned than the legal or ethical
ones (Carroll, 1979 ). The dimensions are not mutually exclusive, can be
viewed as an evolution in business thinking, and can even be at odds with
one another.

In 1991, Carroll refi ned his CSR thinking to embody the form of a
pyramid. Economic responsibilities (to be profi table) comprised the base of
the pyramid. The next layer was legal responsibilities (to obey laws) fol-
lowed by ethical responsibilities (to do what is right and avoid harm).
Philanthropic responsibilities were situated at the pyramid ’ s apex and
involved being a good corporate citizen. Carroll ’ s CSR conceptualization
has been examined using an international collection of businesses. The
results support the belief that there are four distinction dimensions, and
they are valued roughly as Carroll describes with the lower levels being
considered more important than the upper levels of the pyramid. The one
difference was that German and Swedish managers ranked legal responsi-
bilities as more important than economic responsibilities (Pinkston &
Carroll, 1994 ).

Forms of CSR

Thus far, we have provided several examples of CSR activities. We described
how CSR may be viewed as a mosaic composed of myriad activities directed
toward multiple issues. CSR initiatives may focus on people (human rights,
children, the immediate community, labor rights, education, and/or those
with fi nancial or medical needs) and/or the natural environment (waste
reduction, sustainable forest harvesting, recycling, noise reduction, restora-
tion of indigenous plant life, and/or the sustainability of a manufacturing

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 21

process). CSR initiatives can impact both simultaneously. For example, a
manufacturing facility ’ s focus on emissions reduction can benefi t both
people and the environment.

In addition to identifying the types (contents) of social concerns or causes
that may be addressed through CSR initiatives, we also should consider the
scope of the initiative. We use the term scope to refer to the boundaries
that corporations establish for their CSR initiatives. For a large pharma-
ceutical corporation, the scope may be very broad – international – as it
has the resources to develop initiatives to address poor health care through-
out developing countries. For a smaller business, the scope may be more
limited. For example, a smaller business may focus on helping a nonprofi t
construct a local playground. The issue of scope should not negate the
importance of the CSR effort. A smaller corporation may not be able to
save the planet, but it may be able to offer positive contributions to the
youth in the community. In sum, the range of stakeholders and issues that
are served through CSR initiatives may range from broad to narrow,
depending on the corporation ’ s resources and strategic decision making
about where to focus their efforts. This issue of strategy will be examined
in greater detail at the end of this chapter in our discussion of local and
global business strategies.

We also can identify traditional forms of CSR activities. These tradi-
tional ways of conceptualizing CSR can be enacted regardless of the specifi c
content or scope of the initiative. For example, philanthropy can aid
different types of causes. Social marketing campaigns can target a variety
of problematic or risky behaviors. Employees can volunteer for
numerous types of nonprofi t organizations. Typical examples include the
following:

• Philanthropy : the corporations contributes money, services, products,
or the like directly to a cause or social concern.

• Cause promotion : the corporation contributes money or other resources
to increase awareness of a cause or social concern.

• Cause marketing : the corporation contributes a percentage of its con-
sumer sales of particular products or services to a cause (e.g., on a
particular day 20% of the purchase amount of a particular product is
donated to a charity).

• Social marketing : the corporation tries to infl uence behavior to promote
a social good, such as recycling, seatbelt safety, or health.

• Volunteering : the corporation encourages its employees to volunteer
and/or partner with specifi c organizations; the corporation may allow
employees to volunteer during work time (e.g., Home Depot may partner
with Habitat for Humanity to allow workers time off to volunteer
several hours per week).

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22 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

Although these forms of CSR are familiar to most people, this list of tra-
ditional CSR activities does not fully capture the range of practices associ-
ated with ethical corporate behavior and the complexities of contemporary
CSR. CSR now commonly includes broader corporate initiatives designed
to reduce the negative impacts of operations (e.g., the consumption of
resources and production of waste) and increase the positive impacts (e.g.,
fair wages and working conditions, sustainability, and social justice). In this
book we try to cover a breadth of activities that qualify as CSR, including
management of environmental impacts, ethical investing, ethical sourcing,
protecting human rights, supply chain monitoring, and sustainability
initiatives.

Where Is CSR ’ s Home?

“ Where is CSR ’ s home? ” is both an academic and a practical question.
Clearly CSR refl ects a wide range of concerns and activities. Academics
study CSR, and the research should help to advance its practice. But who
should be studying CSR? Social investing creates a claim for fi nance and
management. To benefi t from CSR, managers must effectively communicate
CSR initiatives to stakeholders. The discussion of CSR benefi ts brings mar-
keting, public relations, corporate communication, and advertising into the
discussion. CSR research lines are emerging in all of these disciplines. Each
of the CSR research traditions provides value for understanding and improv-
ing CSR as a practice. Of course, where CSR is studied has implications
for where it should be located in practice.

Should CSR be part of an existing organizational function or a specifi c
function unto itself? Direct ties to public relations, corporate communica-
tion, advertising, or marketing could tarnish motives behind CSR. Links to
any of these functions might create a strong impression of self – interested
promotion, thereby obscuring the benefi ts to stakeholders. Because of the
possibility of taint through association, it can be argued that CSR should
be housed in its own distinct department. There is a practical reason for
creating a separate CSR department as well. A specifi c unit would have
responsibility for the strategic application of CSR. Situating CSR within its
own department would facilitate the development of a consistent CSR
approach. In contrast, when different departments enact CSR, this risks
diverse and perhaps mixed CSR messages being delivered to stakeholders.
The basic premise behind integrated marketing communication is the need
for and value in creating consistent stakeholder messages (Harris, 1997 ).
The same holds true for CSR. Inconsistent CSR messages can create more
harm than good. A CSR department helps to avoid divergent CSR
messaging.

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 23

While situating CSR in a separate department could create a buffer of
integrity and promote consistent messaging, it could risk creating CSR
initiatives that are detached from the lifeblood of the organization. CSR
becomes the responsibility of “ that department, ” not the entire corporation.
As a result, CSR may not become part of the corporation ’ s DNA but rather
an entity attached to the business. CSR should be part of who the corpora-
tion is – its identity – and what it does, not some “ thing ” that a corporation
has. Creating a separate CSR department may undermine its integration
into the larger policy decisions and practices of a corporation. When CSR
is infused throughout various departments, it becomes part of the corpora-
tion ’ s culture, and ownership of CSR is advanced. CSR becomes “ everyone ’ s
responsibility, ” thereby reinforcing its importance to the organization. Of
course, the challenge of coordinating CSR to promote consistency remains.
However, any manager with a communication function is aware of that
concern, and savvy corporations have found ways to ensure coordination
and integration of stakeholder messages across different departments.
Marketing, public relations, corporate communication, and advertising
departments still exist as separate units. If they were unable to coordinate
messaging, most corporations would have integrated marketing depart-
ments by now.

We believe that CSR benefi ts from being part of a variety of academic
and practical disciplines. Research from various disciplines brings multiple
perspectives to bear on CSR. Managers know that decision making is
enhanced when multiple points of view are considered (Kreps, 1991 ). The
same should hold true for CSR. In addition, we can witness unique insights
from each academic discipline serving to advance our understanding and
practice of CSR. Review the citations for this book, and you will see the
variety of fi elds fruitfully contributing to CSR. Similarly, CSR application
should be the responsibility of various functions within an organization,
not just one. All employees should feel that CSR is part of their job in some
way. It should be infused throughout the corporate culture. The key is to
build a coordinated system for CSR planning, execution, and communica-
tion. Often, this involves the creation of a CSR team that represents many
departments and organizational functions. CSR is best served by being
integrated into various departments. In that way, CSR is more likely to
become part of who the organization is and what it does. The corporation ’ s
identity, processes, and outcomes refl ect a CSR orientation.

For CSR to become a priority, strong visible support from the corpora-
tion ’ s leadership is required. Leaders can create a mandate for CSR that
permeates the corporation regardless of department or function. Leaders
can provide a unifying vision for CSR that refl ects the existing mission,
values, and capabilities of the organization. Internal messaging from leaders

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24 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

must demonstrate that the commitment to CSR will be ongoing and not
merely some management fad.

Should CSR Standards Be Localized or Globalized?

Obviously, this question is not new for managers involved in multinational
corporations. All management functions have wrestled with the issue of
localization or globalization (e.g., Wakefi eld, 2001 ). Prahalad and Doz
(1987) were among the fi rst to systematically examine localization and
globalization ’ s effect on international business strategy. They note that
MNCs face two pressures that shape their strategy: (1) pressure for global
integration and (2) pressure for local responsiveness. On one hand, manag-
ers have a need to standardize operations across their enterprise. Pressures
for global integration include pressure for cost reduction, universal needs,
and the importance of multinational customers. On the other hand, the
pressures for local responsiveness include market structure, government
demands, and adaptation. Managers must respond to the two demands as
they formulate the most appropriate course of action for their international
business strategy.

The two pressures have been converted into axes used to create a 2 × 2
integration – responsiveness grid (I – R grid). Figure 1.1 illustrates the I – R grid
and its four international business strategies. When both global integration
and local responsiveness are low, managers can use an international strat-

Figure 1.1 Integration – responsiveness grid

Global integration high 

Local
responsiveness
high

Local
responsiveness
low

Global integration low 

International
strategy

Multi-
domestic
strategy

Global
strategy

Transnational
strategy

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 25

egy. The international strategy is when a corporation takes what it does
successfully in the domestic market and tries to repeat it internationally.
Practices in the home country are replicated in the host countries. When
global integration is low and local responsiveness is high, managers can
employ the multidomestic strategy. The multidomestic strategy involves
locally adapting products (through marketing and production) to the host
market and targeting country – specifi c consumer needs.

When global integration is high and local responsiveness is low, manag-
ers can utilize a global strategy. The global strategy involves viewing the
world as a single market and using one standardized approach. When both
global integration and local responsiveness are high, managers can choose
the transnational strategy. The transnational strategy involves combining
global scale and local responsiveness. A fusion is created that attempts to
avoid making trade – offs between the two (Bartlett & Ghohsal, 1989 ).
Generally, the transnational strategy is considered to be the most effective
strategy for MNCs. Although there is some empirical evidence to support
the claim, the evidence is not overwhelmingly favorable (Wasilewski, n.d.).
The strength of the transnational strategy rests in its ability to derive the
benefi ts associated with both globalization and localization. A corporation
creates consistency (globalization) while maintaining fl exibility (localiza-
tion). However, we should resist anointing one, perfect strategy. The point
of the I – R grid is that proper strategy depends upon the nature of the pres-
sures faced by the MNC.

Another lens for exploring the CSR globalization – localization discussion
is the area of ethics in international public relations. Kruckeberg (1996) has
written at length on this subject. The concern is that the internationalization
of public relations forces corporations to confront differing ethical perspec-
tives. The public relations ethics in a particular country will naturally refl ect
the culture ’ s view of morality, or what counts as right and wrong. If public
relations ethics is “ local, ” confl icts may erupt as practitioners attempt to
engage in public relations across national and cultural borders. One common
example is whether it is acceptable to pay for a news story to be published.
In some countries this practice is acceptable, but in other countries this is
considered an unacceptable form of bribery. Should practitioners adapt to
the ethics of a culture or apply their ethical beliefs regardless of the culture?
The answer is that the higher ethical standard should apply. Just because a
country has a more lenient view of ethics is not justifi cation for engaging
in “ less ethical ” behavior. Kruckeberg (1996) argued that as professions
become more international, a shared global professionalism develops. In
turn, the emerging profession eventually will develop a shared set of uni-
versal ethical standards. The profession will reach agreement on what
constitutes professional (acceptable) behavior, and those will evolve into a
shared set of ethical standards. There is a belief that certain ethical concerns

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26 Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility

should be universal and applied wherever public relations is practiced. This
deontological perspective suggests we must focus on discharging our duties
– following professional codes of conduct or rules and fulfi lling obligations
– when determining what is ethical (Bowen, 2005a, 2005b ). Adhering to
global professional standards should eliminate self – interested behavior
(Stoker, 2005 ).

So how can these efforts to grapple with globalization versus localization
contribute to our thinking about CSR? From international business strategy,
we fi nd value in both globalization and localization. The overall commit-
ment to CSR should be global. Management should try to integrate CSR
wherever it operates. CSR initiatives should not be reserved only for highly
visible areas or locations with high CSR expectations. Stakeholder expecta-
tions and stakeholder ability to pressure for change vary from country to
country. However, a country ’ s lack of interest in CSR coupled with stake-
holders ’ inability to pressure for CSR is not an invitation for neglect or
abuse. Many critics feel the cultural differences relevant to CSR facilitated
the Bhopal tragedy in India. There should be a global commitment to CSR
and minimal standards for its application regardless of the location.

However, the emphasis on stakeholder defi nitions of what constitutes
effective and acceptable CSR argues for localization. If CSR efforts do not
match stakeholder CSR expectations, the CSR effort will be a failure for
all involved. Stakeholders who are dissatisfi ed because they do not see the
organization acting properly may engage in stakeholder churn, a topic
explored in detail in chapter 4 . Managers may be unhappy because stake-
holders reject the CSR and engage in churn. CSR must adapt to local condi-
tions – the demands of the stakeholders. The transnational strategy ’ s ability
to effectively fuse globalization and localization is ideal for the CSR func-
tion. There always will be pressure for both globalization and localization
for CSR. Globally, an organization needs a consistent approach to CSR to
avoid accusations of ignoring locations where CSR is not considered to be
important. But at the same time, the CSR efforts must be tailored to fi t the
needs of the local stakeholder expectations. When both pressures are high,
the transnational strategy is considered to be the best alternative.

The debate over international public relations ethics echoes the globaliza-
tion concern of not lowering one ’ s standards for CSR to fi t a culture. Just
because a country will not apply pressure for CSR does not mean CSR can
be ignored there. MNCs have global stakeholders who will expect a certain
level of commitment to CSR across locations. Consider how NGOs can
pressure organizations that fail to address stakeholder concerns in a par-
ticular country even when stakeholders from the country in question cannot.
We could argue that there are evolving universal standards for CSR. In some
ways, the GRI system and ISO 26000 refl ect the emergence of shared stand-
ards for CSR. The contents of these two reporting systems are described in
more detail in chapter 6 . While not overly prescriptive, the GRI does

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Conceptualizing Corporate Social Responsibility 27

provide guidance on general approaches to CSR. Managers should stay alert
to developments and possible changes in the emerging universal standards
of CSR.

Conclusion

The concept, philosophy, and practice of CSR are as complex as the world
in which corporations are embedded. This chapter described our defi nition
of CSR and explained its relationship to a corporation ’ s mission, stakehold-
ers, and culture. We believe that corporations will be more successful in
implementing CSR initiatives, achieving their CSR goals, and contributing
to the betterment of society when they are true to their mission and recog-
nize the value of stakeholder engagement. A commitment to CSR requires
support from the corporation ’ s leadership as well as coordination among
different functional units that can contribute to CSR goals. Internal and
external communication plays a signifi cant role in the CSR process described
in this book.

We anticipate that the tension between making a profi t and making a
difference in the world will continue. Many fi nancially successful corpora-
tions have been criticized for creating and perpetuating the social and
environmental problems their CSR programs are designed to address (e.g.,
Waddock, 2007 ). CSR initiatives should not be designed to misdirect public
perceptions or conceal wrongdoings. CSR is not a cure for misdeeds or
unethical conduct. Rather, the decision to embrace CSR is necessarily
complex and should be predicated on knowledge that it will help develop
and implement a sound underlying process. This book ’ s process – oriented
framework is grounded in a communication perspective that acknowledges
a corporation ’ s interdependence with stakeholders, culture, political systems,
and economic systems.

The chapters that follow elaborate on our communication approach to
the CSR process. Chapter 2 develops a rationale for strategic CSR by
exploring issues that affect a corporation ’ s approach to CSR, including its
own characteristics, stakeholders, reputational concerns, and motivations
for pursuing CSR. Chapter 2 concludes with a brief synopsis of the fi ve
phases in our CSR Process Model. The CSR process is designed to help
corporations systematically research, design, implement, communicate, and
evaluate CSR initiatives that refl ect the reality of the corporation ’ s environ-
ment. Chapters 3 through 7 detail the CSR Process Model. Chapter 8 offers
concluding thoughts on the CSR process. Together, these chapters try to
present a balanced view of the potential dialogues and dilemmas that con-
front corporations seeking to develop and implement successful CSR
programs.

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Greenpeace ’ s thank – you card to Kimberly – Clark for its response to the Kleercut
campaign. Greenpeace protests over Kimberly – Clark ’ s use of wood fi ber from the
Boreal Forest motivated Kimberly – Clark to change its sourcing practices. ©
Greenpeace/Andrew Founier

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2

Strategic CSR

In essence, CSR becomes strategic when it is integrated into the larger cor-
porate plans and goals. We use the term strategic to emphasize that effective
CSR initiatives – CSR that benefi ts social concern(s) and the corporation
– must be deliberate, planned, and evaluated. CSR doesn ’ t just “ happen. ”
It refl ects careful information gathering, prioritizing, and decision making
to determine where resources should be invested to accrue the greatest
benefi t for the business, the social concern, and stakeholders. Why engage
in CSR if it does not make a difference to the social concern or to the
corporation?

CSR should not be a stand – alone entity designed to pacify critics or to
demonstrate the adoption of the latest management fad. CSR should
not be an attempt to divert attention from corporate misdeeds or trans-
gressions. Rather, CSR can be integrated into the overall corporate strategy
to help it remain successful and competitive. Corporations must be
profi table to remain in business. Strategic CSR should contribute to the
success of the corporation and not drain resources, the core of Milton
Friedman ’ s opposition to CSR (Friedman, 1970 ). Our defi nition of
CSR – the voluntary actions an organization implements as it pursues its
mission and fulfi lls its perceived obligations to stakeholders, including
employees, communities, the environment, and society as a whole –
acknowledges the importance of the triple bottom line. Both business goals

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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30 Strategic CSR

and CSR goals are included in this defi nition such that CSR is linked with
fi nancial success.

In chapter 1, we introduced the idea that a CSR philosophy can encour-
age companies to use their expertise and other resources to improve society.
Viewing societal interests and business interests as complementary rather
than competitive or mutually exclusive opens the door for a win – win ori-
entation to strategic CSR initiatives. This defi nition of CSR privileges both
business concerns and stakeholder concerns. Recall that stakeholders are
defi ned as any group that can affect or be affected by the behavior of an
organization (Freeman, 1984 ). CSR philosophy is grounded in social
responsiveness and responsibility and acknowledges the importance of
stakeholders and stakeholder engagement – anticipating and addressing
stakeholder expectations in the development of organizational strategy
(Sethi, 1975 ). Attending to stakeholders helps the corporation understand
the larger environment in which it operates and address stakeholder con-
cerns. Doing so makes good business sense. The importance of stakeholders
and the stakeholder engagement process is woven throughout this book.
We also demonstrate how effective communication processes are fundamen-
tal to engagement and the CSR process.

Corporations can utilize CSR to differentiate themselves from competi-
tors, thereby creating a commercial advantage. However, CSR must honor
the social component by making meaningful contributions to society or risk
being exposed as participating in CSR washing. CSR washing refers to cases
where organizations claim to be more socially responsible than they really
are. CSR washing obviously can have negative ramifi cations for the corpo-
ration and may even call into question the validity of the social concerns
the CSR initiatives purported to address.

Businesses can become more competitive by investing in society. For
instance, CSR initiatives can work to lower costs, reduce waste, or better
serve customer needs in some way. As Porter and Kramer (2006) observed,
Whole Foods developed a strategic advantage by selling organic and natural
foods. The business successfully targeted a market and supplied stakehold-
ers with products and services in a way that satisfi ed their social concerns.
Business and social interests are not mutually exclusive and can be inte-
grated via strategic CSR (McWilliams, Siegel, & Wright, 2006 ). The busi-
ness case for CSR argues that “ the right thing to do ” can also be
cost – effective.

The remainder of the chapter explores factors to consider in strategic
CSR initiatives. This chapter continues to set the stage for the CSR Process
Model that is the focus of this book. It provides a foundation for the model
by discussing corporate characteristics, stakeholders, reputational concerns,
and perceptions of motivations for engaging in CSR.

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Strategic CSR 31

Characteristics of the Corporation

Numerous factors should guide a corporation ’ s CSR efforts, and these
factors can be diffi cult to prioritize. However, the most obvious factor to
consider is the corporation itself. We believe that the most appropriate
starting point for strategic CSR is the corporation ’ s mission and resources.
This is a logical place to begin thinking about CSR because the choice of
particular CSR initiatives should be consonant with the corporation ’ s
mission, values, business goals, and capabilities (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004 ;
Kotler & Lee, 2005 ; Werther & Chandler, 2006, 2011 ).

In her book Body and Soul (1991) , Anita Roddick, founder of The Body
Shop, explained her orientation to business:

Social and environmental dimensions are woven into the fabric of the
company itself. They are neither fi rst nor last among our objectives, but an
ongoing part of everything we do . . . not a single decision is ever taken
in The Body Shop without fi rst considering environmental and social issues.
(p. 23)

Anita Roddick ’ s values and her belief that The Body Shop could be a force
for social change were evident from the inception of her business in 1976
in Brighton, England. The Body Shop ’ s CSR initiatives were a natural out-
growth of its founder ’ s vision of business as more than profi t making. (In
2006, The Body Shop was taken over by L ’ Oreal, the large cosmetics
company. Loyal stakeholders seemed shocked by Roddick ’ s decision to sell
because they felt she was abandoning the social responsibility mission that
was so central to The Body Shop ’ s and Roddick ’ s identity. However, Roddick
argued she could invest the proceeds from the sale in social causes, and
Roddick continued her activism until her death in 2007.)

Not all corporations were far – sighted enough to integrate CSR concerns
into their mission statements or fortunate enough to be founded by an
individual strongly committed to a particular set of values. Not all senior
management passionately embrace particular social concerns and incorpo-
rate those into their CSR visions. But that does not mean they will be inef-
fective at pursuing CSR.

When a corporation lacks an obvious starting point for exploring CSR,
the corporation ’ s leaders can begin by assessing their current business
resources, capabilities, and values. They can consider questions like the
following: What values guide the way the company does business? How
are these values related to larger social and/or environmental concerns?
What services or products are provided to customers? How could groups

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32 Strategic CSR

in need benefi t from the corporation ’ s outputs, including their expertise?
What does this corporation do well, and how could these competencies
relate to societal concerns? How could the corporation be a better environ-
mental steward by modifying its operations to consume fewer natural
resources?

Another factor affecting strategic CSR is the size of the corporation.
Many of our examples represent the CSR activities of large multinational
corporations (MNCs) that can draw upon a wide range of resources and
personnel. Stakeholders might expect large MNCs to have better – developed
CSR programs because their size translates into access to more resources.
Moreover, large corporations may operate in numerous countries and may
try to be responsive to more diverse stakeholders. Stakeholders cannot
realistically expect the same types of CSR initiatives from small businesses
that they expect from large MNCs. Smaller corporations can engage in CSR
but on a reduced scale and with reduced scope. The same strategic processes
still apply. But small local businesses may benefi t from being particularly
sensitive to their unique circumstances, including their values, capabilities,
employees, specifi c communities in which they operate, and more localized
social concerns such as particular educational needs, recreational opportu-
nities, local charities, and so forth (Kotler & Lee, 2005 ; Thompson &
Smith, 1991 ).

Stakeholder Expectations and the Importance of
Organizational Identifi cation

In addition to being driven by the corporation ’ s mission and values, stra-
tegic CSR should be driven by stakeholder expectations. The stakeholders
should be an inspiration for CSR and help identify the social issues
that underpin an organization ’ s CSR efforts. Consider how CSR has
evolved from a fringe concern in business to “ an inescapable priority for
business leaders in every country ” (Porter & Kramer, 2006 ). CSR now
matters because an increasing percentage of stakeholders decided social
concerns were important enough to infl uence their relationships with cor-
porations. Investors began to place their money in socially responsible
corporations while consumers began to seek products and services from
companies operating in a socially responsible manner. Making money
was no longer the only benchmark for evaluating a business ’ contribution
to society. Various stakeholders supported the belief that businesses must
consider the social interest. If stakeholders never showed an interest
in CSR, we would not be writing this book and you would not be
reading it.

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Strategic CSR 33

Experts agree that CSR activities must refl ect stakeholder values and
desires. The social issues that comprise CSR need to be meaningful to the
stakeholders (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004 ; Maignan & Ferrell, 2004 ; Porter
& Kramer, 2006 ). The need to consider stakeholder interests places a
premium on management understanding of stakeholders, how they view
CSR, and what social issues they value. Communication is essential to
developing relationships with stakeholders. It is no coincidence that the
concept of stakeholder engagement has emerged as interest in CSR has
escalated. Stakeholder engagement is a formal conceptualization of listening
to stakeholders and conducting formative research about CSR.

The salience of stakeholder expectations for CSR becomes clearer when
we consider the value of identifi cation for CSR. Stakeholders identify with
an organization when they see some element of themselves in the organiza-
tion. In turn, stakeholders are more likely to support a corporation when
they identify with that corporation. More precisely, Bhattacharya and Sen
(2004) defi ne identifi cation as “ the sense of attachment or connection con-
sumers feel with companies engaging in CSR activities they care about ” (p.
15). Through the identifi cation process, stakeholders realize part of their
own identity is refl ected in the corporation ’ s identity. Identifi cation can be
a valued component of CSR initiatives when there is alignment between the
certain social interests of the stakeholders and the corporation. If corpora-
tions pursue social interests that their stakeholders do not value, CSR will
not promote identifi cation. Hence, communication with stakeholders gener-
ates awareness of shared social concerns and facilitates identifi cation with
the corporation.

However, the danger is that many social issues will become “ orphans ”
if they do not catch the eye of stakeholders. At what point does a corpora-
tion consider social concerns outside those of keen interest to their stake-
holders? How might a corporation champion a neglected social concern in
order to build stakeholder support for the concern? A business takes a risk,
from an identifi cation perspective, when it tries to build support for an
orphan social issue. But that does not mean a corporation should not try
to promote an orphan issue or that identifi cation is the only route to CSR
benefi ts. We return to the potential business value of a social issue to
provide some insight to these questions.

While creating identifi cation with stakeholders is important, it is not the
only potential business benefi t that CSR initiatives can yield. Social issues
can have a more direct effect on aspects of a corporation ’ s competitiveness
such as improving the labor pool by addressing local health problems
(Porter & Kramer, 2006 ). Still, the need for a business benefi t can cause
some social issues to be marginalized and remain unaddressed. Unfortunately,
there is no simple answer to this risk, with the burden of change often
falling to those who wish to redress the social concern.

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34 Strategic CSR

We believe in extending the application beyond consumers to all stake-
holders. Figure 2.1 offers a visual representation of CSR as identifi cation.
The social issues that comprise CSR become the point of identifi cation.
Awareness of the social issues (CSR) permits identifi cation. There are times
when management needs to educate stakeholders about their corporation ’ s
CSR initiatives. Communication is a central component in linking CSR to
identifi cation. Educating stakeholders about how a corporation actually
embodies the social values relevant to their stakeholders is a critical task.
Theory and research indicate that CSR as identifi cation results in increased
stakeholder support for the corporation such as stronger purchase intention
(Maignan & Ferrell, 2004 ; Sen, Bhattacharya, & Korschun, 2006 ). When
there are expectation gaps, differences between how stakeholders expect a
corporation to behave and how they perceive the corporation actually
behaves, stakeholders may withdraw their support for the company by
engaging in negative word of mouth or organized boycotts. These informal
and formal methods of communication ultimately are designed to persuade
the corporation that it is out of step with stakeholder expectations and
changes are needed to bring values into alignment.

The importance of internal stakeholders (employees) should not be over-
looked in discussions of stakeholder concerns and the benefi ts of identifi ca-
tion. Hopefully, employees already experience some degree of identifi cation
with the corporation that may facilitate their identifi cation with CSR ini-

Figure 2.1 CSR as identifi cation

Corporation Stakeholder

CSR is the point of overlap that
creates identification between
corporation and stakeholder 

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Strategic CSR 35

tiatives. But the fact that employees already have ongoing relationships
with the company should not lead their concerns and expectations to be
marginalized. In addition, it is especially important to inform them of
specifi c CSR initiatives so they will understand how those relate to their
jobs and the company overall. However, a major difference may relate to
their perceptions of potential threats stemming from CSR initiatives.
Employees naturally are concerned about their jobs. If employees believe
the corporation ’ s focus on CSR could be detrimental to their jobs, they
may experience uncertainty and fail to support the CSR efforts. For
example, jobs are contingent upon profi ts. Activities that detract from
profi ts may threaten job security. Similarly, CSR activities that lead to the
elimination of positions will not be welcomed by most employees. If you
pit saving the planet against saving jobs, it seems likely that employees
will resist the CSR program. Hence, corporations should be sensitive to
how CSR initiatives may be perceived by employees and work to address
their concerns.

Reputational Benefi ts of CSR

When we address the strategic aspect of CSR, we must discuss the increas-
ing role of reputation in the corporate world. Though a business concern
since the 1950s, interest in reputation exploded in the fi rst decade of the
twenty – fi rst century (Meijer, 2004 ). This intense interest is driven by the
business value of reputation. In general, a reputation is how stakeholders
perceive an organization. A more precise defi nition of reputation is the
aggregate evaluation that stakeholders make about how well an organiza-
tion is meeting stakeholder expectations based on past behaviors (Fombrun
& van Riel, 2004 ; Reinchart, 2003 ; Wartick, 1992 ). A strong, favorable
reputation has been linked to such tangible assets as attracting customers,
motivating employees, retaining employees, generating investment interest,
increasing job satisfaction, generating positive comments from fi nancial
analysts, generating positive news media coverage, attracting top employee
talent, and improving fi nancial performance (Carmeli, 2004 ; Dowling,
2002 ; Fombrun & van Riel, 2004 ).

A key shift in the corporate realm is the integration of CSR into the
conceptualization of reputations. Historically, fi nancial factors dominated
the assessment of corporate reputations. The fi nancial factors became the
proxy for stakeholder expectations used to evaluate corporations. Fortune
magazine ’ s “ Most Admired Companies ” list and The Reputation Institutes ’
RepTrak ™ (originally the Reputation Quotient, or RQ) remain among the
most widely accepted measures of reputation, and each focuses on fi nancial

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36 Strategic CSR

concerns as the drivers of reputation. Although social responsibility is a
component within these measures of reputation, it plays a more minor
background role.

The RepTrak ™ includes seven dimensions: leadership, performance,
products and services, innovation, citizenship, workplace, and governance.
CSR is found in the citizenship (e.g., contributes to society), workplace
(cares about employee well – being), and governance (e.g., uses power respon-
sibly) dimensions. Interestingly, Fortune ’ s 2007 “ Most Admired Companies ”
edition mentioned the importance of social responsibility, but their evalua-
tive criteria remained unchanged and skewed toward fi nancial factors
(Fisher, 2007 ). More recently, in Fortune ’ s 2010 rankings of “ Most Admired
Companies, ” only one of the nine dimensions speaks directly to CSR. In
addition to social responsibility, the dimensions are as follows: wise use of
corporate assets, retaining talent, quality of product, innovation, long – term
investment value, quality of management, fi nancial soundness, and global
effectiveness.

CSR has been moving from the background to the foreground of reputa-
tion discussions. An illustration of this shift is how Fombrun (2005) , a
leader in the measurement and discussion of organizational reputation and
one of the creators of the RepTrak ™ , is now referring to CSR as an integral
aspect of corporate reputation. An argument can be made that CSR is
rapidly developing as the driver of reputation. As the earlier defi nition of
reputation noted, reputations are evaluations and can range from favorable
to unfavorable. We should consider the people making those evaluations
– stakeholders. When stakeholders increasingly value CSR, those values will
be refl ected in reputation evaluations. Moreover, we see the overlapping
concern for stakeholder expectations with reputation and CSR. The circle
of relevant stakeholders for a corporation ’ s reputation has widened with
the inclusion of CSR. Reputation is no longer simply the provenance of
investors and customers. Greater numbers of people consider themselves to
be organizational stakeholders, and greater numbers of stakeholders are
concerned about CSR.

The link between CSR and reputation reinforces the business aspect of
CSR and the value of identifi cation. A focus on social responsibility accen-
tuates the differentiation benefi ts of reputation. A corporation with a
strong positive reputation for CSR initiatives can distinguish itself from
the crowd of competitors. CSR represents the widening defi nition of what
counts as a stakeholder. Many different types of stakeholders are concerned
about a variety of business practices and their impact on the environment
and society as a whole. Managers can no longer focus exclusively on
investors and their fi nancial interests in order to maintain a positive repu-
tation. CSR is quickly becoming a prominent evaluation criterion for
reputations.

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Strategic CSR 37

One way to understand the value of CSR to reputation is to consider
ways to build reputations. Let ’ s discuss two options for crafting a distinct
corporate reputation: (1) being fi rst to do something of value and (2) being
perceived as an industry leader (Dowling, 2002 ). Being the fi rst is purely a
matter of timing, and only one corporation in each industry can be the fi rst.
For CSR, being fi rst can translate into being the fi rst in the industry to
embrace CSR in general or being the fi rst to address a specifi c social
concern. McDonald ’ s pioneered integrating environmental concerns into
fast food in 1989 when it entered into a joint partnership with the
Environmental Defense Fund (Svoboda, 1995 ).

Early adopters of social concerns are often viewed as industry leaders
as well but only if stakeholders are aware of their actions. CSR initiatives
do not accrue benefi ts if people do not know about them. However, a
corporation need not be the fi rst to establish itself as the market leader
for a specifi c social concern in order to separate itself from the competi-
tion and build a competitive advantage. To become the market leader on
a social concern, a corporation must demonstrate it is doing more than
anyone else in the industry to address the social concern. Marks and
Spencer is pushing its “ Plan A ” (originally “ Look behind the Label ” )
campaign to highlight its social concern by featuring a variety of FairTrade
items, including cotton and coffee, and emphasizing health issues by offer-
ing healthier prepackaged foods (2010). McDonald ’ s and Marks and
Spencer have adopted social concerns that provided, at least temporarily,
a way to separate themselves from their competitors. Ben & Jerry ’ s,
Patagonia, and Green Mountain Roasters, in contrast, have built strong
reputations around social concerns since their inceptions. The Body
Shop developed an identity around social concerns and its founder ’ s com-
mitment to social responsibility. Anita Roddick, the aforementioned
founder of The Body Shop, promoted the idea of social activism by pro-
viding recycling and informing people about ways to participate in other
social concerns such as reducing domestic abuse, trading with poor com-
munities, protecting the rights of indigenous people, and promoting human
rights around the world. Her concerns resonated with many of her cus-
tomers and led them to identify with the “ beyond – business ” mission of
The Body Shop.

The reputations not only create differentiation but also can create align-
ment of stakeholder and corporate interests and facilitate stakeholder iden-
tifi cation with the corporation. Businesses can focus on CSR initiatives that
will appeal to stakeholders by refl ecting their values. Figure 2.1 depicts the
shared CSR concerns of corporations and stakeholders. The business defi nes
its corporate identity in part as the social issue. If stakeholders accept
that the business does indeed refl ect the desired social issue, the stakeholders
also are inclined to view the business ’ s reputation as being socially

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38 Strategic CSR

responsible. In essence, there is an alignment between the corporation ’ s
identity, the stakeholders ’ identity, and corporate reputation. Figure 2.2
illustrates this alignment process. Note the similarity between Figures 2.1
and 2.2 . Alignment is a form of identifi cation because it builds on the
overlap between corporate identity and stakeholder identity. Alignment
adds a third circle representing stakeholder perceptions of the corporation
– its reputation. CSR is becoming a vital element within reputation manage-
ment: “ The level of corporate investment in social concerns makes it clear
CSR is viewed as key for many fi rms to build reputation and to create dif-
ferential advantage ” (Ellen, Webb, & Mohr, 2006 , p. 155).

Perceived Motives for CSR Initiatives

Stakeholder perceptions assume a critical role throughout the discussion of
strategic CSR. Those perceptions often include the corporation ’ s motives

Figure 2.2 Alignment process for CSR and reputation

CSR provides the common
point of reference that aligns

the corporation’s identity,
stakeholder identity, and

corporate reputation

Corporate
reputation

Stakeholder
identity

Corporate
identity

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Strategic CSR 39

for engaging in CSR. Motives are attributions that stakeholders make about
CSR activities, not simple objective statements about CSR intentions.
Stakeholders may question motivations for engaging in CSR, and perhaps
deservedly so given the negative attention attracted by greenwashing. It
would be unrealistic to claim a corporation ’ s motivations cannot include
an economic component in order for it to be socially responsible. In fact,
we assume multiple motivations guide CSR initiatives. Clearly, making a
profi t to ensure the survival of the corporation – and the CSR initiative – is
a central motivation. But motivations may also stem from the founder ’ s
values and vision about how businesses can contribute to society. The point
is that the profi t motive does not preclude more altruistic motivations. They
can coexist.

Yvon Chouinard founded Patagonia in 1973 to provide outdoor and
adventure sport clothing. What began as a business making climbing pitons
is now a global leader in the manufacturing and sales of outdoor clothing
and gear. From the start, Chouinard has had a respect for the environment
that guided his business. A 1974 catalogue included an article about clean
climbing. Here is a line from that environmental statement: “ No longer can
we assume the Earth ’ s resources are limitless; that there are ranges of
unclimbed peaks extending endlessly beyond the horizon. Mountains are
fi nite, and despite their massive appearance, they are fragile ” (Patagonia,
2009a ).

To get a better sense of Patagonia ’ s commitment to CSR, here is a state-
ment from their CSR web page:

Patagonia is a $316 million a year, privately owned company based in Ventura,
California. We design, develop and market clothing and gear for a wide range
of outdoor sports, travel and everyday wear, and are best known for our
innovative designs, quality products and strong environmental conscience.
Our Mission Statement goes like this: “ Build the best product, cause no
unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the
environmental crisis. ” To that end, we use environmentally sensitive materials
(organic cotton, recycled and recyclable polyester, and hemp among them)
and both sponsor and participate in a host of environmental initiatives that
range from promoting wildlife corridors to combating genetic engineering. To
date, we have given some $35 million in grants to grassroots environmental
organizations. (Patagonia, 2010 )

CSR initiatives, through environmental concerns, have been a core part
of Patagonia since its inception. Since 1985, Patagonia has donated 1%
of sales to the restoration and protection of the natural environment. In
2001, Yvon Chouinard joined with Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies
to found 1% for the Planet. The organization encourages businesses to

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40 Strategic CSR

donate 1% of sales to environmental groups. The mission is simply to
build an alliance of “ businesses fi nancially committed to creating a
healthy planet ” (Patagonia, 2009b ). Since 1993, the Patagonia Employee
Internship program has allowed employees to leave their jobs for up
to two months to work for the environmental group of their choice.
Patagonia pays the employee ’ s benefi ts and salary during that time.
Patagonia is on the forefront of recycling equipment and clothing. This
includes recycling the thermal underwear worn by their customers. There
is concern for social issues as well. As a part of the apparel industry,
Patagonia has had to contend with “ sweatshop ” issues. In 2002 Patagonia
hired a social responsibility manager to monitor compliance with its
Workplace Code of Conduct throughout its supply chain. Moreover,
Patagonia has third – party supplier audits, communicates its social respon-
sibility program to all its factories, and has reduced the total number of
factories it uses from 100 to 65, thereby making monitoring more effective
(Patagonia, n.d.).

Corporations like Patagonia and The Body Shop have a long legacy of
CSR involvement that stems from their founders ’ visions. Because their
CSR initiatives seem to be a natural outgrowth of their founders ’ passions,
stakeholders may be unlikely to question their motivations for CSR.
However, some might ask if motivations matter when the CSR initiatives
have a positive impact on the environment or society. After all, who can
determine what is the “ right ” reason, or constellation of reasons, for pur-
suing CSR initiatives? If the focus is on the “ good ” produced through
CSR, second guessing motivations and dismissing the positive effects of
economic motivations seem futile. Stakeholders seem to recognize that
businesses have a profi t motive and that more profi table businesses can
devote more resources to CSR. We explore this idea in more detail later
in this chapter, when we discuss stakeholder perceptions and four CSR
motives.

In sum, CSR can be a win – win for the corporation and society. This
stance refl ects an ethical perspective termed rule utilitarianism . The values
underpinning rule utilitarianism focus on the consequences of an action
for the collective good. What rules of conduct will produce the greatest
good for society? Ethical behaviors are those that produce a desired
outcome that benefi ts the public good. The challenge lies in accurately
forecasting both short – term and long – term consequences of an action or a
CSR initiative. Unfortunately, a short – term “ good ” does not preclude a
long – term nightmare. This emphasizes the need for strategic CSR based
on corporate objectives, careful planning, implementation, and evaluation.
This process is cyclical, and communication must play a vital role. We
contend that communication is central to successful CSR initiatives.

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Strategic CSR 41

Communication is the glue that binds together the different departments
responsible for CSR.

To further investigate people ’ s perceptions of corporations ’ motivations
for engaging in CSR, Ellen et al. (2006) created a 2 × 2 matrix for evaluat-
ing CSR motives. Figure 2.3 offers a visual presentation of the matrix. The
matrix includes a duty – alignment dimension that addresses the reason for
initiating CSR activities, and is composed of the negative (CSR is enacted
to meet stakeholder expectations) and the positive (CSR is performed to
help others). The economic dimension involves how CSR relates to perform-
ance objectives and ranges from self – serving to other serving. Four motives
appear when the two dimensions are crossed: (1) value driven, or caring
about the cause; (2) stakeholder driven, or responding to expectations; (3)
egoistic, or being obviously self – centered; and (4) strategic, or helping with
traditional business objectives.

The four CSR motives are an oversimplifi cation because any CSR effort
can be a mix of multiple motives. Research supports this belief because

Figure 2.3 Matrix of CSR motives

Value-
drivenStrategic

Meet stakeholder
expectations

Help others

Other-servingSelf-serving

Stakeholder-
drivenEgoistic

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42 Strategic CSR

respondents indicate they see multiple motives for CSR efforts. There is an
interaction between perceptions of a corporation ’ s CSR motives and the fi t
of CSR efforts. In general, fi t is when the CSR effort is consistent with what
the business does (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004 ). Some examples of CSR fi t
are useful here. Cargill is a multinational producer and marketer of food
and agricultural products and services. One of their CSR initiatives involves
working with Feeding America. The CSR initiative helps to feed over
1,600,000 Americans during the Christmas holiday season (Cargill, 2009 ).
Feeding the hungry is a perfect fi t for an agricultural company such as
Cargill. IKEA is known globally for its fl at – pack furniture. IKEA actively
seeks to source its wood from forests that are certifi ed as being responsibly
managed and to avoid wood from intact natural forests and wood that is
illegally harvested (IKEA, 2010a ). Responsible forest management is a
logical fi t for a company like IKEA that is so closely associated with wood
furniture.

People perceive CSR as more value driven and strategic when there is a
fi t between the corporation and its CSR actions. Perceptions of CSR motives
can infl uence how stakeholders interact with an organization. Purchase
intention increases when the CSR motives are perceived as value driven and
strategic, and it decreases when the motives are viewed as stakeholder
driven and egoistic (Ellen et al., 2006 ).

The views of the CSR motives can be very instructive. Stakeholders can
accept a strategic focus to CSR when they believe a corporation cares about
the cause. On the other hand, stakeholders reject the CSR efforts when they
perceive the corporation was forced into the change as a response to stake-
holder pressure and is acting in its own self – interests. In the end, stakehold-
ers recognize the business side of CSR. Stakeholders realize that CSR
includes an element of helping to achieve business interests. The challenge
is that the strategic element cannot dominate the CSR process. Stakeholders
must also believe the corporation has an other – serving element as well.
People must perceive that the organization does care about the issue and
the interests of those helped by the issue. As we shall discuss in later chap-
ters, balancing strategic and value – driven perceptions of CSR poses a dif-
fi cult communication challenge.

So how do we reconcile a stakeholder – driven view of CSR with these
fi ndings? Part of the answer lies in when stakeholder expectations were used
to create the CSR efforts. It is appropriate to distinguish between proactive
and reactive utilization of stakeholder expectations. When management
works to anticipate stakeholder social concerns, the CSR will not appear
to be a reaction to stakeholder expectations. We can call this proactive
stakeholder expectation utilization . It includes situations where CSR is part
of a founder ’ s vision. In contrast, CSR appears to be a reaction to stake-
holder expectations when the CSR efforts are adopted after stakeholders

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Strategic CSR 43

publicly challenge the corporation to change. We can call this reactive
stakeholder expectation utilization .

As noted in chapter 1, timing is important for CSR implementation.
Voluntary, early adopters realize greater benefi ts from CSR. Managers are
quick to identify the social concerns as they emerge from stakeholder
engagement and traditional and online media coverage. When those same
CSR efforts are adopted later and seem to be “ forced ” on a corporation,
such as through stakeholder pressure including unfavorable media atten-
tion, no benefi ts are realized (Husted & Salazar, 2006 ).

Kimberly – Clark makes paper products, including Kleenex and Scott, and
provides an illustration of forced change. Paper production utilizes wood
fi ber from some source. From 2004 to 2009, Greenpeace took issue with
the source for some of Kimberly – Clark ’ s wood fi ber. The effort was named
“ Kleercut: Wiping away Ancient Forests. ” The focus of the campaign was
protecting the Boreal Forest, an ancient forest located in Canada. Greenpeace
wanted Kimberly – Clark to stop sourcing wood fi ber from this ancient
forest. Kleercut relied on a combination of protests and stakeholder pres-
sure (especially from consumers) to pressure Kimberly – Clark into changing
its wood fi ber policies. Over 50 protests were launched during the cam-
paign. Under the fi nal agreement, which was announced on August 5, 2009,
Kimberly – Clark agreed it would not purchase wood fi ber from mills using
trees from the Boreal Forest unless strict ecological criteria were used for
their harvesting (Kleercut, 2009 ).

Kleercut is a case of forced changed related to CSR. As the Greenpeace
announcement stated,

It is fi nally time to celebrate a major victory for the Boreal Forest! Kimberly –
Clark has, as a result of public pressure, released a new environmental fi bre
policy that governs how it will help conserve forests and support sustainable
forestry and use more recycled fi bre. (Greenpeace, 2009b )

The announcement did go on to report that Greenpeace and Kimberly –
Clark were now moving from confl ict to a collaborative relationship that
they hope will foster forest conservation. Even though Kimberly – Clark is
praised, the statement clearly indicates that the change was a result of pres-
sure from stakeholders. Kleercut stands as an example of how businesses
can be pressured into adopting CSR initiatives.

Strategic CSR must be anticipatory. Through stakeholder engagement,
management anticipates what social concerns are emerging as important
and shapes the CSR efforts to match those emerging demands. As a result,
the corporation does not appear to be reacting to stakeholder expectations.
Instead, the organization appears to be a proactive leader in the area of the

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44 Strategic CSR

social concern, resulting in business benefi ts from the social issue as well as
the betterment of society. Failure to be anticipatory creates gaps between
stakeholder CSR expectations and corporate performance. The CSR expec-
tation gaps can prompt stakeholders to take action against a corporation
and to generate pressure for change. The idea that CSR expectation gaps
and stakeholder pressures can prompt corporate changes is detailed in
chapter 4 on formative research.

General Strategic Guidance: Approaching the CSR Process as
Change Management

Our fi nal area of discussion frames the strategic CSR process as a form
of change management. No single, best method exists for creating a CSR
initiative. However, the general framework offered by change management
provides useful insights into CSR development and management. The CSR
Process Model described in this book is grounded in general principles
of change management. We focus on how a corporation ’ s involvement in
CSR poses challenges and opportunities that can be managed through
rational analysis, development, implementation, and evaluation. We
emphasize that stakeholder engagement must be integrated throughout this
process.

One type of organizational change is administrative. Administrative
change involves altering an organization ’ s “ structure, strategy, policies,
reward systems, labor relations, coordination, and control systems ”
(Smeltzer, 1991 ). New CSR initiatives qualify as administrative change.
Change is conceptualized as a progressing through four phases: (1) explora-
tion, (2) planning, (3) action, and (4) integration. Exploration involves the
identifi cation of the need for change and the decision to pursue a change effort.
Planning assigns resources and constructs a roadmap for implementing the
change. Action involves the implementation of the plan; the change is dissemi-
nated to others. Integration is when the change becomes a part of day – to – day
activities (Bullock & Batten, 1985 ; Timmerman, 2003 ). There is a clear parallel
between the change management process and the CSR process when we con-
sider the central importance of acceptance of the proposed change . Both inter-
nal and external stakeholders need to perceive the new CSR initiative as
legitimate for the CSR initiatives to have positive effects. What benefi ts are
accrued if a new CSR initiative is ignored or ridiculed?

The change management literature often notes the need to create buy – in
to the change. Buy – in is a common phrase referring to people accepting and
supporting a change. An effective way to create acceptance is to have people

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Strategic CSR 45

participate in the development of the change. Through the stakeholder engage-
ment process, management can involve internal and external stakeholders in
the creation of a CSR initiative. Because stakeholders play a role in formulating
the CSR initiative, they are more likely to support it once the CSR initiative is
implemented. Stakeholders will see a part of themselves in the CSR initiative
and feel a sense of ownership (Heath & Coombs, 2006 ).

Communication plays a critical role in change acceptance. It is through
communication that stakeholders become a part of the change process
(Timmerman, 2003 ). The engagement for CSR requires communication as
stakeholders make their ideas and opinions known to management. For
instance, focus groups can be used to generate ideas for possible CSR efforts
or to gauge reaction to a proposed CSR initiative. Communication is vital
to identifi cation, a specifi c form of support for a change. Through identifi –
cation, stakeholders see themselves refl ected in the change. For our pur-
poses, stakeholders realize that the CSR initiative refl ects their self – identity.
Stakeholders build support for the CSR initiative and the corporation
through identifi cation (Sen et al., 2006 ).

Everyone Loves a Good Story

Narratives (stories) offer one way for managers to build acceptance of and
cooperation with CSR initiatives. Change management can be viewed as a
narrative process; change is a story told to – and told by – those involved
in the process. Change managers are successful when people accept their
change story. But we also believe that stakeholders must participate in this
narrative process such that they become co – creators of these narratives. This
view is consistent with the stakeholder engagement process that permeates
this book.

Narratives can be viewed as “ a chronological account of an event
sequence indicating causality through actions explained in terms of inten-
tions, deed, and consequences ” (Buchanan & Dawson, 2007 , p. 672). In
change management, it is helpful to create narratives that go beyond descrip-
tion and capture the causality inherent in change. People need to understand
why events are unfolding as they are. When CSR initiatives are considered
a change, managers need to consider how these narratives can be structured
to include the shared vision, values, and social concerns that promulgated
the change. Some stakeholders will readily identify the “ why ” connection
between the corporation ’ s mission and values and a focus on CSR. Others
may be more skeptical or apprehensive. Narratives will help them see the
reasons behind the change and increase their likelihood of participating in
the change.

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46 Strategic CSR

Walter Fisher (1987) claims that people are natural storytellers and that
they are persuaded by narratives. A good story will convince people to
accept claims such as the legitimacy and value of a CSR initiative. People
evaluate narratives by evaluating narrative probability and fi delity.
Narrative probability deals with the internal consistency of the story. Does
the narrative “ hang together ” and seem logical based on the audience ’ s
experiences? Listeners determine whether or not the story has all the right
elements and characters, and makes sense to them. Narrative fi delity
refl ects whether the story seems “ truthful ” and is consistent with their
beliefs, experiences, and values. Values play an important role in narrative
fi delity because audiences look for how their values are implicated in the
story (Fisher, 1987 ). If the values embedded in the narrative resonate with
their own values, the story will be perceived as more believable and desir-
able. Naturally, narrative probability and fi delity will be enhanced when
stakeholders have participated in the creation of the narrative through the
engagement process. The narrative should ring true with their experiences,
and they should be able to see themselves and their values within the
narrative.

The CSR initiative narrative is the story of how the new initiative will
be created (a chronological sequence of events). Critical elements for nar-
rative probability are the characters, the intentions, the process, and the
consequences. The characters include the corporation, various stakeholders,
and society as a whole. All three “ characters ” have concerns about the
consequences of the CSR initiative. The CSR initiative narrative must
capture the needs and values of key characters. The narrators also should
be sensitive to the emotional needs of listeners. Discussions of corporate
social responsibility often evoke strong passions, and those emotional ele-
ments should not be neglected.

The CSR initiative narrative should explain why the change is occurring
(intentions) and how the decision will be reached. These elements help to
construct a narrative that has the right elements to resonate with listeners.
Managers must make sure they use those elements to create internal consist-
ency – a good storyline – as well.

Narrative fi delity concerns whether or not the CSR initiative narrative
appears to be consistent with the corporation ’ s strategic plans, the corpora-
tion ’ s culture and values, and stakeholder needs. If the CSR initiative is
inconsistent with the corporation ’ s strategic plans, other managers are
unlikely to support the effort. If the CSR initiative is inconsistent with the
corporate culture or incompatible with stakeholder concerns, both internal
and external stakeholders will question its validity. The CSR initiative nar-
rative should be easy to develop because the CSR process provides the raw
materials necessary to construct effective narratives. Throughout the CSR
process, managers will have been addressing concerns about narrative prob-

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Strategic CSR 47

ability and fi delity. The collaborative process (stakeholder engagement) will
permit co – creation of the story. The resulting narrative content and form
should be satisfying to those involved and easy to repeat to others. Telling
and retelling the CSR narrative will not only provide information about the
CSR process but also reinforce important values, feelings of ownership, and
identifi cation with the CSR initiative.

The CSR Process Model: A Brief Preview

The remaining chapters in this book are built around the CSR Process
Model shown in Figure 2.4 . We believe that strategic CSR requires a com-
mitment to both process and outcomes. Strategic CSR should enable the
corporation to pursue business objectives while participating in the process
of stakeholder engagement to enact meaningful CSR initiatives. The model
depicts a continuous process composed of stages that should inform a stra-
tegic CSR effort:

1. Scanning and monitoring
2. Conducting formative research
3. Creating the CSR initiative

Figure 2.4 CSR Process Model

Scan and monitor

Formative
research

Create
CSR

initiative

Communicate
CSR initiative

Evaluation and
feedback

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48 Strategic CSR

4. Communicating the CSR initiative
5. Conducting an evaluation and providing feedback

The fi rst process, scanning and monitoring, requires the corporation to
search its surrounding environment to identify emerging social and envi-
ronmental CSR concerns that could affect stakeholder perceptions of their
operations. This process also involves identifying stakeholders interested in
those CSR concerns. Because these concerns and stakeholder expectations
change over time, the scanning and monitoring process is continuous.

The second process, formative research, focuses attention on the con-
cerns or problems to assess opportunities to benefi t society and the corpora-
tion as well as to identify problems that may create negative effects.
Formative research involves the collection and evaluation of information
necessary for selecting CSR concerns to convert into CSR initiatives.
Intensive research is conducted to study the issues and to begin the process
of stakeholder engagement that carries through all steps in the model. This
step is important for understanding stakeholder expectations, identifying
gaps between what the company is currently doing and what stakeholders
believe the company should be doing, and cultivating meaningful dialogue
with stakeholders.

The third phase, creating the CSR initiative, translates the CSR concern
into practice. The information gleaned from previous stages is used to plan
concrete actions involving the corporation and stakeholders. However, the
corporation should anticipate possible opposition to the corporation ’ s
actions – and inactions – on particular CSR issues. Because different stake-
holders have different CSR priorities, it is unlikely that any CSR strategy
will satisfy all stakeholder expectations. The stakeholder engagement
process that permeates this stage involves stakeholders in the discussions
of proposed initiatives and objectives. Ideally the involvement will con-
tribute to a sense of ownership as well as understanding of the selected
CSR initiatives. When stakeholders are disappointed with CSR – related
decisions, involvement in the process should at least help them feel like
their ideas and concerns received a fair hearing prior to the fi nal decision
making.

The fourth phase, communicating the CSR initiative, involves helping
internal and external stakeholders learn about and accept the CSR initia-
tives. This involves tasks such as content formulation and media selection
that ensure that information about the CSR effort is conveyed to those who
are interested. The last phase, evaluation and feedback, enables the corpora-
tion to determine if the CSR process and outcome objectives were met.
Assessment is important for gauging the effect of the CSR initiative on
society, stakeholders, and the corporation. To be transparent, the corpora-
tion must provide evaluation data and solicit feedback from stakeholders

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Strategic CSR 49

concerning the process and outcomes of the CSR initiatives. The model
depicts an ongoing process such that the evaluation and feedback phase
provides the foundation for the scanning and monitoring phase. The cycle
continues; it should not stop with the completion of an initiative. The CSR
process requires a continuous commitment to research, planning, imple-
mentation, and evaluation.

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Attendees voice their opinions at a town hall meeting on behalf of the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The purpose of these meetings is
to collect community concerns and share health messages about local environmental
issues. Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Dawn Arlotta

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3

CSR Scanning and Monitoring

Management strategy should be constructed from a solid base of knowl-
edge. Information must be collected and analyzed to provide the foundation
required for strategy formulation. Strategic management plots the direction
of the corporation, develops a plan for achieving the desired objectives, and
allocates resources for the endeavor. Since the late 1960s, environmental
scanning has been a core element of strategic decision making. Scanning
gathers information from the environment that serves as a basis for creating

Scan and
monitor

Formative
research

Create
CSR

initiative

Communicate
CSR initiative

Evaluation and
feedback

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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52 CSR Scanning and Monitoring

knowledge of emerging threats and opportunities. Strategy is predicated on
assumptions about the environment, and environmental scanning attempts
to determine the “ correctness ” of those assumptions (Muralidharan, 2004 ).
In other words, scanning helps us assess if the situation we think the cor-
poration is facing is really the situation the corporation is facing. Scanning
moves us from reliance on “ gut instinct ” or intuition to evidence – based
decision making.

From the corporate perspective, effective CSR needs to be integrated into
the larger corporate strategy. Hence, CSR is part of the overall strategic
management process. CSR is linked to the environment through stakeholder
expectations, values, and conceptualizations of what constitutes CSR. As
with any element of the environment, stakeholder expectations change over
time and require regular assessment. For example, consider how prominent
current events such as the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of
Mexico, food and toy safety concerns over Chinese imports, and revelations
of worker exploitation in garment factories infl uence stakeholder percep-
tions of corporations and expectations for responsible corporate behavior.
In 2007, over 2 million toys manufactured by RC2 and Mattel in China
were recalled for lead paint. These were prominent, well – known brands,
and it raised stakeholder awareness and concern over toys and lead paint.
The public health threat created a CSR concern and expectations that cor-
porations would take more effective actions to prevent toys with lead paint
from reaching children. CSR strategy must change to refl ect the new envi-
ronment within which the corporation operates. Both the content of the
CSR strategy (the objectives and how to reach them) and the strategic
controls used to implement the strategy are subject to revision. That is why
we begin our discussion of the CSR process with scanning and the related
concept of monitoring.

The CSR process begins by identifying potential CSR concerns that may
be translated into CSR actions for corporations. Managers “ fi nd ” potential
CSR concerns by using scanning and monitoring to understand their exter-
nal and internal stakeholders and the corporation ’ s environment. We must
recognize that although scanning and monitoring attempt to be objective,
they do involve subjective elements as well. Different managers might iden-
tify different CSR concerns from the same set of stakeholder data. The
important point is that managers must consider stakeholders to be an inte-
gral part of the CSR process. Effective strategic CSR is premised on meeting
stakeholder expectations for corporate CSR behaviors. Scanning and moni-
toring provide ways for managers to determine which CSR concerns are
relevant to stakeholders and how well the corporation is meeting those
expectations. Managers may fi nd opportunities for future CSR initiatives
or discover fl aws in their current CSR practices. Either insight provides
initial guidance for refi ning CSR activities.

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CSR Scanning and Monitoring 53

Issues Management

Issues management , the identifi cation of and actions taken to affect issues,
has long preached the value of environmental scanning to identify potential
problems early (Heath, 1990 ). Issues are problems ready for some resolu-
tion (Jones & Chase, 1979 ). For example, issues may range from childhood
obesity to greener packaging to food safety. Early identifi cation of issues
should promote early intervention to reduce the impact of the potential
problem on the corporation. In some cases, the potential problem can be
converted into an opportunity. Early intervention will result in a greater
likelihood of success and be less expensive than if a corporation waits to
take action on the problem (Crable & Vibbert, 1985 ; Jones & Chase,
1979 ). Issues are frequently closely tied with social concerns. Actions
designed to manage an issue may be managing a social concern as well. It
follows that the principles of issues management can be applied effectively
to CSR and managing social concerns.

In 2009, Nike announced steps to help address the issue of Amazon
deforestation. Nike does not operate in the Amazon area but does purchase
leather sourced from the Amazon. One source of leather is from cattle raised
on land in the Amazon that is illegally cleared by ranchers. Greenpeace had
been documenting how leather and meat production were contributing to
the Amazon deforestation issue. Nike created stronger guidelines for leather
sourcing called the “ Nike Inc. Amazon Leather Policy ” and only uses sup-
pliers that join the Leather Working Group. Amazon deforestation is not a
new issue, but applying the issue to the athletic shoe industry through
leather sourcing was innovative (Nike, 2009 ). Nike was positioning itself
to be a leader in the ethical sourcing of leather and received supportive
statements from Greenpeace for its efforts.

For CSR, scanning searches inside and outside the corporation for poten-
tial issues rather than simply focusing on the corporation ’ s external environ-
ment. Managers should cast a wide net to capture as much information as
possible. Moreover, the boundary of what separates a corporation from its
environment is ill defi ned at best (Brownlie, 1994 ). Scanning is similar to
a radar system looking for “ blips ” that could be meaningful. The blips
attract attention and then are scrutinized more closely. When a promising
issue is found, managers examine it in more detail. In contrast to scanning,
monitoring evaluates current efforts to address a social concern. Monitoring
is a form of evaluation because it assesses how stakeholders respond to
existing CSR efforts. Scanning helps managers identify new issues that
require action and monitoring, and determines if existing social concerns
need further action. In this chapter, we explore how scanning and monitor-
ing can be applied in the strategic CSR process. The concepts of scanning

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54 CSR Scanning and Monitoring

and monitoring are translated from strategic management and issues man-
agement to the CSR process, and the role of stakeholder engagement in
both is discussed.

Scanning and CSR

Scanning is essentially a search of the corporation ’ s environment. The
search focuses on emerging social and environmental concerns that
could impact CSR – related perceptions of the corporation. The CSR con-
cerns in the environment can shape stakeholders ’ CSR expectations. Because
expectations are evolving, expectations are moving targets. However, some
concerns predictably are associated with some industries. For example, the
restaurant industry is linked to obesity, food safety, and other health issues;
the diamond industry is associated with human rights; the garment industry
is connected to child labor and sweat shops; and the petrochemical industry
is tied to environmental degradation and health concerns.

CSR scanning is a specifi c type of scanning that analyzes a myriad of
information sources including activist discussions, potential government
actions, reputation evaluations, and polling data results. CSR scanning
should include internal sources by examining the CSR concerns of employ-
ees. Corporations cannot meet stakeholder expectations if they are not
aware of them. A mosaic of the social concerns prominent among stake-
holders emerges as relevant information is collected and analyzed.

As with issues management, CSR managers must decide which of the
emerging CSR concerns warrants further attention. The challenge is to iden-
tify those social concerns or issues that will arise as focal points for the cor-
poration ’ s stakeholders. This is challenging because managers must
anticipate which social concerns are gaining traction and likely to reach
prominence. While such projects may seem like an educated guess, the guess
should be informed by research, including the process of stakeholder engage-
ment. Once identifi ed, management must decide if a CSR concern warrants
further consideration. The focus then turns to prioritizing social concerns.

Prioritizing CSR Concerns

Managers must interpret these initial data to determine which CSR concerns
hold the most promise for the CSR efforts. Though based on data, inter-
pretations are tinged with subjectivity grounded in managers ’ personal
beliefs, values, and experiences. Nevertheless, managers should strive to be
objective at this prioritizing stage.

Managers can draw upon the issues management literature for guidance
and use the evaluative dimensions of likelihood and impact to assess CSR

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CSR Scanning and Monitoring 55

concerns. Likelihood is the potential of the CSR concern to attract interest
from a wide array of stakeholders, especially powerful stakeholders. If a
large number of stakeholders and powerful stakeholders may be drawn to
the CSR concern, it has high likelihood. In this way, likelihood is an assess-
ment of the CSR concern ’ s ability to attract adherents and advocates – and to
develop into CSR expectations. Impact , the second evaluative dimension, is the
effect the CSR concern can have on society and the corporation. Stakeholders
want corporations to address CSR concerns that have a major impact on society.
To maximize resources, managers want to address CSR concerns that can sig-
nifi cantly impact the corporation. This can include CSR concerns that have the
potential to signifi cantly harm or benefi t the corporation.

The likelihood and impact ratings can be used to create an initial prioriti-
zation system. There will be more potential CSR concerns than a corpora-
tion has time or resources to consider. As a result, the CSR concerns with the
highest likelihood and impact scores should be examined in more detail. We
can call these emerging CSR concerns . Management then assesses how well
or poorly the corporation is positioned to address these emerging CSR con-
cerns. If the corporation is already taking actions that address the social
concern, no further action is required. An exception might be if the corpora-
tion is not effectively communicating its efforts to stakeholders. In this situa-
tion, the corporation would need to develop a more effective communication
plan to convey its actions to stakeholders. If the corporation currently is
taking action to address the social concern, it will appear concerned about
the emerging CSR concern as it develops and be perceived as a leader in
addressing the issue. An example will help to illustrate the idea of leadership
through early action on stakeholder CSR concerns.

Mobile phones are a ubiquitous global product. The odds are that you
have a mobile phone and will own many throughout your lifetime. Do you
know the sustainability of your phone? Stakeholder research found that
44% of UK mobile users would. People may not be demanding sustainability
information about phones but think it is a good idea. It seems that people
generally like to have sustainability information about the products they use.
Mobile phone sustainability is a latent CSR concern as stakeholders have not
been publicly clamoring for such information but do see it as a benefi t. So
where do you fi nd information about your mobile ’ s sustainability? Enter tel-
ecommunication corporation O2 in August 2010. In collaboration with
Forum for the Future, a UK – based sustainability organization that partners
with businesses and universities, O2 created the Eco rating, the fi rst UK
rating system of mobile phone sustainability (Miner, 2010 ).

Here is a section of text from O2 ’ s announcement of the rating system:

The Sony Ericsson Elm tops the list of 65 mobile phones from six manufac-
turers, rated 4.3 out of 5. The scores refl ect the environmental impact of a

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56 CSR Scanning and Monitoring

mobile phone, how it helps people lead more sustainable lives and the ethical
performance of the manufacturer. They will be published online and in O2
stores from this week.

Eco rating has been developed in partnership with independent sustainabil-
ity experts Forum for the Future, in close collaboration with handset manu-
facturers. It ’ s a key initiative within O2 ’ s Think Big sustainability programme
and part of its commitment to bringing sustainable products and services to
its customers.

There are 4.1 billion mobile phones in circulation worldwide with a com-
bined carbon footprint over their lifetime of more than 100 million tones.
That ’ s the equivalent of taking every car and HGV in the UK off the road
and grounding domestic fl ights for a year. With 1712 mobile phones being
replaced every minute in the UK it ’ s easy to see how small improvements can
make a huge difference, and Eco rating looks at much more than just CO2.
(O2, 2010)

O2 is using the Eco rating to establish CSR leadership because they are the
fi rst to offer the mobile phone sustainability rating. The Eco rating system
is part of their larger sustainability effort. Scanning through surveys of
mobile phone customers enabled O2 to discover the potential CSR concern
that became a CSR initiative for O2.

If the corporation fails to act on the emerging CSR concern, a potential
problem exists. If nothing changes, eventually stakeholders will perceive the
corporation is operating counter to their social concern or constellation of
social concerns. The corporation loses its alignment with its stakeholders.
Confl ict (churn) can erupt if stakeholders feel the need to “ make ” the cor-
poration address the emerging social concern. Once confl ict emerges, the
CSR efforts are no longer strategic or benefi cial but something that must
be done to prevent further damage to the corporation. In this case, the
corporation is being reactive and is unlikely to benefi t from involvement
with the social concern. It will be seen as lagging behind the expectation
curve and as merely taking action in order to catch up to industry leaders.

The prior discussion of scanning highlights the importance of early detec-
tion of the CSR concern. Early detection means the corporation learns of the
CSR concern before a wide number of stakeholders accept the social concern
and defi nitely before any public challenges to the corporation on the CSR
concern occur. Again, we should be mindful that detection has a subjective
element, and potential CSR concerns can be missed because managers view
the information as irrelevant. When managers miss the harbingers of a CSR
concern, the social concern will appear in later scanning once stakeholders
act upon it. In those cases, scanning reveals the existing problems, as stake-
holder anger about a lack of action on the CSR concern is already manifest.
When scanning uncovers stakeholder anger, the CSR process becomes reac-
tive rather than proactive. Still, the CSR – related problems are likely to inten-
sify if they are ignored or remain unnoticed.

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CSR Scanning and Monitoring 57

Monitoring and CSR

In contrast to scanning, which focuses on identifying emerging issues, moni-
toring involves assessing reactions to current CSR initiatives. How are
stakeholders perceiving and reacting to a corporation ’ s current CSR efforts?
Monitoring is much narrower than scanning because it is limited to current
CSR efforts. Managers can focus on existing CSR efforts and determine
whether or not the efforts are meeting stakeholder expectations. Just because
stakeholders were satisfi ed with your CSR efforts last year does not mean
they will have the same level of satisfaction this year. The factors that drive
CSR expectations today may be very different in one, three, or fi ve years.
In addition, unexpected events or crises can turn the spotlight on a concern
or issue. Consider how concerns with offshore drilling became prominent
after BP ’ s Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Failure to adapt to
changing CSR expectations will result in corporations being perceived as
socially irresponsible because expectation gaps develop – the corporation
fails to meet the CSR expectations of its stakeholders. We elaborate on the
development and management of expectation gaps in Chapter 4 . Again,
corporations cannot adapt to changing stakeholder expectations if they are
not aware that expectations are changing.

If a CSR effort is no longer meeting stakeholder expectations, manage-
ment must consider corrective action. The initial question is whether or not
the CSR concern embodied in the program is still relevant. If the CSR
concern is dated and no longer of interest to stakeholders, managers must
consider a new direction for the CSR efforts. If the CSR concern is still
valued but the CSR actions are considered inadequate or outdated, the CSR
program requires modifi cation rather than a new direction. Marks and
Spencer, a UK – based retailer, illustrates the evolutionary nature of CSR
initiatives. In 2006, Marks and Spencer introduced a CSR initiative called
“ Look behind the Label. ” The Look campaign centered on FairTrade goods
and healthier foods. The two highlighted CSR concerns were FairTrade
cotton and reduced salt in the food Marks and Spencer sold (Marks and
Spencer, 2006 ). In 2007, Look was replaced by “ Plan A. ” Plan A included
a list of 100 different CSR – related commitments from Marks and Spencer.
Each year, Marks and Spencer reports progress on those commitments and
adds new commitments as well. Plan A is built on fi ve pillars: (1) climate
change, (2) waste, (3) sustainable raw materials, (4) fair partners, and (5)
health. The overarching goal is for Marks and Spencer to become the
world ’ s most sustainable major retailer by 2015 (Marks and Spencer, 2010 ).
The point is that Marks and Spencer realizes the fl uidity of CSR concerns
and incorporates new concerns as they begin to emerge.

Monitoring also can refer to efforts designed to keep an eye on a CSR
concern. Scanning may detect a CSR concern and rate it fairly high as a

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58 CSR Scanning and Monitoring

concern. However, its potential to spread among stakeholders may be low.
Managers may monitor the CSR concern for any signal that its potential
to spread among stakeholders is developing. This might be called placing
the CSR concern on a “ watch list. ” If the CSR concern shows increased
signs of likelihood, the managers can then act upon it.

Scanning and Monitoring in Concert

Scanning and monitoring should be conducted continuously to benefi t a
corporation. Irregular scanning and monitoring will not provide the timely
data required for a strategic, proactive approach to CSR. Scanning and
monitoring are complementary. Scanning can identify new CSR concerns
while monitoring can assess known CSR concerns. Both scanning and
monitoring provide the starting point for further action. An opportunity or
problem is identifi ed, and the process of addressing the CSR situation is
initiated. Scanning and monitoring provide information about a specifi c
CSR concern that warrants further attention.

Effective CSR scanning and monitoring are premised on proper informa-
tion searches. Managers must know where to look for relevant CSR infor-
mation, how to collect the information, and how to evaluate the information.
Sources will include traditional news media, online news media, social media,
and key stakeholders. Collection techniques include searching databases, polling
data, surveys, focus groups, and interviews. The proper sources and research
techniques can vary according to the CSR demands of the corporation ’ s indus-
try. Managers will need to develop their own defi nitions for likelihood and
impact when evaluating the information they have collected.

Scanning and monitoring provide two foundational elements for the CSR
process: (1) the identifi cation of potential CSR concerns and (2) the identifi ca-
tion of stakeholders associated with those CSR concerns. It is really a matter
of the “ chicken – and – egg ” dilemma when discussing which comes fi rst. Managers
may fi nd a CSR concern emerging in traditional and online media. The manag-
ers could then specify the stakeholders that might be involved with the CSR
concern. Conversely, managers might discuss CSR in general with stakeholders
and discover specifi c CSR concerns through those conversations. The managers
would then conduct additional research to explore the potential of the CSR
concern. Ultimately, managers must extract both the CSR concern and stake-
holders relevant to that concern for scanning and monitoring to have value.

Stakeholder Engagement ’ s Role in Scanning and Monitoring

Stakeholder engagement for scanning and monitoring begins with identify-
ing the various stakeholders to be engaged. The stakeholders that are

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CSR Scanning and Monitoring 59

engaged can vary by the specifi c CSR concern being discussed. Still, corpo-
rations must carefully consider whom to involve in the process. The Global
Reporting Initiative (GRI) specifi es that organizations discuss how they
defi ne and select stakeholders for engagement. Stakeholder engagement is
an element of the GRI, so it appears in numerous CSR and sustainability
reports. As a review, GRI reporting covers economic, social, and environ-
mental reports by corporations. The GRI includes these specifi c statements
about stakeholder engagement (the numbers refl ect the GRI numbering
system):

4.14 List of stakeholder groups engaged by the organization.
Examples of stakeholder groups are:

• Communities;
• Civil society;
• Customers;
• Shareholders and providers of capital;
• Suppliers; and
• Employees, other workers, and their trade unions.

4.15 Basis for identifi cation and selection of stakeholders with whom to
engage.

This includes the organization ’ s process for defi ning its stakeholder
groups, and for determining the groups with which to engage and
not to engage.

4.16 Approaches to stakeholder engagement, including frequency of engage-
ment by type and by stakeholder group.

This could include surveys, focus groups, community panels, corpo-
rate advisory panels, written communication, management/union
structures, and other vehicles . The organization should indicate
whether any of the engagement was undertaken specifi cally as part
of the report preparation process.

4.17 Key topics and concerns that have been raised through stakeholder
engagement, and how the organization has responded to those key
topics and concerns, including through its reporting. (Global Reporting
Initiative, 2006 , p. 24)

Identifying stakeholders actually is part of scanning and monitoring. The
organization scans the environment for CSR concerns and relevant stake-
holders. Those CSR concerns and stakeholders are then monitored for
initial information on the topic. The engagement begins as the corporation
reaches out to the stakeholders and asks for their input on CSR issues.

One example of engagement is the use of stakeholder panels. The stake-
holder panel is composed of representatives from the various stakeholder
groups that might be interested in a particular CSR concern or in CSR in
general. The panel meets regularly and can be used to examine corporate
policies and actions for comment and recommendations. The panel offers

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60 CSR Scanning and Monitoring

advice on future CSR actions and critiques of current CSR practices. Panels
can address general CSR concerns or be structured around specifi c CSR
concerns such as biodiversity. A corporation can even have multiple stake-
holder panels. The specifi c structure all depends on what the corporation
is trying to accomplish.

Thus far, our discussion seems to focus on engagement with stakeholders
who are external to the corporation. However, the role of internal stakehold-
ers, a corporation ’ s own employees, should not be neglected. Their role in
scanning and monitoring mirrors that of external stakeholders. As is the case
with external stakeholders, corporations should reach out to internal stake-
holders and solicit their input on CSR issues. There is no reason to expect
that the CSR concerns of internal stakeholders will differ drastically from
those of external stakeholders. However, employees are uniquely positioned
to have both knowledge of the corporation and understanding of potential
CSR issues. As company members, they probably already identify with the
corporation. Moreover, their roles in the corporation mean they will be
either directly or indirectly involved in selected CSR initiatives. Failure to
consult internal stakeholders when the corporation ’ s initiatives will affect
them certainly could lead to alienation and lack of support for CSR initia-
tives. Corporations benefi t when stakeholders identify with the corporation,
the CSR concern, and the values underpinning the social concern. This
would hold true for a corporation ’ s own employees. Employees are generally
aware of the corporation ’ s capabilities and resources, and may be well situ-
ated to contribute ideas about how the corporation can pursue CSR initia-
tives. Corporations would be wise to include their internal stakeholders in
the scanning and monitoring process.

Conclusion and Critical Questions

The conclusions of chapters 3 through 7 include tables of critical questions
to consider within each phase of the CSR Process Model. The tables use
the following format. First, the question is presented. Second, the relevant
parties who have an interest in the question are identifi ed.

Scanning and monitoring seek to identify emerging CSR concerns that
could be integrated into future CSR initiatives – and develop the knowledge that
makes CSR strategic. CSR is driven by stakeholder expectations, and those
expectations change over time. This means that scanning and monitoring must
be ongoing processes. To be proactive, managers should address new CSR con-
cerns before they generate widespread interest. In this way, the corporation
becomes a leader in CSR. Changing expectations also can mean that an existing
CSR initiative becomes obsolete as it no longer speaks to salient stakeholder
concerns. Monitoring functions as a “ checkup ” and determines if existing
CSR initiatives are still relevant and viable for stakeholders.

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CSR Scanning and Monitoring 61

Critical Questions for Scanning and
Monitoring

Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

What sources should be scanned for possible
CSR concerns?

X

What sources should be monitored for
possible CSR concerns?

X

Which stakeholders should be engaged in the
scanning process?

X X

Which stakeholders should be engaged in the
monitoring process?

X X

How will the engagement process for scanning
be structured?

X X

How will the engagement process for
monitoring be structured?

X X

Do stakeholders still consider the existing CSR
initiatives to be relevant?

X X

How are stakeholders reacting to current CSR
initiatives?

X X

Have any events occurred that suggest the
need to modify expectations or efforts?

X X

What criteria should be used for the
preliminary identifi cation and assessment of
CSR concerns?

X X

Effective scanning and monitoring require careful consideration of the
sources to examine for possible CSR concerns. The base materials for scan-
ning should include messages created by activists, online discussions of CSR
issues, and news media coverage. Managers must also consider the range of
salient stakeholders, which ones to include in the engagement process, and
the nature of that engagement process. Engagement can provide managers
with insights into what concerns are salient for stakeholders (scanning) and
how stakeholders are reacting to existing CSR initiatives (monitoring). The
goal of scanning is to produce a tentative list of CSR issues that could be
translated into CSR initiatives. Because the tentative list requires an initial
prioritization, managers should determine the criteria to be used in the pre-
liminary assessment of the CSR concerns. Likelihood and impact evaluations
are commonly used to prioritize concerns. During the stakeholder engage-
ment process, stakeholders would be interested in who is included in the
scanning and monitoring process and the criteria for assessing CSR concerns
to determine whether or not their interests would be taken into account.
Monitoring helps managers keep up – to – date on the CSR initiatives that have
been implemented. The results from monitoring may signal the need to rein-
vigorate the stakeholder engagement process on a particular issue where the
corporation has fallen behind expectations.

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Indian commuters pass by a billboard of British telecommunications giant, Vodafone,
in New Dehli. Vodafone operates globally and emphasizes stakeholder engagement
in its corporate social responsibility process. © Prakash Singh/Getty Images

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4

Formative Research

Scanning and monitoring and formative research share an emphasis on
narrowing the CSR concerns for a corporation. Scanning and monitoring
provide a surface analysis of preliminary CSR concerns that could be trans-
lated into CSR initiatives and the stakeholders connected to those CSR

Scan and
monitor

Formative
research

Create
CSR

initiative

Communicate
CSR initiative

Evaluation
and feedback

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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64 Formative Research

concerns. The end result is a working inventory of potential CSR concerns
that alerts managers to the vast array of potential CSR actions they can
pursue. The working list can be a daunting display of potential CSR con-
cerns. By examining the potential CSR concerns in greater depth, formative
research helps managers develop a tractable list of options to transform
into their CSR initiatives. The working list of CSR concerns is refi ned to a
shorter list of viable CSR concerns. The end result of formative research is
an inventory of the CSR concerns the corporation plans to incorporate into
its CSR initiatives.

Scanning and monitoring provide insight into CSR concerns that can be
viewed as problems and/or opportunities. We suggest a CSR concern can
be both because a problem for stakeholders can be an opportunity for the
corporation – solving the problem can enhance the corporation ’ s CSR repu-
tation. Formative research examines the opportunity or problem in detail
in order to provide the information necessary for selecting which CSR
concerns to convert into CSR initiatives. No corporation has the time and
resources to address all possible CSR concerns. Managers must make
informed decisions, and formative research provides the requisite database
for making these choices.

Information is collected about each CSR concern. As a starting point,
each CSR concern is examined for its problem and opportunity potential.
The opportunity portion examines the CSR concern ’ s potential to benefi t
the corporation and society. The problem portion examines the CSR con-
cern ’ s potential negative effects on the corporation and society. Formative
research seeks to clarify the situation with additional details and projec-
tions about the possible effects (positive and negative) created by the CSR
concern and potential costs to both the corporation and society. A thor-
ough list of relevant stakeholders is created. Managers work from the list
to identify each group ’ s stake in the CSR concern. A stakeholder map is
created for each CSR concern. The stakeholder map should specify which
stakeholders benefi t from and which might be harmed by addressing the
CSR concern. The maps can utilize visual or tabular formats. Figure 4.1
presents a stakeholder map visual, and Table 4.1 offers a sample stake-
holder analysis based on a social concern. A wide variety of research
methods can be used, including archival research, interviews, real – time
media analysis, surveys, panels, and focus groups. The formative research
should end in a decision as to whether or not to pursue action on the CSR
concern.

Stakeholder engagement is ideal for formative research. Through com-
munication (the application of various research strategies) with stakehold-
ers, the corporation learns more about the stakeholders ’ CSR interests and
views on the focal CSR concern under discussion. Stakeholder panels are
one option, but a wider array of data can be collected from surveys of

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Formative Research 65

stakeholder and/or focus groups. For example, Heinz surveyed its stake-
holders to determine which issues were most important for the corporation
to address in its corporate social responsibility report. For social topics,
stakeholders chose (1) health and nutrition and (2) malnutrition and poverty
work. For sustainability topics, stakeholders wanted more information
about goal progress and project case studies (Heinz, 2009 ). While not the
only source of CSR information, talking to stakeholders provides the best
insights into their CSR expectations and helps shape CSR practices.
Communication with stakeholders also conveys genuine interest in their
ideas. This two – way communication is mutually benefi cial and infl uential.
Understanding stakeholder CSR expectations is superior to guessing what
the stakeholder CSR expectations are. An extended example of how stake-
holder engagement benefi ts scanning, monitoring, and formative research
is informative at this point.

Engagementdb is an effort by wetpaint and Altimeter to assess the level
of corporate interactivity with stakeholders through social media.
Engagementdb rates the top 100 global brands for their social media

Figure 4.1 Sample stakeholder map

Shareholders

Customers Employees

Suppliers

Governments

Communities

Corporation

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Formative Research 67

engagement. In 2009, Starbucks was the top brand. Their ranking system
is based on the interactivity assessment of a corporation ’ s use of the fol-
lowing social media: blogs, branded social network or community, content
distribution sites, discussion forums, external social network presence (e.g.,
Facebook), Flickr or Photobucket, innovation hubs, wikis, ratings and
reviews, Twitter, and YouTube. Part of the assessment includes whether or
not executives are involved with the various social media.

Starbucks created the http://mystarbucksidea.force.com site where stake-
holders submit, comment, and vote on ideas. Each department in Starbucks
has a representative assigned as a liaison to the site. The liaison responds
to ideas related to their area (Starbucks, 2010b ). Box 4.1 contains examples
of CSR ideas offered to Starbucks. As of the middle of 2010, there were
about 6,000 social responsibility ideas posted to this site. Social media
engagement relates directly to scanning and formative research. Social
media interaction provides feedback on corporate behaviors and can iden-
tify new stakeholder concerns as they emerge. This is a form of scanning
and monitoring. Starbucks can review the suggestions on MyStarbucksIdea
for reactions to current practices and insights into stakeholder values. Such
data are naturally occurring and offer insights into stakeholder attitudes
and values. Interacting through social media is a viable way to solicit infor-
mation about specifi c CSR concerns from select stakeholders (formative
research). Stakeholders even could be asked their views on a specifi c CSR
concern or queried about potential reactions to a hypothetical CSR initia-
tive. Mystarbucksidea.force.com provides ideas for possible CSR initiatives,
while people ’ s votes refl ect their views on the potential CSR initiatives. This
type of interactive site is ideal for collecting information that can be used
in the formative research process.

Researching Stakeholder Expectations for CSR

A key theme in this book is the role of stakeholder expectations in creating
effective CSR initiatives. It follows that formative research must examine
these expectations. Two different approaches for understanding stakeholder
CSR expectations can be used in formative CSR research: expectations gaps
and alignment. Expectation gaps represent a reactive strategy that is used
when stakeholders confront corporations about being out of touch with
CSR concerns. Managers can miss or overlook CSR concerns, and this can
produce expectation gaps and stakeholder churn (confl ict between the cor-
poration and stakeholders). In contrast, alignment is more proactive.
Management tries to anticipate future CSR concerns. By acting on the
future CSR concerns, the corporation avoids an expectation gap. While it

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68 Formative Research

Box 4.1 MyStarbucksIdea CSR suggestions

Place recycle bins in every Starbucks

Posted on 3/9/2010 8:05 PM by merrymorse
I have been in one Starbucks that has their own recycle bin. How
about all the others? People throw away cardboard cups, plastic
straws, cardboard cup holders, and papers from straws. These are all
recyclable.

I read on one of the posts that your plastic cups are NOT recycla-
ble. If that is true, I can ’ t believe you call yourselves socially respon-
sible. Go to Whole Foods and see what they do to recycle – EVERYTHING
in their newer stores is recycled and reused. Starbucks should be at
least on a par with Whole Foods.

http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/ideaview?id =
08750000000GoCnAAK (accessed December 15, 2010)

reusable cup sleeves

Posted on 7/31/2010 5:09 AM by holen1 Catlettsburg, KY Venti soy
chai latte, sugarfree vanilla, no water, double protein,stirred well,
EXTRA hot
I believe that all the throw away cup sleeves are very wasteful. My
idea is to make reusable sleeves for sale at the register just as the
cups are for sale. I have purchased many cups but would love to see
reuasble sleeves with designs like those on cups. People would buy
these!!

http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/ideaview?id =
08750000000Gyw7AAC (accessed December 15, 2010)

Locally sourced (organic) baked goods

Posted on 3/19/2008 12:24 PM by cpresso
Offer locally sourced (organic or not) high quality baked goods
similar to some of the baked goods Whole Foods offers, instead of
the nationally consistent scones, cookies, pastries, cakes, and breads
offered now. This sacrifi ces some of the national consistency now in
place (though there is some variance already) but brings better quality,
better tasting food to Starbucks, supports the local community, and
elevates Starbucks above other coffee outlets (national outlets now
also serving coffee) by cranking up the quality level and local

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Formative Research 69

community/local business tie ins. As a result, Starbucks will feel
more like a local coffee store again rather than some big national
chain.

http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/ideaview?id =
087500000004D3TAAU (accessed December 15, 2010)

Sources : Starbucks (2010a) and Li (2008) .

is better to be proactive than reactive, a CSR manager must be familiar
with both approaches.

The Expectation Gap Approach

Stakeholder churn is rooted in a disconnection between what stakeholders
want and what corporations provide – there is a failure of the corporation
to meet stakeholder expectations. Sethi (1979) referred to this disconnect
as a legitimacy gap. We prefer the more direct label of expectation gap to
avoid the debate over what constitutes legitimacy. CSR is premised on
corporations addressing social concerns or issues.

Expectation gaps develop when stakeholders perceive that a corporation
has failed to meet their expectations. Corporate responses to expectation
gaps are reactive. A corporation is forced into changing its behavior by
redressing the CSR concern. As noted earlier, forced CSR change results
in little benefi t to the corporation but does remove the damage associated
with stakeholder churn. Stakeholders benefi t from the change, but the
problem persists during the time it takes to convince the corporation to
address the CSR concern. Scanning and monitoring research works to
locate expectation gaps. Once an expectation gap is identifi ed, formative
research is used to explore the depth and breadth of the problem. Through
formative research, the company develops a more complex appreciation
of the nature of the gap. Questions to ask include the following: What
did the corporation do – or fail to do – that created the expectation gap?
Which stakeholders are most concerned with this expectation gap? What
are the extent and severity of the gap? Might stakeholders mobilize against
the corporation?

There are two types of expectation gaps: (1) perception gaps and (2)
reality gaps (Coombs & Holladay, 2010 ). Perception gaps occur when
corporate policies and behaviors actually do meet stakeholder expectations
but stakeholders fail to recognize the match. At fi rst blush, this may seem

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70 Formative Research

puzzling. But consider this fact. Globally, research shows a lack of stake-
holder knowledge about corporate CSR activities. Even when stakeholders
claim their CSR concerns shape their decision making, their knowledge of
actual CSR practices often is limited (Dawkins, 2004 ; Pomering & Dolnicar,
2008 ). This CSR ignorance provides the foundation for a perception gap
for CSR. Proper CSR communication, discussed in chapter 6 , is one way
to resolve the perception gap.

Reality gaps occur when corporate policies and behaviors are out of step
with stakeholder expectations. The corporation fails to meet expectations.
Corporations must fi nd some way to address the reality gap, or stakeholder
churn could ensue. In formative research, the reality gap is the most impor-
tant type of expectation.

IKEA, a Swedish company, is an extremely popular global brand. The
IKEA website provides an extensive discussion of child labor. The CSR
concern is explained, and IKEA ’ s work in the area is described in detail. For
instance, IKEA has “ The IKEA Way of Preventing Child Labour. ” Here is
the summary statement by IKEA:

IKEA has a special code of conduct called The IKEA Way on Preventing
Child Labour, which is part of The IKEA Way on Purchasing Home
Furnishing Products. Monitoring of compliance with The IKEA Way on
Preventing Child Labour is done by IKEA trading service offi ces and with
unannounced visits by KPMG to suppliers and sub – contractors in South Asia.
(IKEA, 2010b )

A more detailed presentation of IKEA ’ s code is presented in Box 4.2 .
IKEA has a 10 – year partnership with UNICEF to address global concerns

for children that include child labor. Here is how UNICEF describes
IKEA:

But what makes IKEA Social Initiative a true partner, is the company ’ s deep
commitment to social responsibility and their direct engagement with issues
affecting children. They have truly joined with UNICEF to tackle issues like
child labor at their root causes. (UNICEF, n.d.)

IKEA ’ s commitment to child labor as a CSR concern was born through
the pain of a reality expectation gap. From 1994 to 1997, three separate
documentaries linking IKEA to child labor were aired on German and
Swedish television. The abuses focused on facilities in Pakistan, Vietnam,
the Philippines, and India. One way for suppliers to hold down costs is to
exploit child labor (Bailly, Caudron, & Lambert, 2006 ). The media atten-
tion resulted in stakeholder churn. Stakeholders expected IKEA not to use
child labor and reacted negatively to the revelation that IKEA suppliers

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Formative Research 71

Box 4.2 IKEA Child Labour Code of Conduct

1. General Principles
IKEA does not accept Child Labour.

IKEA supports the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights
of the Child (1989). The IKEA Child Labour Code of Conduct is
based on this Convention, stipulated in:

Article 3; ‘ All actions concerning the Child shall take full account
of his or her best interests. ’

Article 32.1 ‘ the right of the child to be protected from economic
exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be
hazardous or to interfere with the child ’ s education, or to be
harmful to the child ’ s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral
or social development. ’

In addition, this Code of Conduct is based on the International Labour
Organisation (ILO) Minimum Age Convention no. 138 (1978).

According to this convention, the word “ Child ” is defi ned as any
person below fi fteen (15) years of age, unless local minimum age law
stipulates a higher age for work or mandatory schooling, in which
case the higher age would apply. If, however, the local minimum
working age is set at fourteen (14) years of age in accordance with
exceptions for developing countries, the lower age will apply.

This Code of Conduct also incorporates the ILO Convention on
the Worst Forms of Child Labour no. 182 (1999).

2. Implementation
All actions to avoid Child Labour shall be implemented taking the
Child ’ s best interests into account.

IKEA requires that all suppliers shall recognize the U.N. Convention
on the Rights of the Child, and that the suppliers comply with all
relevant national and international laws, regulations and provisions
applicable in the country of production.

Suppliers are obligated to take the appropriate measures to ensure
that no Child Labour occurs at suppliers ’ and their sub – contractors ’
places of production.

If Child Labour is found in any place of production, IKEA will
require the suppler to implement a corrective action plan. If corrective

(Continued)

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72 Formative Research

action is not implemented within the agreed time – frame, or if repeated
violations occur, IKEA will terminate all business with the supplier
concerned.

A corrective action plan shall take the Child ’ s best interests into
consideration, i.e., family and social situation and level of education.
Care shall be taken not merely to move Child Labour from one sup-
plier ’ s workplace to another, but to enable more viable and sustain-
able alternatives for the children.

The supplier shall effectively communicate to all its sub – contractors,
as well as to its own co – workers, the content of the IKEA Way of
Preventing Child Labour, and ensure that all measures required are
implemented accordingly.

3. Young workers
Young workers of legal working age have, until the age of 18, the
right to be protected from any type of employment or work which,
by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely
to jeopardise their health, safety or morals.

IKEA therefore requires all its suppliers to ensure that young
workers are treated accordingly, this includes measures to avoid
employment during school hours. Limits for working hours and over-
time should be set with special consideration to the workers ’ low age.

4. Labour force register
The supplier shall maintain documentation for every worker verifying
the worker ’ s data of birth. In countries where such offi cial documents
are not available, the supplier must use appropriate assessment
methods as per local practice and law.

5. Monitoring
All suppliers are obliged to keep IKEA informed at all times about
all places of production (including their sub – contractors). Through
the General Purchasing Conditions for the supply of products to the
IKEA Group of Companies, IKEA has reserved the rights to make
unannounced visits at any time to all places of production (including
their cub – contractors) for goods intended for supply to IKEA. The
IKEA Group furthermore reserves the right to, at its sole discretion,
assign an independent third party to conduct unannounced inspec-
tions in order to ensure compliance with the IKEA Way of Preventing
Child Labour. ”

Source : IKEA (2010b) .

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Formative Research 73

were using child labor. IKEA responded positively to the stakeholder churn
by seeking to eradicate child labor from its supply chain and working with
groups such as UNICEF to improve the life of children around the world.
IKEA admitted its mistakes and continues to take steps to address the CSR
concern. Child labor is a CSR concern that demands continued attention
as IKEA must monitor suppliers for compliance with their codes, including
assessing the validity of birth certifi cates. IKEA ’ s handling of the child labor
issue is not perfect, but it has committed serious resources to preventing its
appearance in the IKEA supply chain.

Origins of Expectation Gaps

The expectation gaps between how corporations behave and how stake-
holders want them to behave can develop for different reasons. Understanding
the origins of expectation gaps provides insights into how best to manage
the gaps. Expectations require strategic action because stakeholders can
contest a corporation ’ s CSR efforts and commitment when its behavior and
policies fail to meet their expectations. CSR is contested when stakeholders
challenge the corporation ’ s current behaviors and/or policies. The effects of
the contests are in part dependent on the nature of the challenges. CSR
challenges can be (1) organic, (2) expos é , and (3) villain.

Organic CSR challenges arise from changes in stakeholders ’ CSR expec-
tations coupled with the corporation ’ s failure to recognize those expectation
shifts. Consider how quickly climate change and sustainability became
central to CSR discussions. Corporations may simply fail to keep pace with
societal shifts, and the organic challenge provides a chance to regain align-
ment with stakeholder expectations. The organic challenge brings the gap
to the attention of management, thereby offering management a chance to
learn and to correct their CSR activities. This would be an illustration of
what we term instructive churn – management has an opportunity to learn
from the confl ict (Coombs & Holladay, 2010 ). There is a slight disruption
in the corporation – stakeholder relationship, but it can be “ fi xed ” by altering
the CSR efforts to align with the current stakeholder expectations.

In expos é CSR challenges, stakeholders reveal how a company ’ s CSR
claims are exaggerations or outright lies. Expos é s are the most damaging
challenges because they erode trust by raising doubt about a corporation ’ s
honesty. Moreover, expos é challenges directly threaten reputations. As
noted in chapter 2 , CSR can be used to build corporate reputations. If a
foundational element of a reputation is shown to be false, the company ’ s
reputation is severely damaged. Trust is one of the pillars in most concep-
tualizations of organizational reputation (Berens & van Riel, 2004 ). Expos é
challenges reveal how companies use false or deceptive claims about their
CSR activities to promote a favorable reputation. The false use of CSR for

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74 Formative Research

reputational gain is referred to as various types of washing , including green-
washing, pinkwashing, and bluewashing.

Greenwashing is probably the best – known form of washing. Corporations
claim to be environmentally friendly through practices and products when
they really are not. Or an organization has a public “ green ” front while it
continues to harm the environment with its other actions and products.
Essentially corporations attempt to create the impression that they
care about the environment without demonstrating the underlying commit-
ment to the environment. Greenpeace maintains a website dedicated to
exposing greenwashing and educating people about its practices ( http://
www.stopgreenwash.org ). Greenpeace offers four criteria for identifying
greenwashing: (1) dirty business, (2) ad bluster, (3) political spin, and (4)
“ it ’ s the law stupid. ” Dirty business promotes green actions while ignoring
the fact that core business practices are polluting and unsustainable. Ad
bluster uses advertising and public relations messages to exaggerate envi-
ronmental claims and distract people away from environmental problems.
Political spin occurs when corporations claim to be green while lobbying
against environmental laws and regulations designed to protect the environ-
ment. It ’ s the law stupid occurs when a company praises its environmental
actions when it is simply complying with existing laws and regulations
(Greenpeace, n.d.). It is not doing anything more than the minimum it is
supposed to be doing to meet legal requirements.

Consider the case of Sephora and their “ Naturally Gorgeous ” claims.
Sephora is a major cosmetic retailer. To be part of the green movement, the
“ Naturally Sephora ” seal was created. Green, Naturally Sephora seals
appear on products that meet the company ’ s internal standards. As the
Sephora website states, “ [W]e created an internal logo to help you spot the
products carried at Sephora that have been formulated with and without
certain ingredients ” (Sephora, n.d.). However, not everyone agrees with
how Sephora defi nes natural . The Environmental Working Group (EWG)
maintains a cosmetic database that rates cosmetics in terms of hazards. A
rating of 0 to 2 is a low hazard, 3 to 6 is a moderate hazard, and 7 to 10
is a high hazard (Reuben, 2009 ). This is part of the EWG ’ s Campaign for
Safe Cosmetics. A handful of the Naturally Sephora products are rated as
high hazards according to the EWG criteria. This is not the most egregious
example of greenwashing, but it does reveal the often subtle misrepresenta-
tion of green to build a reputation (Tennery, 2009 ). Corporations can claim
to be green to build false reputations through misrepresentation and mis-
direction. In reality, the corporations are not signifi cantly reducing their
environmental impact.

Another type of “ washing, ” pinkwashing , involves connecting the sale
of products with support for breast cancer research while the corporation
actually sells products that may contribute to breast cancer risks. Breast

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Formative Research 75

cancer is a highly emotional and visible disease globally. Companies try to
build positive reputations by associating their products with helping those
with breast cancer. Products have included soup, cosmetics, automobiles,
tools, kitchen utensils, yogurt, soft drinks, and fast food. However, auto-
mobile exhaust, chemicals in some cosmetics, and bovine growth hormones
in yogurt have all been linked to breast cancer. Consumers like the idea of
“ buying pink ” because they can be socially conscious simply by shopping
(Landman, 2008 ). Box 4.3 provides guides to pinkwashing detection by
explaining how to separate legitimate ways to support breast cancer research
and treatment from the hype of pinkwashing.

Bluewashing refers to a corporation ’ s attempts to build visible ties to the
United Nations (UN) in order to create a positive reputation based on
humanitarianism with little commitment to the effort. Bluewashing occurs
because the partnerships with the UN often provide no mechanism for
monitoring behavior. For example, a corporation can sign an agreement to
support the UN Global Compact but never take any action to support the
agreement. The agreement is public, but the corporation ’ s actions remain
shrouded in mystery. Bruno and Karliner (2000) talk about companies
wrapping themselves in the UN fl ag without taking any substantive humani-
tarian actions. Corporations that sign the UN Global Compact often are
accused of bluewashing. The UN Global Compact proposes 10 guiding
principles but provides no screening or enforcement mechanisms to guar-
antee that corporations follow the principles. It is considered bluewashing

Box 4.3 Pinkwashing Detection

Breast Cancer Action ’ s Pinkwashing Questions

• How much money from my purchase will actually go to the cause?
• What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
• How much money was spent marketing the product I want to buy?
• What organization will get my donation, and what types of pro-

grams do they support?
• What is the product manufacturer doing to assure that its products

are not contributing to causing breast cancer?

Source : Think before You Pink (n.d.).

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76 Formative Research

when the signing of the UN Global Compact is the only real action taken
in an effort intended to improve a corporation ’ s reputation.

Companies that claim to help the environment, support breast cancer, or
follow the UN Global Compact open themselves to expos é challenges if
they fail to honor their commitments to these social concerns. Expos é s that
prove a corporation ’ s deceptive practices can have a devastating effect on
the reputation the corporation is trying to craft around these social con-
cerns. An expos é can call all other CSR claims into question and a corpora-
tion ’ s reputation into disrepute.

Villain CSR challenges occur when activist stakeholders, typically a non-
governmental organization (NGO), have targeted a corporation for a series of
attacks. There is an ongoing cycle of confl ict between the corporation and
the activist stakeholders, with the CSR challenge being one act in a larger
play. Consider how the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
regularly challenges KFC on a variety of issues, including the humane treat-
ment and slaughter of chickens. The two sides regularly exchange negative
messages. For instance, KFC wanted to pay for repairs to potholes in
Warren, Ohio. All they asked in return was for “ refreshed by KFC ” to be
sprayed on the fi lled – in potholes. PETA offered twice as much money for
the repairs – provided signs would be placed near each fi lled pothole that
depicted an evil Colonel Sanders (WKBN.com, 2009 ). It is easy for other
stakeholders to ignore villain CSR challenges because they just become
background noise in continuing feuds (Coombs, 2010 ).

CSR expos é challenges are increasing in their importance as ways to
contest CSR. Two factors account for this growth. First, the value of
CSR for reputation development continues to increase. CSR claims can
become a point of vulnerability. If the CSR claims can be discredited, the
corporation ’ s valuable reputational assets will diminish. Second, the
Internet makes it easier to engage in CSR expos é challenges. The Internet
can be an information source about corporations that engage in “ washing ”
by failing to honor their social commitments. In addition, the Internet has
the potential to quickly spread the information about “ washing ” to a
wider range and number of stakeholders. As with CSR, if stakeholders do
not know about an expos é , it has no effect on the company. Through
websites, blogs, tweets, discussion boards, and email, the Internet provides
the potential to reach other stakeholders with the expos é (Coombs &
Holladay, 2007a ).

The organic and expos é CSR challenges can be treated as challenge
crises. In a challenge crisis , someone or some group contests the appropri-
ateness or morality of a corporation ’ s behaviors and/or policies (Coombs,
2007 ; Lerbinger, 1997 ). Managers need to evaluate the likelihood and
impact of the challenge when determining a course of action. Recall that
we discussed likelihood and impact as two important evaluation tools in

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Formative Research 77

chapter 3 ’ s coverage of the scanning and monitoring stage. In the context
of a challenge crisis, likelihood is the possibility that the CSR challenge will
reach other stakeholders and that they will agree with that challenge.
Impact is the effect that the CSR challenge can have on the corporation.
Although the primary effect is on the corporation ’ s reputation, the crisis
can create a cascading effect onto fi nancial assets.

Not all stakeholder expectation gaps are the same. One key difference
is in how the stakeholder churn to the corporation ’ s CSR actions or inaction
developed. The nature of the CSR challenge affects how managers must
address the expectation gap. Organic CSR challenges are easier to address
and more likely to promote instructive churn where the company can learn
from the confl ict between stakeholder expectations and organizational
actions. Expos é CSR challenges are more damaging to reputations and more
diffi cult to address because trust in the corporation is eroded. Villain CSR
challenges are simply one battle in an ongoing war and are unlikely to create
additional problems for a corporation. The lesson is that managers must
consider the nature of the CSR challenge when contending with expectation
gaps. Part of formative research must include exploring the nature of any
expectation gaps.

Relevance of Operant Conditioning Theory to
Stakeholder Challenges

One critique of stakeholder churn and CSR is the focus on punishment.
Often stakeholders seek to punish the organization through reputational
damage, boycotts, and negative word of mouth. It has been suggested that
stakeholders should rely more on rewards and less on punishment to shape
corporate CSR. To fully appreciate that point, we need to explore the roots
of this discussion, operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a motiva-
tion theory that explains that behavior is a function of its consequences.
Behavior modifi cation can occur through the application of contingent
consequences. Consequences can be used to either increase a desirable
behavior or decrease an undesirable behavior. To be effective, the conse-
quences must be consistent and contingent upon the behavior rather than
random responses to behavior. The subject we hope to motivate (the cor-
poration) must associate the consequence with the behavior. In addition,
operant conditioning is more than just rewarding desirable behaviors and
punishing undesirable behaviors.

To increase the likelihood of a behavior, reinforcers are utilized.
Reinforcers can be positive or negative and are administered after the
desired behavior. Positive reinforcers (reinforcement) are stimuli or out-
comes that the subject views as favorable. For example, a dog may be

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78 Formative Research

given a treat for sitting properly. Negative reinforcers (escape) are adverse
stimuli or outcomes that the subject views as unfavorable. A rat performs
the desired behavior, and a loud noise is removed from its cage. To decrease
the likelihood of a behavior, punishments are used. Punishments can be
positive or negative. A positive punishment (punishment) is when an adverse
stimuli or outcome is introduced after an undesired behavior. A cat is
sprayed with water for climbing on the kitchen counter. Negative punish-
ment (penalty) is when a desired stimuli or outcome is removed when
an undesirable event occurs. A child cannot use the computer after he or
she has done something wrong. It can be diffi cult to distinguish between
negative reinforcers and positive punishment. A negative stimulus must
be present (positive punishment) before it can be removed (negative
reinforcer).

Reinforcers must be considered desirable by the subject. If the subject
does not really care about a reinforcer, its introduction or removal will
have no effect on the subject ’ s behavior. Similarly, subjects must view an
adverse stimuli or outcome as unfavorable. If subjects do not consider
the stimuli or outcome to be negative, its introduction or removal will
have no effect on the subject ’ s behavior (Huitt & Hummel, 1997 ; Learning
Technology Center, n.d.). Corporations are not animals – so how
does operant conditioning relate to stakeholder challenges to a corpora-
tion ’ s CSR?

Corporations are stakeseekers; they desire the stake held by various
people populating their environment (Heath & Coombs, 2006 ). For
instance, companies want customers to buy a service and investors to
purchase stock. Money is the stake and takes the form of the purchase of
either a service or stock. Corporations as stakeseekers want some type
of support (a stake granted) from stakeholders. The stake is the source of
the stakeholder ’ s power in the organization – stakeholder relationship. Power
can be defi ned as the ability to infl uence the behavior of others. A has
power over B if A can cause B to do something B would not otherwise
do (Coombs & Holladay, 2007b ; Motion & Leitch, 2009 ). Stakes and
reputation provide the foundation for connecting operant conditioning
with CSR. Having the stake and maintaining a favorable reputation are
desirable for a corporation. Losing the stake and damaging a reputation
are undesirable for a corporation. Stakeholders draw upon this knowledge
when seeking to alter corporate behaviors and policies.

Stakeholders favor using punishment to change CSR – related behaviors.
The approach is logical when stakeholders want to change what they view
as negative behaviors (lack of social responsibility) enacted by a corpora-
tion. To promote change, stakeholders can (1) generate negative publicity
to damage a corporation ’ s reputation (positive punishment), (2) withhold

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Formative Research 79

their stakes (negative punishment), and (3) utilize a combination of the two.
Let ’ s use a boycott as an example. Boycotts withhold a stake, typically the
purchase of a product. However, it is rare for a boycott to have a serious
fi nancial effect on a corporation. In other words, the negative punishment
does not really harm the corporation. Most boycotts succeed because they
threaten the corporation ’ s reputation. Boycotts generate negative publicity
(stakeholder churn). By highlighting negative aspects of a corporation, a
boycott damages its reputation.

We can use the boycott example to illustrate reinforcers used to promote
positive behaviors. When a corporation engages in the desired CSR behav-
iors, a boycott ends and restores the stake (negative reinforcer). Or stake-
holders may say they will start buying from a corporation (called buy – cotts )
if the desired CSR behaviors are adopted. This provides new customers, so
the change is a positive reinforcer because the corporation gains new stakes.
However, given that boycotts rarely are a punishment, it is unlikely that a
buy – cott will be enough of a reward. Positive reinforcers can be verbal.
Stakeholders can pledge to publicly praise a corporation if it adopts the
desired CSR behaviors. But just how rewarding would such praise be to a
corporation? It would be wrong to discount positive reinforcers completely.
Inherent in the business argument for CSR is that responsible businesses
are rewarded with supportive behavior from stakeholders, including pur-
chasing, investing, and favorable reputations. Refer to Table 4.2 for a
summary of the relationship between operant conditioning principles and
stakeholder churn generated by CSR.

If stakeholders are seeking to end an undesirable behavior, punishment
is the logical choice. Punishment is the way to remove a behavior. If a

Table 4.2 Translating operant conditioning in contesting CSR

Operant Terms Application to Stakeholder Churn

Reinforcement (positive reinforcers) • Praise a corporation for their CSR
efforts.

• Buy – cott.
Escape (negative reinforcers) • Remove boycott or protest when new

CSR behaviors are enacted.
Penalty (negative punishment) • Boycott when corporation is

irresponsible.
Punishment (positive punishment) • Protests and other pressure applied

when an corporation is irresponsible.

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80 Formative Research

corporation is harming indigenous people, stakeholder churn can create the
pressure to end the behavior. Punishment does work in tandem with positive
reinforcers in many efforts to shape CSR. When the desired behavior is
enacted, a punishment is removed, the critics can then praise the corpora-
tion, and the socially responsible behavior should attract other stakeholders
to the organization. It is unrealistic for managers to expect stakeholders to
switch to positive reinforcers and to abandon punishment. Managers must
anticipate that stakeholders will contest CSR (enact churn) by applying
punishment and penalty coupled with a small dose of reinforcement.
Managers should plan to maximize the value of any praise (positive rein-
forcement) in their CSR communication. Operant conditioning helps to
shed light on the dynamics of stakeholder churn. In turn, these insights can
help managers better prepare for the stakeholder churn emerging from CSR
concerns.

The Alignment Approach

Being more proactive with shifting stakeholder CSR concerns can provide
greater benefi ts to the corporation and society. The corporation becomes a
leader in the CSR concern, and society is improved by the actions taken on
the CSR concern. The alignment approach is proactive because it treats
CSR as issues management. Issues management places a priority on envi-
ronmental scanning for the early detection of threats (issues). Early detec-
tion leads to early intervention, thereby increasing the likelihood of success
in managing the issue (Jones & Chase, 1979 ). The CSR Process Model we
propose in this book is grounded in the issues management approach. The
corporation selects the most promising of the emerging CSR concerns. The
selected CSR concerns are embodied in the company ’ s values, policies, and
actions. To prevent a perception gap, the company must effectively com-
municate its CSR to stakeholders. The stakeholders must perceive the
shared social concern with the company. Stakeholders accept the evidence
that the company embodies the shared social concern. In short, the social
concerns and values align between stakeholders and the corporation.

This CSR alignment approach is based on alignment principles derived
from reputation management as well as issues management. Reputation
management involves, in part, selecting a corporate identity that will reso-
nate with stakeholders. Corporate identity and corporation reputation align
when stakeholders perceive a similarity between their values and the values
espoused in the corporate identity (Hatch & Schultz, 2000 ). In this way,
CSR alignment is the opposite of an expectation gap. By anticipating where
a CSR expectation gap may develop, a corporation can proactively change
behaviors and policies to prevent an expectation gap. By the time the social
concern becomes salient to stakeholders, the corporation is already refl ect-

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Formative Research 81

ing the social concern. This is similar to anticipating consumer taste shifts
in products such as music or automobiles.

Stakeholders are a logical starting point for identifying their own future
social concerns. NGOs, as professional activists, are eager to share their
views on social concerns. The NGOs are often a bellwether for social
concerns that may spread to other stakeholders. Engaging NGOs and
other activists helps organizations identify a developing social concern and
prevent an expectation gap. A case study will help to illustrate the value of
engagement and expectation gap prevention posited by the alignment
approach.

As a global brand, Coca – Cola faces many social concerns, including
water use and marketing to children in schools. As a large corporation,
Coca – Cola must contend with its contribution to global warming and
climate change. Part of Coca – Cola ’ s operation is the use of vending
machines around the world for the storage and sales of its products. Vending
machines keep the Coca – Cola products cold. The vending machines rely on
hydrofl uorocarbons (HFCs) for their cooling systems. HFCs are over 11,000
times more harmful than carbon dioxide (Pasternack, 2008 ). Although most
stakeholders are currently unaware of the problems of vending machines
and climate change, this issue has the potential to develop into a larger
social concern. Greenpeace is one of the NGOs interested in vending
machines and their greenhouse gas emissions. Their effort to promote the
social concern is known as Greenfreeze. With Greenpeace ’ s promotion,
the social concern has the potential to grow and attract the attention of
additional stakeholders.

Coca – Cola had been experimenting with vending machines cooled by
carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and on a larger scale
at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In Beijing, all of Coca – Cola ’ s 5,600 vending
machines were CO 2 cooled. Coca – Cola was the soft drink sponsor of the
Olympics, and the Olympics have added a green mission. The end result
was Coca – Cola using their sponsorship of the games to test the new tech-
nologies (Pasternack, 2008 ).

In December 2009, just before the Copenhagen climate summit, Coca –
Cola announced that by 2015, all of its vending machines would be HFC
free. The declaration was made jointly with Greenpeace. The announcement
noted that Coca – Cola had been working with Greenpeace since 2000 on
developing a viable solution for the HFC in vending machines. The
announcement from Coca – Cola included this statement from Amy Larkin,
director of Greenpeace Solutions: “ Greenpeace increasingly works with
businesses to make fundamental manufacturing and sourcing changes by
connecting regulation, economies of scale and supply chain security. Coca –
Cola ’ s commitment today runs ahead of regulation and takes some fear out
of rapid change ” (2Sustain, 2009 ). Various social media messages related

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82 Formative Research

to sustainability, such as the blog 2Sustain, and online news concerned
about the environment, such as http://www.greenbiz.com , reported favora-
bly on Coca – Cola ’ s HFC – free vending machine strategy (GreenBiz.com,
2009 ; 2Sustain, 2009 ). Coca – Cola successfully leveraged the reach and
utility of online media for its CSR promotional communication. Third
parties like Greenpeace and stakeholders concerned with the social issue
can create awareness of the CSR initiative and help Coca – Cola avoid the
stigma of appearing overly interested in self – promotion. Because Coca – Cola
is ahead of the HFC vending machine social issue, it has prevented a poten-
tial expectation gap and may be viewed as an industry leader for this CSR
initiative. As we discussed, “ being there fi rst ” to address a social concern
in an industry provides greater reputational benefi ts than being forced to
comply with new regulations.

Vodafone ’ s website clearly demonstrates an alignment approach in that
it provides numerous opportunities for the corporation to solicit informa-
tion and ideas from stakeholders as well as share information with stake-
holders. This innovative website is designed to stimulate discussion and
debate about issues related to both the corporate and stakeholder interests.
Within the “ Corporate Responsibility ” section of its website, Vodafone
provides a “ CR Dialogues ” option ( http://www.vodafone.com/start/
responsibility/cr_dialogues.html; Vodafone, n.d. – f). The general purpose of
its CR Dialogues is described as follows:

The Vodafone CR Dialogues explore key issues we face in our relationship
with society. They cover topics that are specifi c to the telecommunications
industry (such as privacy and accessibility) and also those that refl ect
approaches to corporate responsibility (such as stakeholder engagement and
assurance).

Learning from many experiences

There is more than one point of view to any issue and sometimes achieving
consensus can be diffi cult. We want to explore these issues fully and the
opinions of others are therefore of great value. Our aim is to consider new
ideas and stimulate debate. Through Dialogue we hope to make our CR
investment more effective and to help other organisations do the same by
bringing together a wide range of informed views and experiences.

Convergence of CR Reporting and Stakeholder Engagement

The Vodafone CR Dialogues are at the interface of our reporting and engage-
ment programmes. Our CR report identifi es our most material issues and our
engagement probes the views of experts and other stakeholders. Through the
Dialogues we have an opportunity to explore subjects in depth from different
perspectives.

We will only succeed if we stimulate responses. We want to debate what
works and what doesn ’ t and to be prepared to challenge accepted wisdom.

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Formative Research 83

We plan to test new proposals through Vodafone ’ s own CR programme.
(Vodafone, n.d. – f)

This Vodafone site then provides clickable links to CR dialogue topics that
include e – waste, privacy and mobile, stakeholder engagement, assurance of
reporting, and economic empowerment.

When readers click for “ more information ” at the stakeholder engage-
ment listing, they are taken to a lengthier presentation of the topic of
stakeholder engagement. The “ Dialogue: Stakeholder Engagement ” infor-
mation (Vodafone, n.d. – c) includes the following:

Engagement is extremely valuable for Vodafone and we think that it is also
valuable to our stakeholders. We have learned a lot from our engagement
experience globally and we think that sharing this knowledge could be useful
for other companies and stakeholders.

We have also found challenges and opportunities for improvement that we
would like to discuss. This is the fi rst of the Vodafone CR Dialogues and we
want to stimulate debate to take stakeholder engagement a step forward.
Please send us your comments, opinions or ideas.

Initially we would like to propose fi ve discussion themes:

• Should multinationals engage locally or globally?
• Is it legitimate to engage with ‘ opinion formers ’ such as pressure groups

who claim to represent views of a wider public?
• Or is it important to engage a mass stakeholder group through large

surveys?
• What is the company ’ s side of the engagement bargain? Must there be a

promise to take the messages to senior executives?
• Does too much engagement create “ Stakeholder fatigue ” ? (Vodafone,

n.d. – c)

The site also provides a clickable link to a downloadable PDF on stakeholder
engagement. It explains, “ This pdf summarises what Vodafone has learned from
experience about Stakeholder Engagement ” (Vodafone, n.d. – c).

The “ Please send us your comments, opinions or ideas ” link takes
readers to an email form where they can record their comments with the
promise that comments will be sent to the Corporate Responsibility team.

Another topic listed at the “ CR Dialogues ” site is “ Privacy and mobiles ”
(Vodafone, n.d. – b). When readers click on “ for more information, ” they
are taken to a site that reads,

Welcome to this Dialogue on privacy.
About the subject issue: Privacy and mobiles
Technology is transforming the nature of communications and the way we

communicate. This can be both liberating and exciting – no longer are we
tethered to the desk phone or desktop; information can be created and shared

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84 Formative Research

instantly anywhere and anytime. At the same time, the greater political focus
on tackling terrorism and other serious crime has led to greater efforts at
harnessing technology for surveillance purposes, including communications
technology. These twin trends throw up a range of inter – related complexities
around privacy which this Dialogue seeks to explore.

Four different perspectives on the subject to stimulate discussion – We have
collected four expert views on Privacy and Mobiles to inform and stimulate
discussion. Click below to access each essay and then join the Dialogue by
adding your comments. (Vodafone, n.d. – b)

This section is followed by four essays written by four individuals with
different affi liations and perspectives, not just those of Vodafone. Following
the essays is an invitation to participate in the debate:

Stimulating the debate

We want to know how you think companies, governments and others should
be responding. Here are some specifi c questions we would like your views on:

• How far should companies be able to go to use information about you
for commercial purposes such as targeting advertising?

• Some commentators take the view that users do not really care about their
privacy – look at how many people are prepared to publish intimate per-
sonal details on their Facebook page. Do you care if companies allow your
personal information to be used to target advertising to your personal
tastes and interests? How much control would you want to exercise, e.g.
to consent, to opt out, to limit the types and amount of data, etc?

• Should we co – operate with government authorities which make urgent
requests for user data without proper procedures if the purpose is
urgent enough, eg a terrorist threat? If so, what safeguards would you
expect companies to adopt?

• Should we accede to information requests from private fi rms such as copy-
right holders without requiring a court order, if we believe the request is
legitimate, for example because we believe a user is engaged in piracy?.
Or should we go in the other direction and fi ght such court orders in the
interests of our users ’ privacy?

• What do we need to do to educate customers about privacy risks?
(Vodafone, n.d. – b)

As with the other “ Dialogue ” site, Vodafone provides a link where readers
can submit their ideas.

Overall, the Vodafone website is innovative and informative, and it
clearly communicates a desire to create a dialogue with stakeholders.
Listening carefully to stakeholders is the foundation for an effective applica-
tion of the alignment approach. Only by understanding and being respon-

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Formative Research 85

sive to stakeholders can a corporation anticipate imminent CSR concerns
and position itself as the industry leader on those concerns.

The Counterbalance: Corporate Concerns

As noted in the discussion of CSR as strategic, CSR initiatives must refl ect
corporate needs, not just those of stakeholders. While we might feel that
CSR should be executed to make the world a better place, a “ business case ”
must be made for CSR initiatives. In simple terms, the CSR initiative must
fi t the corporation. Fit means a consistency with the corporation ’ s strategic
plan, the nature of the industry, and a favorable cost – benefi t ratio from the
corporation ’ s perspective. CSR selection is a balancing act. The right CSR
initiative effectively merges stakeholder and corporate interests. Managers,
working with stakeholders, use the information collected during the fi rst
two phases to create a fi nal list of potential CSR concerns.

Creating the list requires narrowing down the preliminary list created
during scanning and monitoring. The additional information collected
during formative research provides the basic materials for assembling the
list. But information itself is raw and must be processed into usable knowl-
edge. Managers must develop criteria for evaluating the potential CSR
concerns. By consistently applying the criteria, the managers can systemati-
cally narrow the options to a viable fi nal list. What are the perfect criteria?
The answer is “ It depends. ” Again, we return to the notion of balance. The
criteria must fi nd the proper balance between stakeholder and corporate
interests. Unfortunately, that balance varies according to the social concern,
the nature of the stakeholders, and the nature of the corporation. That
means there is no magical set of criteria we can offer to managers. Instead,
we provide the key questions that managers should be asking themselves
when working to assemble a viable list of CSR concerns. We review the key
questions associated with formative research in the next section.

Conclusion and Critical Questions

Scanning and monitoring identify the preliminary list of social and environ-
mental concerns that could be translated into CSR initiatives. The purpose
of formative research is to examine each of the potential concerns in detail
to determine which CSR concerns will actually be addressed in CSR initia-
tives. Formative research helps to narrow the fi eld of CSR concerns that
will become part of CSR initiatives. The end result of formative research is
a list and explanation of the CSR concerns the corporation could incorpo-
rate into its CSR initiatives.

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86 Formative Research

Critical Questions for Formative Research Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

What sources of information should be utilized
in the formative research?

X X

Which stakeholders should be engaged in the
formative research?

X X

How will the engagement process for formative
research be structured?

X X

Do the stakeholders perceive the engagement
process as just?

X X

Which stakeholders could be positively affected
by the CSR concern(s)?

X X

Which stakeholders could be negatively affected
by the CSR concern(s)?

X X

How salient is the CSR concern to stakeholders? X X
Are there expectation gaps? X X
Are the expectation gaps perception or reality gaps? X
How should each gap be addressed? X X
Is there a possibility to use the alignment

approach – is a social concern emerging?
X X

Is there chance for the corporation to become an
industry leader on an emerging CSR concern?

X

How might the corporation utilize an alignment
approach beyond being an industry leader?

X X

Formative research relies on solid information sources to be effective.
Managers need to know where to go to fi nd the necessary information
about the CSR concerns. Understanding how stakeholders view CSR con-
cerns is critical. The expectation gap and alignment approaches provide
guidance on how to uncover stakeholder CSR expectations. Managers must
decide the best way to engage stakeholders to collect the information neces-
sary to fi nd expectation gaps or to determine alignment. Alignment may be
more benefi cial because it is proactive. However, corporations cannot afford
to miss or ignore expectation gaps because that can evoke the wrath of
stakeholders.

Realistically, not all stakeholders will benefi t from any given CSR initia-
tive. Identify which stakeholders are most likely to benefi t from the CSR
concern. Conversely, some stakeholders may fi nd their concerns ignored or
may suffer in some other way as a result of pursuing a particular CSR
concern. For instance, switching to suppliers that respect Forest Stewardship
Council (FSC) guidelines for timber harvesting can result in harming current
suppliers that do not comply with the FSC guidelines. Seriously consider
the varying effects of the CSR concern on the stakeholders.

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Formative Research 87

In addition to considering stakeholder expectations, managers need to
determine the fi t of the CSR concern within their corporation. Fit includes
assessing the CSR concern ’ s consistency with the corporation ’ s strategic
plan, the nature of the industry, and the costs and benefi ts the CSR concern
can accrue to the corporation. Managers must also consider which CSR
concern allows the corporation to have the greatest positive impact on
stakeholders and society. Finally, managers must produce fi nal recommen-
dations about what CSR concern or concerns a corporation will pursue
through its CSR initiatives. That requires a clear set of evaluative criteria
for selecting the fi nal CSR concern(s). It is important to establish those
criteria from the start, to share the criteria with the engaged stakeholders,
or even to create the criteria through collaboration with the stakeholders.

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Greenpeace ’ s “ No Fish Farms ” campaign protests fi sh farms that produce sea lice
that endanger wild salmon populations. © Greenpeace/Daniel Beltr á

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5
Create the CSR Initiative

Formative research concludes with a short list of promising potential CSR
concerns a corporation might translate into CSR initiatives. In the next
stage, creating the CSR initiative, managers make the fi nal decisions about
which CSR concerns the corporation will pursue at this time and which it
will not. Because all CSR concerns on the short list will have merit, the
choice is not easy or purely objective. CSR concerns are likely to be con-
tested by the various parties involved. Confl icting interests and perspectives

Scan and
monitor

Formative
research

Create
CSR

initiative

Communicate
CSR initiative

Evaluation
and feedback

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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90 Create the CSR Initiative

on CSR are a natural part of the fi nal decision – making process. This means
everyone will not be satisfi ed with the fi nal decision about CSR initiatives.
In spite of a shared interest in corporate social responsibility in general, all
interested parties would rarely agree on the perfect CSR initiative.
Corporations and stakeholders must work to produce a set of CSR initia-
tives that are acceptable for most parties. Choosing to focus on one CSR
concern means ignoring another, and parties may disagree as to how to
convert the CSR concern into a specifi c initiative. The implementation of
the selected CSR strategy is likely to be challenged as well. We use the
phrase CSR initiative to refer to a particular CSR effort. But it is important
to keep in mind that a corporation is likely to participate in multiple CSR
initiatives that comprise its overall CSR strategy. The corporation, in con-
junction with stakeholders, should carefully consider and develop each CSR
initiative. The fi rst section of this chapter reviews the key ways that CSR
is contested. Managers must anticipate where problems will arise as they
seek to fi nalize their CSR initiatives.

Selecting the CSR Initiatives: Appreciating the Contestable
Nature of CSR

Ideally, CSR builds stronger relationships between stakeholders and a cor-
poration. Recall that stakeholder and corporate interests can align around
CSR initiatives, thereby promoting stakeholder identifi cation with and
support for the corporation. However, CSR also can be a source of confl ict
that divides stakeholders and a corporation. Division occurs when stake-
holders contest CSR – they question a corporation ’ s CSR efforts. This
chapter explores the key concerns associated with stakeholder challenges
of CSR.

Stakeholders can challenge CSR initiatives for any number of reasons.
Whatever the reason, contesting CSR affects a corporation ’ s CSR efforts.
This chapter examines key factors involved in stakeholder resistance to
CSR: (1) differing stakeholder expectations, (2) disputes over what consti-
tutes CSR, (3) determining the “ right amount ” of CSR, and (4) internal
stakeholders (employees) contesting CSR. Taken together, these four factors
help managers understand and anticipate the most common challenges they
will confront when implementing CSR efforts.

Differing CSR Expectations among Stakeholders

Unfortunately, meeting stakeholder expectations for corporate behavior is
not simple or straightforward. As previous chapters have noted, neither

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Create the CSR Initiative 91

stakeholders nor their CSR expectations are monolithic. In light of potential
dilemmas, how should a corporation proceed with the CSR process? We
can begin with the premise that not all stakeholders carry equal weight in
the decision – making process. More precisely, not all stakeholders are equally
important to the corporation. Management has limited time and resources.
For this reason, some stakeholders garner more attention than others, and
some stakeholders can become marginalized.

Stakeholder Salience

Management prioritizes stakeholders based on salience, and these prioriti-
zations also apply to CSR. Mitchell, Agle, and Wood (1997) conceptualized
prioritization of stakeholder salience as “ the degree to which managers give
priority to competing stakeholder claims ” (p. 854). Stakeholder salience is
a composite of three factors: (1) stakeholder power (the ability to affect the
organization) (2) legitimacy (the public acceptability of stakeholder
demands), and (3) the urgency of the stakeholder claim (pressure to act).
Managers assess stakeholders across these three factors. The more of these
factors a stakeholder possesses, the more salient that stakeholder becomes.
Salient stakeholders fi gure more prominently in decision making. Box 5.1 ,
“ Stakeholder Salience, ” summarizes the prioritization process based on
Mitchell et al. ’ s (1997) work.

A complicating factor is that stakeholder salience is fl uid, not static,
because stakeholder salience can change over time. More importantly for
our discussion, stakeholder salience depends on the issues being considered
(e.g., Buysse & Verbeke, 2003 ). Stakeholder salience need not be the same
for CSR issues as for competitiveness issues. Moreover, the same stakehold-
ers may not be salient for the different CSR issues a corporation addresses.
For instance, different stakeholders may be salient for human rights issues
versus environmental issues. Greenpeace would be more salient for envi-
ronmental issues but less relevant to human rights issues. Global Alliance
would be salient to both issues. Our discussion of stakeholder salience
informs the CSR challenge of identifying and managing differing
expectations.

If all stakeholders valued the same social and environmental concerns,
CSR would be much easier! The stakeholder engagement process would
reveal the core issues of concern that could then be translated into CSR
initiatives. But the reality is much more complex. A series of differing
expectation problems confront CSR initiatives at this stage in the process
and can be organized around the following questions:

1. Which CSR issues should be addressed, and how are these
prioritized?

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92 Create the CSR Initiative

2. How should the CSR issues be addressed? What should the CSR initia-
tives “ look like ” ?

3. What is the “ right amount ” of CSR? How much can be done, and for
whom? Should the CSR concern focus on the local community, region,
country, or world?

What Constitutes CSR ?

The greatest strength and weakness of CSR is that it can cover so many
different issues and be enacted in so many different ways. CSR can cover
concerns as diverse as child labor, HIV prevention and treatment, worker

Box 5.1 Stakeholder Salience

Mitchell et al. (1997) use their three attributes of stakeholders to help
managers understand the salience of stakeholders. Stakeholders that
have only one attribute are considered latent stakeholders. Latent
stakeholders are passive because they lack the attributes necessary to
pressure a corporation. Expectant stakeholders possess two attributes
and therefore have greater salience. Expectant stakeholders are more
active because they are beginning to expect a response or reaction
from the corporation. Defi nitive stakeholders have the greatest sali-
ence because they demonstrate all three attributes. Expectant stake-
holders should be monitored carefully because they need to attain just
one more attribute to become defi nitive. For instance, dependent
stakeholders can join with a stakeholder who has power to become
defi nitive. Stakeholder salience is a dynamic process as stakeholders
can both attain and lose attributes over time (Mitchell et al., 1997 ).

Latent stakeholders have only one attribute.
Dormant: have power but lack legitimacy and urgency
Discretionary: have legitimacy but lack power and urgency
Demanding: have urgency but lack power and legitimacy

Expectant stakeholders have only two attributes.
Dominant: have power and legitimacy but lack urgency
Dangerous: have power and urgency but lack legitimacy
Dependent: have legitimacy and urgency but lack power

Defi nitive stakeholders have all three attributes.

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Create the CSR Initiative 93

rights, environmental preservation, clean energy, water rights, disaster
relief, and the treatment of indigenous people, to name but a few. How is
management to select and prioritize CSR issues when stakeholders advocate
for different issues? Given that CSR initiatives can take many forms, how
should management select the form(s) of the initiatives? Previous chapters
have described the myriad forms that CSR can take ranging from philan-
thropy to social marketing to ethical sourcing to sustainability. There are
no easy answers to “ what constitutes CSR, ” but a return to the strategic
use of CSR is instructive at this point.

Through stakeholder engagement, managers learn what CSR issues are
most important to their stakeholders. This information can be translated
into a stakeholder rating system of CSR issues. We can create a table that
lists the stakeholders, their salience to the corporation, and the relative
importance of various CSR issues to those stakeholders. The table can be
extended to include additional cells such as how the stakeholders think the
organization could address the CSR issue or the extent to which stakehold-
ers seem willing to be active partners in the CSR process. We could even
develop a weighting method for the scores to refl ect the salience of the
stakeholders for CSR in general and for specifi c CSR concerns. One option
for narrowing a list of CSR concerns is to identify what issue or set of issues
appears most frequently among the stakeholders. If the corporation were
to pursue CSR initiatives addressing the issues identifi ed by these stakehold-
ers, this would refl ect a utilitarian approach. The organization would seek
to address concerns representing the greatest number of stakeholders.
However, there are limits to a utilitarianism approach to stakeholder
engagement. For example, a salient stakeholder lobbying for a less popular
issue or a worthy CSR issue can become marginalized. Additionally, the
“ top ” issue or issues and how they should be addressed may not fi t well
with the corporation ’ s strategic plans and operations.

Thus far, we have focused heavily on the importance of stakeholder
concerns in driving the CSR process and decision making. But any priori-
tization and selection of CSR issues must necessarily consider the corpora-
tion as well. In fact, the corporation must be the starting point when
considering CSR initiatives. What are the corporation ’ s core values? What
CSR issues have a natural fi t with its capabilities and business functions?
How can the CSR issues be integrated in its strategic plan? These issues
were raised during our earlier discussion of how strategic corporate social
responsibility must mesh with characteristics of the corporation. CSR issues
should be consistent with a company ’ s competencies (e.g., pharmaceutical
companies are well suited for addressing health – related CSR issues, food
production companies are positioned to use ethical sourcing for their ingre-
dients, and manufacturing companies are in the position to modify their
energy use) and other objective characteristics we discussed earlier such as

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94 Create the CSR Initiative

size, location, and mission. CSR initiatives can drain resources, become a
distraction, and be generally ineffective when they are inconsistent with
competencies, characteristics, or strategic plans. A clear lack of synergy with
a corporation ’ s values, mission, and operations could invite criticism from
industry experts and shareholders (Heath, 1994 ; Heath & Coombs, 2006 ;
Kotler & Lee, 2005 ). Although stakeholder concerns are important to
selecting CSR issues, the characteristics of the corporation must take prec-
edence over stakeholder concerns.

There is no perfect system for selecting the CSR issues and determining
how to address them. Using a systematic approach, such as the CSR Process
Model we are advocating, increases the likelihood of an effective CSR
effort. Scanning and monitoring followed by formative research help to
identify and to rank CSR issues. Identifying what to address is a signifi cant
starting point. Management must examine the most promising issues and
possible actions to determine which fi ts best with the corporation and its
strategic plans. As noted earlier, stakeholder engagement should continue
throughout the CSR process. Management needs to communicate with
stakeholders about how decisions are being made and provide rationales
for the fi nal decisions on CSR issues. Managers will not satisfy all of the
stakeholders all of the time, but they can supply a well – reasoned explana-
tion of the decision.

Stakeholder Participation in Decision Making

Translating a CSR concern into a corporation ’ s CSR initiative is dominated
by three major factors: (1) strategic planning, (2) balancing costs, and (3)
stakeholder concerns. Part of weighing these concerns is deciding what role
stakeholders will play in the decision – making process as part of engagement.
Creating the CSR initiative through engagement is perhaps the most chal-
lenging task in the CSR process. Engagement requires some amount of
collaborative decision making to be effective. With collaborative decision
making comes some degree of power sharing with stakeholders. Engaging
stakeholders in the CSR decision requires allowing them some say over the
nature and shape of the CSR initiative – a sharing of power. Serious engage-
ment involves stakeholder participation in the CSR decision – making process.
Of course, the role of the stakeholders in the decision – making process can
vary, but it does involve the corporation relinquishing some power.

Stakeholder participation can range from involvement to collaboration
to empowerment. Involvement occurs when the corporation seeks to under-
stand the stakeholders ’ concerns and desires and to incorporate them into
the decision – making process. Stakeholders do not have a direct voice in the
decision, but their input shapes the options being considered for CSR initia-
tives, an extension of formative research. Collaboration requires giving the

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Create the CSR Initiative 95

stakeholders a say in both the development of the CSR initiatives and the
selection of the CSR initiatives. Empowerment is when the corporation
allows the stakeholders to develop and select the CSR initiatives, thereby
relinquishing almost all control over the CSR process.

Involvement limits the power sharing to shaping the CSR options.
Corporations must communicate their decisions, both the process and the
outcomes, thoroughly to stakeholders. A dominant reason why stakeholder
engagement fails is that stakeholders feel removed from and uninformed
about the fi nal decision about the CSR initiative. If stakeholders have com-
mitted their time and effort, they want to know what decision was made
and why that decision was made. Stakeholders want to feel their input was
treated with respect and understand the criteria used to justify the fi nal
decision. Knowing the decision criteria helps stakeholders to determine
whether or not the process was just. Effective stakeholder engagement
establishes the decision criteria and the nature of the decision – making
process early in order to foster the perception of a just decision. Involvement
can be used when there is strong consensus about a particular CSR initiative
and stakeholders will be receptive to it.

Collaboration increases stakeholder power and the transparency of the
process by giving them a vote in the decision. Stakeholders will understand
the various options that were considered and how the vote resulted in the
fi nal selection of a CSR initiative and/or choice not to pursue a particular
option. Again, the criteria for the decision need to be clarifi ed during the
engagement process along with the details for how the decision – making
process is to occur. Collaboration is useful when the CSR concern is conten-
tious and the corporation needs the stakeholders to accept the CSR initia-
tive. As we have discussed, one motivation for CSR is a desire to prevent
stakeholder churn (Porter & Kramer, 2006 ). Therefore, corporations are
wise to facilitate acceptance of their CSR initiatives. Collaboration helps to
build buy – in to CSR initiatives, thereby decreasing the likelihood of opposi-
tion to the actions. One possible reason for opposition to the CSR initiative
is that it needed to be modifi ed to fi t the corporation ’ s strategic goals. The
ideas of the stakeholders have to mesh with the needs and capabilities of
the corporation when a CSR initiative is crafted. Stakeholders could oppose
the modifi cation of their ideas. However, the possibility of churn is reduced
if stakeholders understand how and why the modifi cations occurred. Being
part of the decision – making process clarifi es why the fi nal CSR initiative
decision was selected.

Empowerment allows the stakeholders to determine the CSR initiative.
While this is rare, there are instances when corporations rely on the stake-
holders in this way. When stakeholders are angry and oppose current poli-
cies, the corporation can involve stakeholders by asking them to plot a
viable CSR course. Corporations will retain some veto power if the

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96 Create the CSR Initiative

proposed CSR initiative lacks viability from a business perspective. When
McDonald ’ s was frustrated in its efforts to cope with its pollution problem
associated with styrofoam, it turned to the Environmental Defense Fund
(EDF) to solve the CSR problem for them. The EDF plotted the CSR initia-
tive that helped transform McDonald ’ s into an environmental leader in the
fast food industry (EDF, 1991 ).

Another formula is to have stakeholders vote on the CSR options. The
Co – operative Group in the United Kingdom illustrates the stakeholder
voting approach to CSR initiatives. The customers decide in what areas the
bank will not invest their money. If customers decide a specifi c industry
should not be supported, the bank does not invest money in that industry.
Here are two examples of CSR – related investment guidelines developed by
the customers:

1. “ We will not fi nance the manufacture or transfer of indiscriminate
weapons, eg cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions. ”

2. “ We will not fi nance any business whose core activity contributes to
the development of nanotechnology in circumstances that risk damag-
ing the environment or compromising human health. ” (Co – operative
Financial Services, n.d. )

The Co – operative Bank ’ s philosophy states,

The views and concerns of The Co – operative Bank customers have shaped
the Ethical Policy for over 16 years, and their views have shaped our Ethical
Policy – ultimately deciding how we invest their money. We understand that
people ’ s views can change, so we will continue to ask our customers their
opinions, in order to ensure that our policy remains an up – to – date refl ection
of their concerns. (Co – operative Financial Services, 2006 )

The customers, through the bank ’ s ethical engagement process, determine
CSR investment initiatives for the corporation.

Organizational Justice in the Engagement Process

The concept of organizational justice provides valuable insights into the
engagement process surrounding a company ’ s CSR – related decision making.
Generally, organizational justice examines perceptions of fairness about
events involving an organization (Folger & Cropanzano, 1998 ; Greenberg,
1990 ; Greenberg & Colquitt, 2005 ). Although the organizational justice
literature typically focuses on employees, the ideas can be expanded to
include stakeholders in general (e.g., Fediuk, Coombs, & Botero, 2010 ).

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Create the CSR Initiative 97

People are more accepting of outcomes, such as decisions about CSR activi-
ties, when the decision embodies justice. Hence, engagement should seek to
establish a decision as being a just one. In addition, the corporation should
encourage and manage stakeholder involvement in a way that demonstrates
the engagement process itself is just.

Justice in corporations is a multifaceted concept. There are actually three
primary types of justice: (1) distributive justice, (2) procedural justice, and
(3) interactional justice. Distributive justice involves perceptions of fairness
in the allocation of resources. For CSR, distributive justice can include what
CSR issue(s) are selected and the actions that are taken on those issue(s).
Stakeholders might feel their issues were not addressed or were not addressed
in suffi cient depth. Procedural justice involves perceptions of the fairness
of the decision – making procedures themselves. For CSR, stakeholders can
view the company as having a just or unjust process for making CSR deci-
sions. Ideally, engagement is used to explain the CSR decision – making
process and to establish that it is just. Distributive and procedural justice
do interact. People can dislike the allocation of resources but accept the
decision because the process was just. The stakeholders may not be happy
with the specifi c decision option but are unlikely to take action against the
corporation because the decision was fair. However, they can still lobby for
change.

Interactional justice concerns perceptions of how people were treated
interpersonally and is composed of interpersonal and informational justice.
The fi rst aspect, interpersonal justice , involves whether or not people felt
they were treated with respect and dignity. Effective engagement procedures
should seek to build interpersonal justice. For example, the concept of
dialogue and its emphasis on perspective taking and power sharing should
contribute to perceptions of interpersonal justice. The second aspect of
interactional justice, informational justice , concerns perceptions of fairness
about the explanations that people receive about the decision – making
process and outcomes (Colquitt, 2001 ; Colquitt, Greenberg, & Zapata –
Phelan, 2005 ). It is critical that engagement includes thorough information
on and explanations of the decision, and answers to any stakeholder ques-
tions about the decisions.

Perceptions of interactional justice increase the acceptance of decisions,
while perceived violations increase the likelihood of people taking action
against the corporation. For CSR, this could mean the difference between
stakeholders publicly stating they disagree with the corporation ’ s choices
but acknowledging the validity of the decision based on the information or
publicly attacking the corporation for its unjust decision. Perceptions of
justice do not satisfy all parties but do reduce the confl ict generated from
decisions by making them more palatable.

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98 Create the CSR Initiative

The “ Right Amount ” of CSR

Critics of the idea that stakeholder expectations should drive CSR initiatives
maintain that stakeholders will never be satisfi ed and will always want
more. In this sense, stakeholders are likened to extortionists. Once their
original demands are met, they will demand more. We would argue this is
plausible and even desirable. CSR is fl uid and should change as societal
values evolve. What is acceptable CSR today may not be so in one, two,
or three years. As noted earlier, instructive churn is based on the dynamic
nature of CSR. Recall that instructive churn enables a corporation to learn
from confl ict with stakeholders. The activist stakeholders keep a corpora-
tion alert to potential expectation gaps and ways to refi ne their CSR initia-
tives. Hence, the “ right amount ” of CSR is always a point of negotiation.
The scanning and monitoring step and formative research step in the CSR
process help a corporation monitor trends and reactions to CSR
initiatives.

The idea of negotiation between the corporation and stakeholders returns
us to the utility of stakeholder engagement. Part of the discussion of CSR
involves explaining and justifying the corporation ’ s current investment in
CSR: the focus and breadth of CSR initiatives. There are times when a
corporation cannot expand CSR initiatives due to fi nancial, legal, and/or
cultural limits. This requires managers to explain CSR – related choices to
stakeholders. That does not mean that stakeholders will be satisfi ed and
not agitate for more CSR or for different CSR actions. Even partners need
to be free to be critical of CSR initiatives. But it is better for a corporation
to enact some of the CSR initiatives expected by stakeholders than no CSR
or the “ wrong ” CSR.

We have pointed to the idea that characteristics of the corporation will
help guide the selection and creation of CSR initiatives. Larger corpora-
tions, especially multinational corporations, are more likely to be identifi ed
by activist groups as companies that could be persuaded to pursue large –
scale CSR initiatives that could affect entire countries, regions, or the world.
In comparison, smaller corporations may be best suited to addressing more
local issues, although their size alone does not preclude them from partici-
pating in CSR efforts that address global problems like poverty and insuf-
fi cient health education. Stakeholders are likely to assume that larger
companies have more to give. They also may assume that larger companies
are obligated to devote more resources to CSR because of their larger nega-
tive impact on the planet (e.g., consumption of resources and carbon foot-
print). However, it is important to note that large and small corporations
alike should be attentive to locally based stakeholders who expect the cor-
poration to contribute to the community in which it is based. Even the large

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Create the CSR Initiative 99

multinational corporation that addresses social justice issues worldwide
should be concerned with social justice issues in its own community. The
point is that stakeholders will expect a corporation to enact CSR initiatives
that are commensurate with its size and reach.

When Employees Challenge CSR : Considering Internal
Stakeholders

Employees are a signifi cant internal stakeholder in any CSR effort. As
organizational members, they should be well positioned to understand the
corporation ’ s mission, values, and capabilities. Like external stakeholders,
they also may support particular social issues. Although they have a common
employer, employees are not necessarily monolithic in their interests.
However, the common denominator for internal stakeholders is that they
have a vested interest in the company. In many ways, they resemble share-
holders who have an economic interest in the company. In fact, many
employees are shareholders in their corporation. Their interest in CSR
initiatives may be spurred by their commitment to the social concern as
well as the anticipated effects of CSR initiatives on their positions and the
company as a whole. Employees want and need to be aware of what the
corporation is doing. Their role as both receivers and senders of CSR –
related opinions and information should not be overlooked.

Although we hope that employees will function as cheerleaders for the
corporation ’ s CSR initiatives, this may not be the case. Employees are
unlikely to support a CSR initiative if they perceive it may threaten their
jobs and/or the overall economic well – being of the corporation. In addition,
they may not support a CSR initiative they perceive to be greenwashing.
On the one hand, a new sustainability initiative may mean reassignments
or layoffs for some employees. On the other hand, it may create the need
to hire additional employees. It is natural that stakeholder attitudes and
behaviors refl ect self – interest. As discussed in the earlier section “ What
Constitutes CSR? ” the concept of organizational justice, coupled with the
process of internal stakeholder engagement, may help us understand,
manage, and benefi t from negative employee reactions to CSR. Internal
stakeholders expect to be valued in the same way that external stakeholders
are valued when it comes to engagement and decision making. Information
sharing is essential to this process. But sometimes employees may not per-
ceive the CSR – related information to be “ good news. ”

As a form of uncontrolled social media, employee blogs and tweets may
be regarded as credible information sources that are unfi ltered by corporate
interests. The next chapter, on communicating the CSR initiative, explores
the positive impact of employee blogs and tweets on external stakeholder

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100 Create the CSR Initiative

knowledge of a corporation ’ s CSR initiatives. Our concern here is employee
communication of negative information. Employee blogs and tweets can be
critical of CSR. Dissatisfi ed employees may blog about their perceptions of
the futility of CSR efforts, the “ real ” costs to the corporation, the lack of
“ real ” benefi ts to those groups the CSR initiative was supposed to serve,
and so on. The Internet provides a forum for employees to air their concerns
and complaints as well as praises. Employees can become stakeholder activ-
ists. It would not be in the spirit of engagement to silence or restrict
employee communication about CSR.

So how should a company respond to situations where employees
communicate negative information or opinions about CSR? Systematic
monitoring of what is said about a company, including its CSR initiatives,
is a recognized business practice, and both traditional and online media
typically are examined (Coombs, 2007 ). Organizations can conduct their
own monitoring or hire another fi rm to provide the service. Recall that
chapters 3 and 4 described scanning and monitoring and formative research
as the fi rst and second stages, respectively, in the strategic CSR process.
Although such monitoring of employee communication may smack of “ Big
Brother ” to internal stakeholders, companies do want to know what is
being said by both internal and external stakeholders. This can function
as instructive churn. In addition, companies would be wise to assess if
comments are gaining traction – sparking additional comments in the
online world – and spreading to more stakeholders (Coombs & Holladay,
2007a ).

As would be the case with external stakeholders, the corporation should
contact the employees to arrange a meeting about their concerns. Recall
that we also recommended meeting with dissatisfi ed external stakeholders
to better understand their concerns. The engagement process should be
benefi cial in this case, too. It would be unwise and unjust to simply censor
negative comments from employees. The engagement process should be
used to dialogue with the employees and discover the roots of the critiques.
Employees can offer useful insights into perceptions of CSR and the enact-
ment of CSR initiatives. Managers will benefi t from seriously considering
and responding to employee criticisms.

The point of reviewing the contested characteristics of CSR is to illustrate
the diffi culties surrounding the fi nal selection of the concerns to pursue as
CSR initiatives. The decision is challenging, and managers should not
expect to go unscathed with their fi nal selections. The lesson is to recognize
the ways that CSR can be contested and to account for them in the CSR
decision – making process. Managers do need to decide what CSR concerns
to address and how they will address them. We believe that considering the
contested aspects of CSR creates a better process and better choices among
the CSR initiatives.

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Create the CSR Initiative 101

Preparing for Negative Stakeholder Reactions:
Message Mapping

It is important for managers to anticipate that some stakeholders will react
negatively to the selection of a specifi c CSR initiative. Stakeholders may feel
the CSR initiative does not go far enough or does not address their CSR
concerns. Hence, stakeholders might have issues with distributive justice.
Managers cannot expect to please all of the stakeholders all of the time
with their CSR initiatives. Because corporations cannot address every CSR
concern, they must prioritize and select concerns based on specifi ed criteria.
Engaging stakeholders in the CSR process helps to establish procedural
justice for the CSR initiative selection. Managers also can prepare to handle
the stakeholder complaints with the CSR initiative selection.

By monitoring stakeholder reactions throughout the CSR process, man-
agers can anticipate challenges to the CSR initiative. Managers will deal
with negative stakeholder reactions to CSR initiatives both in this stage and
in the CSR communication stage of the CSR process. Risk communication
utilizes a concept known as message mapping . Message mapping involves
anticipating questions and concerns that might arise and preparing detailed
responses for those questions (Covello, 2003 ). Detailed responses provide
specifi c supporting evidence such as facts or testimonials. For CSR com-
munication, the message map would identify the stakeholder group, their
likely concerns with the CSR initiative, a detailed response to the concern,
and appropriate channels for delivering the message. Box 5.2 provides a
template that can be used to develop message maps. The exact questions
will vary by CSR initiative, and managers should use engagement and other
sources of information to anticipate the questions. Engagement is helpful
because stakeholders probably will raise the concerns during the engage-
ment activities. Managers always should anticipate questions about proce-
dural justice and be prepared to defend the fairness of the CSR initiative
selection process. As we have discussed, it is important to consider proce-
dural justice because it promotes transparency and helps stakeholders
understand the decision – making process and their role within it.

Developing CSR Objectives

Once the choice to pursue a specifi c CSR initiative is made, managers must
then plan how they will bring the initiative to life. Entire books are written
on planning, including how to develop project management documents and
budgets. In many ways, planning is unique in each corporation. There are
basic activities that must be accomplished, but how they are enacted varies.

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102 Create the CSR Initiative

We have chosen to reduce the discussion of planning to the central concept
of objectives because of its critical role in the CSR process. We return to
the use of objectives in chapter 7 , which covers evaluation and feedback.

If we believe that CSR initiatives are strategic, the CSR actions should
be built around objectives. Objectives provide guidance and a mechanism
for evaluation. Goals provide only a general direction for behavior. In con-
trast, an objective moves from the general direction embodied in a goal to
greater specifi city. An objective seeks to pin down what is expected from
the strategic effort and must be measurable. Keep in mind that the term
objective can have multiple meanings, and this can create confusion.
Therefore, it is important to distinguish between two types of objectives,
(1) process and (2) outcome objectives, when discussing objectives. While
both are useful, mistaking one for the other creates problems.

Box 5.2 Message – Mapping Template

CSR Message Map

Stakeholder:

Concern with CSR initiative:

Basic response:

Supporting information (1):

Supporting information (2):

Supporting information (3):

Appropriate channel(s):

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Create the CSR Initiative 103

Process versus Outcome Objectives

A process objective specifi es what steps will be taken to create and to
execute the CSR effort. As part of the process, managers would identify
what tasks need to be completed, when the tasks are to be completed, and
who has responsibility for the tasks, and then monitor the cost of the task.
A process objective allows the corporation to determine only if they took
the actions or steps they were supposed to take. Were tasks A, B, and C
performed by their assigned completion dates? The problem is that simply
performing tasks is not the same as obtaining desired results from the per-
formance of the tasks. This is why we must consider the value of outcome
objectives.

An outcome objective seeks to determine whether or not a CSR initiative
was successful. Toward that end, an outcome objective specifi es what the
CSR effort hopes to achieve and within what time frame. An effective
outcome objective quantifi es what the CSR effort should accomplish. CSR
efforts hope to create changes that benefi t society. The objective should
specify the amount of desired change or target behavior as a percentage or
number (Coombs, 2005 ; Stacks, 2002 ). An outcome objective must be
measurable and specifi c. You cannot evaluate a CSR effort if you cannot
measure it. The outcome objective is used to determine the success of the
initiative.

There are three types of outcome objectives: (1) knowledge objectives
that focus on stakeholders learning and recalling new information (e.g.,
40% of the customers who purchase lumber will report knowing of the
corporation ’ s partnership with the Forestry Stewardship Council), (2) atti-
tude objectives that focus on changing how people feel (e.g., at least 60%
of customers will approve of XYZ ’ s sale of FairTrade coffee in the caf é ),
and (3) behavior objectives that specify that stakeholders will engage in
prescribed behaviors (e.g., 75% of employees will recycle beverage contain-
ers purchased in the workplace). CSR initiatives often focus on changing
behaviors. The corporation wants to persuade employees, suppliers, cus-
tomers, and other stakeholders to do something – or to not do something
– that comprises the CSR initiative (Coombs, 2005 ).

Process objectives can be converted into outcome objectives. For example,
perhaps the CSR initiative involves donating products to a local women ’ s
shelter. The process objective might simply state, “ To donate clothing to
the shelter. ” That can be converted into an outcome objective by reformu-
lating it to state, “ To donate $5,000 in clothing to the Hope House women ’ s
shelter by December 10 th . ” Or the process objective may state, “ The
company will supply additional paper and plastic recycling bins throughout
the building to encourage recycling. ” That can be converted to an outcome
objective by rephrasing it to say, “ Employees will increase their amount of

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104 Create the CSR Initiative

paper recycling by 40% and their amount of plastic recycling by 30% by
the end of fi scal year 2010. ”

Two common confusions haunt CSR initiatives: (1) confusing a goal for
an objective, and (2) confusing a process objective for an outcome objective.
Goals simply state “ general directions. ” Hence, they are vague and diffi cult
to use when evaluating progress toward a target. In contrast, the details
provided by an objective facilitate evaluation. Process is what you are going
to do – not the effect of those actions. Corporations and stakeholders need
to know the intended effects of a CSR initiative and the actual effects pro-
duced by the CSR initiative. Only then can we properly evaluate a CSR
initiative, a point developed further in our discussion of evaluation and
feedback in chapter 7 . Hitachi ’ s 2007 CSR report can be used to illustrate
these confusions. The report contained information about Hitachi ’ s CSR
objectives. Here are some sample statements:

1. Contributing to society based upon a plan.
2. Publishing CSR report.
3. Developing environmentally friendly products.

The fi rst statement is a goal. Saying the corporation will be “ contributing
to society based upon a plan ” is very general! People will want to know
what that really means in terms of effects on society. The second statement
is a process objective. Publishing a CSR report is a task. Thus, it is a process
objective rather than an outcome objective. The act of publishing the report
(the process) does not have an effect on society. The process objective only
claims the corporation will complete that task, not that the act of publishing
the report will have an effect on society. The third statement is a weak
outcome objective. “ Developing environmentally friendly products ” does
move us closer to an outcome objective. Products that are environmentally
friendly can have an effect on society and can be measured. However, to
qualify as an outcome objective, number 3 requires greater specifi city to
quantify the effect of product development. For example, Hitachi could
identify a target percentage of its product line it hopes to make environ-
mentally friendly or identify the total amount of a dangerous chemical it
hopes to remove from the environment through its environmentally friendly
products. Providing more specifi cs would make this statement a stronger
outcome objective.

We do not mean to be critical of Hitachi. If you examine most CSR or
sustainability reports, you will fi nd more process objectives than outcome
objectives. The 2007 “ Corporate Responsibility Report ” by Adidas, for
instance, is dominated by process objectives. Here are two examples: (1)
“ To identify and engage with appropriate technical, brand and NGO part-
ners to support the reduction of energy, waste and water in our core supply

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Create the CSR Initiative 105

chain ” ; and (2) “ To enhance the internalisation of environmental metrics
by core footwear suppliers to drive improvements in their reporting and
defi ning reduction targets ” (Adidas, 2007 , p. 12). It is logical that as cor-
porations build CSR programs, they detail what is being done. Stakeholders
do want to know this information, and it is easy for the corporation to
document. However, managers must realize that stakeholders want infor-
mation about the effects of those actions as well.

Barilla ’ s 2008 “ Sustainability Report, ” for instance, includes the objec-
tive of eliminating artifi cial colorants and hydrogenated fats and oils from
all products by 2014 (Barilla, 2008 ). The effect on society is still implied;
people should be healthier if they have healthier products, but the progress
is easy to monitor. Barilla can demonstrate progress by annually reporting
the percentage of its products that still contain artifi cial colorants and
hydrogenated fats and oils. Managers need to develop outcome objectives
that can specify and document the effects of their CSR efforts on society.

Developing objectives, especially outcome objectives that specify measur-
able results and identify the time frames for accomplishing those results,
contribute to perceptions of accountability. Outcome objectives should be
publicized to ensure that those people responsible for enacting the CSR
initiative are aware of the objectives and that those stakeholders who are
interested in the initiative can monitor the results. Fear of being held
accountable for results may be one reason why some corporations report
only process objectives (what actions were taken) rather than outcome
objectives (what results were achieved). It is much easier to hide behind
process objectives because they do create the appearance that the corpora-
tion is doing something. And some people may argue that doing something
is better than doing nothing. However, corporations that are serious about
producing positive outcomes for society will see the value of developing
and reporting progress on CSR outcome objectives.

Conclusion and Critical Questions

The preceding step, formative research, helps to identity what effects the
CSR concern can have on society and the corporation. The formative
research sets the stage for the selection of the CSR concerns that will become
the corporation ’ s CSR initiatives. Managers must consider the fi nancial
costs of the CSR initiatives and the potential return on investment (ROI),
and establish clear outcome objectives for what happens as a result of the
CSR initiatives. Managers must also consider the consistency of the specifi c
CSR initiatives. The CSR initiatives should be consistent with the corpora-
tion ’ s strategic plan, its corporate culture, and the national culture in which
the CSR initiative will be implemented.

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106 Create the CSR Initiative

Stakeholder engagement continues to be a valuable resource when craft-
ing a CSR initiative. Stakeholders become more invested in the CSR initia-
tives and feel a sense of ownership over the engagement process and
initiatives when they have a greater role in creating them.

Once the CSR concerns are selected, they must be translated into action.
Action occurs when the CSR concerns are translated into specifi c CSR
initiatives and implemented by the corporation. The CSR initiatives are
what the corporation does to address the CSR concern such as enacting
new requirements for suppliers, reducing the amount of pollutants
released into the environment, or donating employee time to a local non-
profi t organization. Outcome objectives should be attached to this decision.
Each CSR concern should be accompanied with an objective or set of
objectives.

Critical Questions for Creating the CSR
Initiatives

Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

Which stakeholders should be engaged in
creating the CSR initiative?

X X

How does the corporation assess stakeholder
power, legitimacy, and urgency?

X X

Which stakeholders are latent, expectant, or
defi nitive?

X X

How will the engagement process for creating
the CSR initiative be structured?

X X

What level of collaborative decision making
will be utilized in the engagement process?

X X

What type of decision – making approach will
be used?

X X

How do stakeholders perceive the procedural
justice associated with the decision making?

X X

What are the stated stakeholder objectives for
the CSR initiative?

X X

What are the measurable benefi ts of the CSR
initiative for stakeholders?

X X

Which stakeholders will benefi t from the CSR
initiative, and how will they benefi t?

X X

Which stakeholders might be upset by the
CSR initiative, and why?

X X

Is the initiative likely to trigger churn among
those stakeholders who are upset?

X X

How will the process objectives be
established?

X X

How will the outcome objectives be
established?

X X

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Create the CSR Initiative 107

Critical Questions for Creating the CSR
Initiatives

Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

What message maps should the corporation
prepare in anticipation of negative reactions
by some stakeholders?

X

How consistent is the CSR concern with the
corporation ’ s current business strategy?

X

How well does the CSR concern fi t with the
corporation ’ s industry?

X

What are the potential costs of the CSR
concern to the corporation?

X

What are the potential benefi ts of the CSR
concern to the corporation?

X

Where can the corporation make the most
difference?

X X

What criteria will be used to select the fi nal
CSR concern(s) to be implemented?

X X

What are the fi nancial costs of the CSR
initiative to the corporation?

X

What are the stated objectives for the CSR
initiative?

X

How consistent is the CSR initiative with the
corporation ’ s strategic plan?

X

How consistent is the CSR initiative with
corporate culture?

X

How consistent is the CSR initiative with
national culture?

X

Throughout this process, the degree of decision – making power the cor-
poration shares with stakeholders must be carefully considered. These
engagement points have implications for perceptions of procedural justice
in the CSR initiative creation process. Stakeholders need to establish criteria
for evaluating how well the CSR initiative meets their own objectives in
order to prove the CSR initiative actually benefi ts stakeholders. This raises
the issue of which stakeholders actually benefi t from the CSR initiative and
how they benefi t from it. Stakeholders who are not benefi ting and/or were
not part of the selection process could be upset. Managers must anticipate
which stakeholders might become upset, why they would be upset, and the
possibility of the CSR initiative triggering stakeholder churn. Stakeholders
will share this interest in engagement, decision making, benefi ts, and objec-
tives because these factors determine the amount of infl uence they have over
the process and how the outcome might affect them and the CSR concern.

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Ben & Jerry ’ s three – part mission statement emphasizes practices that benefi t people,
the environment, and its business. Courtesy of Ben & Jerry ’ s

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6

Communicate the CSR Initiative

Communication is at the heart of our perspective on the CSR process. Thus,
it may seem odd to devote a chapter to “ communicating the CSR initiative ”
when communication is woven into all parts of the process. The purpose
of this chapter is to explore how, once the CSR initiative has been created,
it can be communicated to stakeholders. The CSR team will need to target
both internal and external stakeholders. Employees can be vital communi-
cation channels in and of themselves. The external stakeholders will include

Scan and
monitor

Formative
research

Create
CSR

initiative

Communicate
CSR initiative

Evaluation
and feedback

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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110 Communicate the CSR Initiative

all those affected by the CSR initiative decision and any stakeholders who
have a general interest in the corporation ’ s CSR activities. Typical external
stakeholders would include local communities, NGOs, traditional and
online media, suppliers, customers, investors, and retailers. Effective com-
munication about CSR has been hindered by the assumption that commu-
nication is simply the transmission of CSR information from the corporation
to its stakeholders. In reality, CSR communication is a challenging process
requiring an understanding of stakeholders, their information needs, and
communication channels. A central concern is what we term the CSR pro-
motional communication dilemma . Stakeholders want CSR information,
yet corporate messaging can create a backlash when stakeholders see it as
overly self – promotional. This double bind creates a diffi cult communicative
challenge for CSR managers.

Another factor that complicates the communication process is the variety
of interests surrounding a CSR initiative. Not all stakeholders want the
same information about the initiative. The CSR communication must be
tailored to each stakeholder yet maintain an overall consistency (Pomering
& Dolnicar, 2008 ). For instance, investors are interested in the fi nancial
effect of the effort on the corporation (e.g., ROI), while local communities
want to know how the actions directly affect their lives (e.g., the effects on
health and environment). It could be problematic if the corporation is
viewed as saying one thing to one stakeholder and something rather differ-
ent to another simply to please the receivers and tell them what they want
to hear. This type of targeted messaging, though well intentioned and
designed to meet specifi c receivers ’ needs, might backfi re and be perceived
as disingenuous. A lack of consistency may arouse skepticism about the
sincerity of or commitment to the CSR initiative.

The CSR communication stage should develop a plan that outlines the
stakeholders to be addressed, channels (media) to be used to reach them,
and primary messages to be sent to each stakeholder group. Managers
should have a sense of the stakeholders based on the formative research,
and the messages must be adapted to their interests as well as the specifi c
CSR initiative. In this chapter, we also discuss how employees and social
media are valuable CSR communication channels. Finally, two of the major
CSR reporting guideline systems, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and
ISO 26000, are reviewed to illustrate how they can provide a framework
for organizing communication about CSR.

CSR Promotional Communication Dilemma

Stakeholders report that they would like to know more about the CSR
efforts of corporations. However, stakeholders are also skeptical of corpora-

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 111

tions that are perceived to commit too much time and effort to CSR com-
munication. Without awareness of their CSR initiatives, corporations may
draw no reputational benefi t from their CSR initiatives. However, too much
effort to create awareness can have a boomerang effect as stakeholders
become cynical and skeptical when there is excessive self – promotion about
CSR initiatives. The challenge is to effectively communicate the CSR initia-
tive without creating a backlash we term the CSR promotional communica-
tion dilemma .

Globally, stakeholders say CSR actions infl uence their relationships with
organizations (Sen, Bhattacharya, & Korschun, 2006 ). However, research
proves that stakeholders have a very low awareness of corporate
CSR activities (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004 ; Pomering & Dolnicar,
2009). So even though people report that a corporation ’ s CSR record can
be an important decision – making criterion when selecting products and
services, stakeholders are underinformed about CSR. This is extremely
problematic for corporations. Awareness drives many of the benefi ts that
corporations derive from CSR. The key element is identifi cation through
CSR. In chapter 2 on strategic communication, we discussed how CSR
initiatives provide common values that allow stakeholders to appreciate
how their identities overlap with a corporation ’ s identity. In turn, identi-
fi cation builds support for the corporation and the creation of favorable
reputations (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004 ). Identifi cation and favorable repu-
tations translate into supportive behaviors for the corporation such as
purchase intention (Maignan & Ferrell, 2004 ; Sen et al., 2006 ). As
Bhattacharya and Sen (2004) noted, “ [C]onsumers ’ awareness of a corpo-
ration ’ s CSR activities is a key prerequisite to their positive reactions to
such activities ” (p. 14).

In light of the importance of CSR to consumer decision making and
corporate reputation, it seems obvious that corporations should raise
awareness of their CSR activities through communication. Maignan and
Ferrell (2004) recommend that CSR be infused throughout corporate
communication. They also noted the need for more research into CSR com-
munication because “ businesses cannot hope to enjoy concrete benefi ts
from CSR unless they intelligently communicate about their initiative to
relevant stakeholders ” (p. 17). Their call for more research suggests the
challenges to communicating CSR. Sen at al. (2006) refer to communicating
CSR as a double – edged sword that challenges corporations to create
“ optimal communication of their CSR actions ” (p. 164). CSR awareness
can be increased through the communication tactics of advertising and
promotional efforts. However, consumers want CSR facts but dislike a hard
sell. Too much “ effort ” in CSR promotion can cause negative attributions
about CSR initiatives and harm an organization ’ s relationship with stake-
holders (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004 ). For instance, studies in Denmark

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112 Communicate the CSR Initiative

indicate that people are skeptical about “ conspicuous corporate CSR com-
munication ” (Morsing, Schultz, & Nielsen, 2008 ).

We can refi ne the notion of too much effort or conspicuous communica-
tion to focus on message tone and costs. Message tone refers to the idea
that the message is appearing too often and too prominently. CSR informa-
tion can be integrated into various corporate communication tactics but
should not always dominate the message and should focus on facts rather
than overpromotion and self – congratulation. CSR communication benefi ts
from a tone that is low – key and focuses more on the presentation of facts
than on the promotion of the corporation ’ s involvement in CSR.

Armstrong World Industries Inc. provides an example of low – key pro-
motion of CSR. Armstrong linoleum is FloorScore ® certifi ed. That
means the product can carry the FloorScore ® Label. FloorScore is a cer-
tifi cation system that “ tests and certifi es hard surface fl ooring and fl ooring
adhesive products for compliance with rigorous indoor air quality emis-
sions requirements. Individual volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are
evaluated using health – based specifi cations ” (Scientifi c Certifi cation
Systems, 2010 ). At its corporate website, Armstrong reports and explains
the certifi cation under the “ Sustainability ” link (Armstrong World
Industries, 2010 ). You need to look for this CSR information by opening
the “ Awards and Certifi cation ” link in the “ Sustainability ” section of the
website. The FloorScore is not featured in advertising or other more aggres-
sive forms of promotion.

Stakeholders fi nd it problematic when corporations spend a great deal
of money on CSR promotion such as advertising (Alsop, 2004 ). Thus per-
ceptions of the cost of promotion must be considered in addition to message
tone. If the corporation is committed to CSR, couldn ’ t they spend the
money more wisely on the CSR initiative itself rather than on advertising
their involvement in the issue? The goals of CSR communication may
benefi t from the utilization of low – cost tactics. While constricting, a low – key
tone and low – cost tactics do not doom the effectiveness of the CSR – related
communication. Instead, it becomes a challenge to overcome the CSR pro-
motional communication dilemma.

The key to managing the CSR promotional communication dilemma is
careful analysis of the problem. Managers must address two core issues that
emerge from the promotional communication dilemma: (1) source and (2)
cost. Source refers to who is presenting the message. Corporations lack
credibility as sources of CSR information because their communication can
appear overly self – serving. Corporations may appear more interested in the
benefi ts they accrue from a positive CSR – oriented reputation than the CSR
issue itself. Third – party information sources carry greater weight with stake-
holders because they seem more neutral and more interested in the social
concern than the corporation supporting the concern.

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 113

The second issue is cost. Cost refers to the amount of money the corpo-
ration spends on the CSR promotional communication tactics. Escalating
costs for the CSR promotional communication tactics increase the likeli-
hood of a boomerang effect from the CSR messages. Excessive spending on
messages that tout the corporation ’ s involvement in the social concern may
create the impression that the corporation is more interested in generating
publicity for itself than supporting the CSR concern. It is inappropriate for
messages to focus more on the corporation itself rather than the CSR effort,
the stakeholders who benefi t from the effort, and tangible outcomes. The
CSR promotional communication mix must refl ect sensitivity to the two
core issues of source and cost.

There are limited options for addressing the source issue. A corporation
will be the source for various CSR tactics. Time and transparency are keys
to building the corporation ’ s credibility as a source. The corporation must
establish a track record of disclosing a range of CSR information. This
includes providing information about failures (e.g., failure to reach target
outcome objectives), not just successes. Interested stakeholders need to be
able to access information that reveals when a corporation has failed to
reach an outcome objective or has had a lapse in its CSR initiative. For
instance, the GAP prides itself on eliminating child labor and is widely
recognized as a garment industry leader on this CSR concern. Still, in 2008
there was an incident where a supplier for baby clothes was found to be
using child labor. The GAP acted quickly to remedy the problem (Gap Inc.,
2007 ; Global March against Child Labor, 2007 ). To be perceived as sincere
and credible, management must be willing to discuss the good and the bad
of their CSR. Trust is enhanced by a transparent process. Transparency
allows stakeholders to “ see ” how a corporation creates and reports its CSR
data. The CSR report is a perfect example. Transparency answers key ques-
tions such as the following:

• How was stakeholder engagement used in the process?
• What were the objectives of the CSR initiatives?
• How were the data in the report collected?
• Which stakeholders were consulted or engaged in the data – gathering

process?
• What were the stakeholder reactions to the CSR data?

As noted earlier, stakeholder engagement aids the transparency process.
When stakeholders are a part of the process, they develop a clearer picture
of how the corporation is developing and utilizing CSR efforts. Stakeholders
must be able to see into the corporation and fi nd the information they
are looking for. Building CSR credibility is a long – term investment for a

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114 Communicate the CSR Initiative

corporation. Only a consistent history of demonstrating transparency and
openness about CSR will cultivate the development of credibility.

Third – party endorsements serve to complement and to reinforce CSR
messages from corporations. Legitimate third parties transfer their CSR
credibility to an organization when communicating their support for that
corporation. The third – party endorser must acknowledge the corporation
and agree to let its name or logo be used. The value of an endorsement is
a function of the relevant expertise and name recognition of the endorser.
Publics that are attracted to the third – party organization should then be
attracted to the corporation it endorses (Dean & Biswas, 2001 ). Third – party
endorsements can be either direct or indirect. Direct third – party endorse-
ments are statements from the third party. Such statements could be com-
munication tactics from the third party, such as a news release, or quotations
from the third party in the corporation ’ s communication tactics. Whatever
tactic is used, there is some direct statement from the third party supporting
the corporation ’ s CSR efforts.

Greenpeace ’ s praise for Apple ’ s elimination of PVC from its PC power
cords illustrates third – party support. Greenpeace ranks electronic compa-
nies with its “ Guide to Greener Electronics ” and updates the rankings
every few months (Greenpeace, 2010 ). In its “ Green My Apple ” campaign,
Greenpeace has been critical of Apple for not being very green in the past.
However, in October 2009 Apple became the fi rst major computer manu-
facturer to offer PVC – free PC power cords. The power cords had been the
last part of PCs to still contain PVC, a plastic that Greenpeace and others
consider toxic. Here is a statement posted by Greenpeace to its website:
“ This lays down the gauntlet to other major PC makers such as Dell, HP,
Lenovo and Acer to catch up with Apple again, and we ’ ll be keeping up
our pressure on them to match Apple ’ s lead ” (Greenpeace, 2009a ). While
not wildly ecstatic praise, the comment does offer support for Apple ’ s
CSR effort to reduce PVC usage in PCs. Stakeholders concerned about
PVC can locate verifi cation of Apple ’ s concern and actions related to the
PVC issue.

Indirect third – party endorsements include certifi cation labels and the
endorser ’ s name. There are a variety of legitimate certifi cation systems that
have direct relationships to CSR efforts. The label verifi es the corporation ’ s
claims about their CSR activities relative to that certifi cation process.
Starbucks using the FairTrade logo and Home Depot selling lumber certifi ed
by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) are examples of certifi cation
labels in action. The other option is placing the endorser ’ s name on a
product and/or in messages from the corporation. The Sierra Club has
allowed its name to be used in association with Clorox ’ s “ Green Works ”
line of environmentally friendly cleaners. The Green Works products include

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 115

the Sierra Club logo on the label and the Sierra Club name on many of its
communication tactics such as news releases and the website for Green
Works. The Sierra Club name symbolizes approval of this Clorox sustain-
ability effort. Similarly, Ben and Jerry ’ s website describes how, since 2006,
it has worked with a paper supplier that uses FSC – certifi ed pulp and has
reduced waste by 1,000 tons each year. Pints of Ben and Jerry ’ s carry the
FairTrade logo when they contain ingredients that are FairTrade certifi ed.
Costa Coffee reports that 100% of the coffee it sells in the United Kingdom
is sourced from Rain Forest Alliance – certifi ed farms that demonstrate a
commitment to sustainable agriculture.

The certifi cation is a routine process that requires meeting certain stand-
ards and allowing inspectors to verify that those standards are being met.
Other endorsements can be simple statements of support or complex part-
nerships between the corporation and the third party. Partnerships are
becoming more popular and refl ect a strong sense of stakeholder engage-
ment. As noted earlier, partnerships grant the third party some power in
the decision making about CSR policies and activities. The communication
emphasizes that the corporation worked closely with the third party in
creating and perhaps even verifying the CSR efforts. A partnership would
seem to be a stronger endorsement than a simple statement of support or
approval. The corporation demonstrates a keen commitment to CSR by
entering a partnership designed to build its CSR initiative. Partnerships
require a signifi cant investment of corporate time, money, and willingness
to share power. That is much more involved than simply arranging for a
third party to say it likes or supports a corporation ’ s CSR efforts. Refer to
the partnership discussion in Box 6.1 for a more detailed discussion of the
topic.

As noted earlier, stakeholders dislike corporations spending large amounts
of money to promote their CSR efforts. The dislike seems to stem from the
perceived costs of promotion more than the act of promoting the CSR.
Efforts to heavily promote CSR initiatives, such as advertisements, can be
viewed as problematic as well. People are likely to view CSR initiatives as
self – serving and self – congratulatory – and question a corporation ’ s motives
for engaging in CSR – when there is “ overpromotion ” of the CSR efforts.
Corporations must be effective at disseminating CSR efforts without
expending too much on costs. Too much cost is a refl ection of effort as well
as spending. That is why nonproduct advertising about CSR efforts is often
a poor choice.

Public relations has long been an option for the low – cost dissemination
of information. Common public relations tactics that can be used for CSR
promotion are brochures (still low cost), news releases, sections of a
corporate website devoted to CSR, special websites to discuss CSR, employee

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116 Communicate the CSR Initiative

blogs, employee tweets, posts to discussion boards, and sending CSR
information to CSR social media (bloggers and tweeters). The possible PR
tactics for avoiding the CSR promotional communication dilemma provide
a transition into a detailed discussion of communication channels.

Communication Channels for CSR Messaging

Starting with the formative research stage, CSR managers should build
detailed profi les of the various stakeholders that could be connected with
the CSR initiative and their “ stake ” in it. Messages are adapted to the needs
and interests of these stakeholders. Channel selection is critical to ensuring
that the stakeholders are exposed to the message. This section overviews
the communication channel options for CSR, examines employees and
external stakeholders as channels, and details the strategic value of social
media for CSR communication.

Box 6.1 Overview of Corporate – Activist
Partnerships

Many experts now recommend corporate – activist partnerships because
the results can benefi t society and corporations. However, both sides
have reservations about partnerships and must be cautious about their
creation. Partnerships involve collaborative decision making and raise
issues about power (Friedman, 2008 ). Stakeholders help to shape CSR
initiatives with their views of social issues and their conceptualization
of CSR. Activists have reservations about partnerships because they
fear co – optation (i.e., fear they will begin to think like corporate
partners), loss of their own identity, and a loss of power if they are
perceived to no longer be challenging the corporation. Corporations
have reservations about partnerships because they fear being viewed
as weak by capitulating to activist demands and sharing power with
activists. Successful partnerships need to (1) allow activists to partici-
pate in decision making, (2) allow activists to retain their critical
voice, (3) permit corporations to pursue fi nancial concerns along with
social concerns, and (4) set clear benchmarks for success with objec-
tives (Coombs & Holladay, 2009a ).

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 117

Overview of Communication Channels for CSR

The public relations tactics list is a mix of controlled and uncontrolled
media. Control indicates whether or not the corporation has control over
if and how the message is used. For instance, a media outlet can ignore
a news release (determine if the message is used) or write its version of a
story based on the news release (determine how the message is used).
Uncontrolled tactics include news releases and sending information to
social media sources. Sending information to social media sources mimics
a news release and acknowledges the growing power of the social media.
Box 6.2 provides an overview of the various social media options available
to managers. The upside of uncontrolled tactics is the third – party effect.
The news media or social media users become the source of the CSR
information because they are the ones reporting it to other stakeholders.
The corporation (1) saves on cost, (2) does not appear to be an active
promoter, and (3) and gains CSR credibility from the third parties. The
downside is that the CSR message may be ignored or be distorted in how
it is reported. The media outlet can chose to frame the information as it
wishes. For example, a corporation may fi nd that the news media over-
looked what the corporation believed to be positive accomplishments and
focused instead on how the corporation is “ not doing enough ” to address
a social concern.

The online environment provides some unique opportunities for uncon-
trolled CSR public relations. There are online outlets that specialize in
presenting and discussing CSR information. If a corporation can distribute
through these outlets, the reach and CSR credibility of the message are
greatly enhanced. Some popular outlets include CSR International,
SustainabilityForum.com, and CSRwire.com.

CSR International is one popular online outlet for CSR information. CSR
International tries to promote effective CSR practices. It can be followed
on Twitter, through an RSS feed, or by subscribing to its email list.
SustainabilityForum.com is a clearinghouse for CSR – related information
offering news, blogs, and forums for discussion. Their CSR news often
features stories about CSR initiatives undertaken by various corporations.
You can even become a fan of SustainabilityForum.com on Facebook. The
website contains a blog and an archive of CSR research as well as CSR
news that is provided by SustainabilityForum.com. Here is how it describes
itself:

The purpose of SustainabilityForum.com is to be a resource for valuable
discussion, news, opinion and events all related to the topic of Sustainability.
Registration is free and anyone can join our community. SustainabilityForum.

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118 Communicate the CSR Initiative

Box 6.2 Social Media Overview

Social media are the collection of online technology tools that facili-
tate conversations and communication between people. People can
share text, audio, video, images, podcasts, and any combination
thereof (Safko & Brake, 2009 ). As recently as a few years ago, social
media were more likely to be called consumer – generated content
because stakeholders, not corporations, were creating the online mes-
sages. The tools for social media are too vast to list here, and more
will be added between the time we write this text and it is published.
In this box, we summarize the primary types of social media and offer
a few examples of each. Keep in mind that no categorization system
for social media is perfect and that some social media tools can cross
between categories.

Blogs and micro – blogs are ways people can post their thoughts.
Others can comment on those ideas and share the ideas with others
through links and reposting. Micro – blogs such as Twitter are simply
shorter messages. In the case of Twitter, the limit is 140 characters.
Blogs provide a longer format for the presentation of ideas. Internet
forums are original social media. Forums are known by a variety of
names including discussion groups , discussion boards , and message
boards . An Internet forum is an online location (often called a bulletin
board) where people can post messages and replies to messages. A
conversation can evolve as people keep responding to the same
message – in other words, a thread develops. Internet forums are
constructed around specifi c topic areas. Virtually every topic has an
Internet forum somewhere. Corporations need to identify the Internet
forums relevant to their operations and their CSR issues. Internet
forums provide a place for stakeholders to share and discuss both
information and opinions. Starbucks is one of a number of corpora-
tions that have begun to operate their own Internet forums as a means
of engaging stakeholders with CSR.

Content communities emerge when people converge around some
object of interest. YouTube (video) and Flickr (still images) are promi-
nent content communities. People form communities around the video
or images, including the ability to leave comments about the content. A
corporation may fi nd content communities relevant to their CSR
issues. Moreover, videos or images about a company ’ s CSR, posted by
either employees or external stakeholders, might create a content com-
munity. Most people have heard of social – networking sites such as
Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Bebo (Safko & Brake, 2009 ).

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 119

Social – networking sites can be defi ned as

web – based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or
semi – public profi le within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other
users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse
their list of connections and those made by others within the system.
The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site
to site. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007 )

The unique aspect of social – networking sites is that a person ’ s social
network is exposed to others. The ability to “ see ” the social networks
of others provides an opportunity to make additional connections
that would not have occurred otherwise. The person ’ s profi le is the
core of the social – networking sites. People then link others they know
to their profi les, and the networking begins. Social – networking sites
can offer a variety of applications as well. Many organizations create
a Facebook fan page rather than a profi le. A fan page looks like a
profi le and is designed to help connect an organization with stake-
holders who are interested in them (followers). Fan pages are public
and allow organizations to add a variety of information and to
engage directly in discussions with stakeholders (Mucha, 2009 ). CSR
initiatives and issues are a logical topic that would emerge on a fan
page.

The fi nal category is social bookmarking or aggregators. Social
bookmarks, or aggregators, are used in collections and evaluations of
Internet content that are shared with others. Individuals place tags or
bookmarks on Internet content. The tags have keywords and evalua-
tions that are then aggregated at a social – bookmarking site such as
StumbleUpon or Delicious (formerly Del.icio.us). Other people can
then search through the social bookmarks. Here is how StumbleUpon
describes itself:

StumbleUpon helps you discover and share great websites. As you click
Stumble!, we deliver high – quality pages matched to your personal

preferences. These pages have been explicitly recommended by your
friends or one of 8 million + other websurfers with interests similar to
you. Rating these sites you like ( ) automatically shares them with
like – minded people – and helps you discover great sites your friends
recommend. (StumbleUpon, 2011 )

(Continued)

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120 Communicate the CSR Initiative

Managers can use social – bookmarking or aggregator sites to get a
sense of people ’ s awareness of the organization ’ s CSR efforts and their
reactions to their efforts.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of social media. The
point is to highlight key social media tools that could benefi t CSR
communication. Organizations can use social media to (1) learn what
CSR issues are important to stakeholders (fi nd emerging issues), (2)
determine if stakeholders are aware of CSR initiatives, (3) assess
stakeholder reactions to CSR initiatives, (4) increase awareness of
CSR initiatives, and (5) provide an avenue for stakeholder engage-
ment. The number one priority in social media is listening . Point 1
through 3 all involve listening. Listening to stakeholders helps manag-
ers to understand the stakeholders and their CSR concerns. This CSR
knowledge base provides a foundation for engaging stakeholders and
eventually promoting awareness of CSR initiatives. Part of listening
is learning the proper etiquette for the various social media channels.
Violating the rules of etiquette is another way to create a backlash
against a corporation and its CSR efforts. Social media are about
allowing people to fi nd information they want, not a means of forcing
unwanted information onto stakeholders.

com ’ s mission is to be a resource for Sustainability news, opinion and discus-
sion you can trust. We have do not republish any press releases, we do not
have sponsored articles. . . . Just interesting news, views, discussions and
opinions on how we can make a difference in this world. (SustainabilityForum.
com, n.d. )

If a corporation wants to distribute a CSR – related news release, then the
best online option is CSRwire.com. CSRwire.com positions itself as “ the
world ’ s number one resource for corporate social responsibility news as
well as the hub for an infl uential community that has realized the value and
necessity of Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability ” (CSRwire,
2010 ). It offers news release distribution, archives of CSR reports, CSR
videos, podcasting, and commentary. You can follow them on Twitter or
become a fan on Facebook.

Controlled media do not have to be expensive. Recall that controlled
media are controlled by the corporation. The corporation creates the
message, selects the medium, and distributes the message. Starbucks, for

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 121

instance, has long included simple brochures about their CSR initiatives
at their cafes. They also provide much more extensive information about
their CSR efforts at their website. Websites are low – cost options for pro-
viding detailed CSR information. Corporations frequently provide a section
on their website about CSR, including any CSR or sustainability
reports they produce. For example, Starbucks posts its annual “ Global
Responsibility Reports ” that are available for download as PDF fi les.
Starbucks ’ website also presents information about its CSR actions in great
detail and provides visuals to reinforce the text. A more condensed version
of its “ Global Responsibility Report ” is available online in the form of
their “ Global Responsibility Scorecard. ” Most companies provide attrac-
tive photographs and links to additional information for those interested
in the details of their CSR initiatives. Providing both detailed and abbrevi-
ated descriptions of CSR efforts helps to meet the varying needs and
interests of the readers.

Vodafone is one of many corporations that devotes a specifi c section
of its corporate website to CSR. Recall that chapter 4 on formative research
also presented detailed information about Vodafone ’ s “ Dialogues ” website.
Simply click on the “ Corporate Responsibility ” link on the Vodafone home
page, and you are connected with a wealth of CSR information. The main
topics include “ Our Approach, ” “ Consumer Issues, ” “ Access to
Communication, ” “ Supply Chain, ” “ Our People, ” “ Environment, ” “ Our
Network, ” “ Mobiles, ” “ Masts and Health, ” “ Our Socio – Economic
Impact, ” “ CR Dialogues, ” and “ Publications & FAQs. ” Each of the main
topics provides detailed information about that area. “ Consumer Issues, ”
for example, covers topics that Vodafone feels are important to maintain-
ing consumer trust. Those issues include protection for inappropriate
content, spam, responsible marketing, mobile advertising, clear pricing,
mobile theft, privacy, safe driving, considerate mobile use, consumer cam-
paigns, and product safety (Vodafone, n.d. – e ). We can examine two of
these topics further. “ Clear Pricing ” seeks to increase the clarity and trans-
parency of pricing plans. This includes offering plans that are easy to
understand and are written clearly (Vodafone, n.d. – a ). “ Mobile Theft ”
offers advice on how to prevent mobile phone theft and what to do if
your mobile phone is stolen, and notes the equipment identity registers
(EIRs) that Vodafone uses to immobilize and to block stolen mobile phones
(Vodafone, n.d. – d ).

Some corporations create separate websites focusing on CSR. For
example, Intel has a CSR website, “ [email protected] ” The site is primarily a blog
for its employees. In November 2009, MillerCoors launched a separate
website for CSR under the title “ GreatBeerGreatResponsiblity.com. ” The
site provides detailed information to consumers and other stakeholders

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122 Communicate the CSR Initiative

about MillerCoors CSR initiatives and even invites them to participate in
some CSR efforts. The website divides CSR into three broad categories: (1)
environmental sustainability, (2) alcohol responsibility, and (3) people and
communities. Cornell Boggs, chief responsibility and ethics offi cer at
MillerCoors, noted, “ The new Web site gives us a unique opportunity to
connect with consumers who enjoy our great beers, and would like to learn
more about the responsibility behind those brands ” (MillerCoors, 2009 ).
The “ Environmental Sustainability ” section covers concerns such as water
use, packaging sustainability, energy consumption, and waste reduction
from the production process. “ Alcohol Responsibility ” includes discussions
of drinking and driving, underage drinking (including responsible market-
ing), and drinking on college campuses.

The “ People and Communities ” section discusses the MillerCoors com-
mitment to its employees and the communities in which it operates.
Employee volunteerism has been an established practice developed by Coors
and carried over into MillerCoors. The website states,

We take great pride in contributing to our communities and dedicating our
time to volunteerism. MillerCoors and its employees have a long tradition of
supporting the communities where we live and work. Over the past several
years, employee volunteers have collectively posted more than 60,000 hours
per year. (MillerCoors, n.d. )

MillerCoors asks the stakeholders to get involved as well with a focus on
water conservation and drunk – driving prevention. They provide a section
where people can post messages about what they will do to help. People
can enter messages up to 140 characters à la Twitter, and those messages
are publicly displayed in the “ What Will You Do to Help? ” section of the
“ GreatBeerGreatResponsibility.com ” website.

Employees as a Communication Channel

Morsing et al. (2008) found that effective CSR communication in Denmark
relied upon an “ inside – out approach. ” The inside refers to the employees.
Effective CSR is grounded in employee support. Corporations must secure
employee commitment to CSR concerns, a point we noted earlier in this
book. The research reported that CSR communication refl ected the CSR
concerns that related to employees. The premise is that employees commit-
ted to CSR facilitate trustworthy CSR communication. Employees will
verify messages that external stakeholders hear from the corporation as well
as communicate their own positive messages about the corporation ’ s CSR
initiative.

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 123

Employees (internal stakeholders) often are overlooked in CSR commu-
nication in spite of their importance to the success of a CSR initiative.
Employees provide a vital communication channel for a corporation.
Friends and family often turn to employees as sources of information about
corporations, including CSR efforts. The better informed employees are
about CSR , the more effective they are at communicating about the organi-
zation ’ s CSR activities. We are not implying that employees should be
force – fed the “ company line ” and instructed to repeat it. Rather, employees
should be well informed, and it is up to them to determine when and how
they communicate about CSR to those outside the corporation. Research
indicates that employees are generally underinformed about their corpora-
tion ’ s CSR. As a result, a potentially valuable communication channel to
external stakeholders is lost. Moreover, the opportunities for employees to
feel a greater sense of involvement and identifi cation with the CSR initiative
are overlooked.

Employee blogs, Twitter accounts, and postings to discussion boards
are additional low – cost options for extending the reach of CSR messages.
Employees with blogs and Twitter accounts can be encouraged to include
CSR information in their messages. Again, the corporation provides
information and encourages employee discussion of CSR; they do not
require the employees to mimic the company line. It is advantageous to
have employees who work in CSR to be involved in the social media and
to discuss their activities. Employees responsible for CSR initiatives can
locate relevant online discussions and contribute their own posts. Such
posts should always identify the corporation by name and mention
that the employee ’ s job is related to CSR. This disclosure is simply an
extension of corporate transparency. Employees can provide a valuable
communication channel for CSR if they are well informed on the subject.
Their personal involvement and investment in CSR activities often make
them highly credible and enthusiastic supporters of the initiatives. That is
why employees should be a primary target for CSR communication.
Employees want to know about their corporations, and the risk of a
boomerang effect is minimized. It also is important to regard employees
as receivers of information. Corporations should be interested in employ-
ees ’ formal and informal communication with family members, community
members, and online contacts. Employees can be a valuable source of
information about how those outside the corporation are reacting to the
CSR initiatives.

External Stakeholders as a Communication Channel

External stakeholders can be signifi cant communication assets for address-
ing the CSR promotional communication dilemma. Engagement can help

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124 Communicate the CSR Initiative

to coordinate how stakeholders facilitate information dissemination about
the CSR initiatives. Stakeholders can issue joint statements to the media,
place information about the CSR initiative on their websites, and post
information about the CSR initiative to various social media sites. In this
way, the CSR promotion appears to be driven and delivered by interested
stakeholders rather than the corporation. In addition to avoiding the stigma
of self – promotion, the corporation reaps the benefi ts from the third – party
endorsements and word – of – mouth communication.

Although many stakeholders will spontaneously transmit the informa-
tion, engagement provides a structured approach to help facilitate stake-
holder dissemination of CSR – related information. As with employees,
the point is to avoid a heavy – handed push for the corporate line. Instead,
stakeholders involved in the CSR process have unique insights, and
the corporation can suggest ways of sharing that information with other
stakeholders. The decision of whether or not to communicate and
the nature of that communication still are the provenance of the stakehold-
ers. As with any effective “ viral ” effort, the corporation plants ideas
but does not control if and how they spread. Social media are key com-
ponents to external word of mouth. The growing importance of social
media demands a more thorough analysis of its application to CSR
communication.

Strategic Application of Social Media to CSR Communication

Communicating the corporation ’ s CSR messages in social media can be the
basis for creating an echo. An echo occurs when people pick up the CSR
messages and relay them to others – the online version of word – of – mouth
communication. The CSR messages become viral. Viral efforts allow other
people to transmit a corporation ’ s message just as people transmit real
viruses to others. Essentially, your stakeholders do the communication work
for you. It is important to recognize that people may also contribute their
own interpretations of the messages. However, when others add their own
viewpoints, this may increase perceptions of the authenticity of the mes-
sages. We also should remember that viral efforts are uncontrolled and may
never spread. Some viral efforts never gain traction. Moreover, this does
not mean that every effort to communicate about CSR is or should be some
type of viral campaign. Rather, the use of social media creates the potential
for echoes to emerge.

There are solid theoretical reasons for including social media and hoping
for an echo in CSR communication. Early mass communication researchers
identifi ed the two – step fl ow of communication . Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955)
argued that the mass media ’ s effect on people was through opinion leaders.

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 125

The mass media provide the information. Opinion leaders carefully monitor
the mass media and collect the information. Opinion leaders are an elite
group that others turn to for guidance on particular issues, including poli-
tics and consumer purchases. Different people can be opinion leaders on
different issues. Opinion leaders then share a combination of the informa-
tion from the mass media and their interpretation of the mass media
information with other people. The two steps are (1) mass media to
opinion leaders and (2) opinion leaders to others. The personal infl uence
of the opinion leaders is what helps to create the mass media effect (Okada,
1986 ). The two – step fl ow requires that the opinion leaders be infl uential
in shaping the attitudes and behaviors of those who turn to them for
information and advice.

Although there have been challenges to the value of the two – step fl ow,
it remains viable even today as an explanatory framework. In large
measure, the “ tipping point ” idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell
(2002) is derived from the two – step fl ow model of information diffusion.
Gladwell traces the popularity of some trends, such as Hush Puppy shoes,
to opinion leaders who embrace the trend and spread it to others. Gladwell ’ s
(2002) work relies on the biological metaphor of epidemics that we fi nd
at the root of viral marketing. Burson – Marsteller developed the term
e – fl uential to refer to people who were infl uential (opinion leaders) online
( “ E – Fluentials, ” 2010 ). The e – fl uentials represent about 10% of the US
online adult population. Viral campaigns work online because e – fl uentials
are targeted with the message and then spread it to others. Keller and
Berry (2003) , authors of The Infl uentials , term these power people infl u-
entials . The two – step fl ow concept is at the heart of viral marketing even
today.

Duncan Watts, a network researcher for Yahoo and PhD from Columbia
University, has a different take on how messages spread through the Internet.
Watts has used computer simulations to test the fl ow of ideas among people.
His research concluded that infl uentials, opinion leaders, and e – fl uentials
are not the key. His research found that average people, not infl uentials,
are more often responsible for the echoes that create viral effort success
(Thompson, 2008 ). Watts argues that the people who actually create reso-
nating echoes are random and accidental rather than easy to fi nd and
purposeful. Moreover, trends will only emerge if people (society) are ready
to embrace the trends. The viral effort must have a foundation for success.
This means the viral effort serves to amplify an existing need or concern
rather than create a new one. The power of infl uentials is illusionary
because researchers work backward from a successful viral effort and
thereby impose structure and conclusions about cause and effect that may
be unwarranted.

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126 Communicate the CSR Initiative

Watts and his colleague Johan Peretti (2007) favor the “ big seed ”
approach. They argue that viral campaigns that target infl uentials are small
seed approaches. A few seeds are planted with infl uentials with the hope
they will take root and spread. This is done in part because people believe
only these small seeds can create what they call a cascade where the message
reaches a wide audience. In contrast, the big seed approach argues that a
lot of people (seeds) should be targeted with the initial message. No effort
is made to fi nd the infl uentials; you simply use mass efforts to reach a broad
spectrum of the target audience. Watts and Peretti (2007) believe any indi-
vidual in this mass audience is capable of creating the cascade. You increase
your odds of success if you plant a large number of seeds (the big seed
approach) rather than gamble on a few seeds that are believed to be impor-
tant but probably are no more important than any other seed.

The big seed concept retains the essence of the two – step model. The mass
media are used to deliver a message (step 1). People who receive that
message transmit the message to other people (step 2). The system can
continue to multiply as people keep relaying the message to others. The
echo rate (the number of new people infected by a person) can be low, but
the viral effort can still be successful. Consider the following example. A
big seed campaign targets 2,000 people with an average echo rate of 1. A
total of 2,000 additional people are reached in the fi rst round of infection.
An infl uential campaign targets 100 people with an average echo rate of
10. A total of 1,000 people are reached in the fi rst round of infection. With
the big seed approach, the quantity of new infections relies on the large
initial number of those infected rather than a few infl uentials infecting a
large number of additional people (Watts & Peretti, 2007 ). The argument
for using social media is that they facilitate the ability of people to share
messages. We should note that Watts ’ s big seed approach does not exclude
infl uentials from the mix of seeds. Rather, he sees folly in relying solely on
the infl uentials (Thompson, 2008 ).

It may seem that we have drifted far from our initial point of using social
media to promote CSR efforts. However, the journey through the two – step
fl ow and viral – marketing process provides a rationale for crafting a CSR
social media strategy. With echoes, the CSR communication is carried by
the stakeholders. Hence, social media provide an opportunity to reach
people while appearing low cost and low effort, and using third parties.
Corporations should identify the social media channels to utilize and any
specialized online CSR outlets to target. The corporation can post CSR
information to the corporation ’ s Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as
blogs linked to the corporation. Using the social media is part of the big
seed approach. Fans on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and people reading
the blogs are exposed to the message and can create echoes through retweets,
posts on Facebook, and any other opportunity to share information with

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 127

others such as social bookmarking using del.icio.us or Digg. The online
echoes allow people to add commentary as well. This means there is an
opportunity for people to add personal endorsements to the message. Of
course, those who disagree can add their criticisms of the CSR efforts as
well. Keep in mind that corporations have no control over if or how the
CSR message echoes throughout the Internet.

Watts ’ s (in Thompson, 2008 ) notion that people need to be ready to
embrace a trend for one to develop has valuable insights for CSR
communication. Management must select CSR concerns that have the
potential to be embraced by stakeholders. Engaging stakeholders helps to
determine what CSR concerns will resonate with stakeholders. Watts sup-
plies more evidence that selecting the right CSR concern is more important
than simply being involved in CSR. Moreover, managers may work to
promote a particular CSR concern to reinforce its importance and
relevance to stakeholders. Just promoting a CSR concern and not the
corporation ’ s CSR efforts in that area should avoid a backlash effect.
Promoting a CSR concern in general is more CSR – centric rather than
corporation – centric.

The social media posts can be paired with efforts to target important
CSR online sources. As we discussed earlier in this chapter, CSR International
reports CSR research and organizational actions on its website, through its
listserv newsletters, and in its tweets. Also recall that CSRwire is a com-
monly used source for information about organization CSR efforts. It
would be logical for corporations to use CSRwire to announce signifi cant
CSR actions. Justmeans.com is a site that, for a price, helps corporations
to place their CSR messages on various social networks, track results of the
communication, and create advocates for the corporation.

There are any number of CSR blogs that attract a great deal of atten-
tion as well. Working with CSR bloggers is a long – term investment.
Corporations should resist pitching CSR stories to bloggers. Instead, cor-
porations need to cultivate relationships over time. This involves under-
standing what type of information the blogger really wants, sharing
relevant information with bloggers, and responding to their questions. For
instance, do not send a blogger a modifi ed version of a news release detail-
ing a CSR effort. Instead, send a short message describing the CSR effort
with links for additional information, an email contact address, and the
option to receive future information through RSS. We are simply offering
some options here, not making specifi c recommendations. Refer back to
Box 6.2 for a summary of the key ideas for CSR and social media options.
The social media offer low cost in terms of both price and effort. People
know that online posts cost virtually nothing and do not seem to involve
a great deal of effort. This makes it an ideal vehicle for CSR promotional
communication.

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128 Communicate the CSR Initiative

The Overall CSR Promotional Communication Strategy

Regardless of the communication channels used, the corporation must
develop its overall CSR promotional communication strategy for social
reporting. Managers must decide if its CSR promotional communication
should be annual or more continuous in focus. Some corporations opt for
an annual report that ties CSR promotional communication to the corpo-
rate responsibility or sustainability report. The corporate responsibility
report becomes the focal point of the CSR messaging. Stakeholders should
be aware that the annual report has been released, be exposed to its high-
lights, be encouraged to view the report online, and be asked to provide
feedback on the report. Even an annual approach should include engage-
ment through feedback on the report.

While the corporate responsibility report is a natural anchor for CSR
promotional communication, it does not alter the fact that corporations are
involved with CSR on a continuous basis. Although a corporation may not
have CSR – related news to communicate every day, CSR – related activities
occur continuously throughout the year. Continuous promotional commu-
nication is more robust and should appear as an ongoing conversation with
stakeholders about CSR. Being part of a conversation should engender
greater trust in CSR messages than the occasional statement on the subject.
Corporate websites should be updated frequently to report ongoing activi-
ties. Rather than framing CSR as a once – a – year topic, as is the case in the
annual report approach, the continuous approach demonstrates it is a topic
the corporation contemplates regularly. Again, social media are an excellent
resource in this endeavor. Given the nature of social media, periodic CSR
messages will not appear to overpromote. Stakeholders expect regular blog
entries, tweets, and posts to Facebook. The CSR section of the website or
a stand – alone website provides other valuable communication channels.
Again, stakeholders expect website content to be updated regularly. Using
a combination of social media and websites will not make it appear as
though the corporation is devoting too much time and money on promoting
its CSR initiatives.

Annual Reports and CSR Communication

Many corporations use annual reports to summarize their CSR efforts.
These reports typically are called CSR reports or sustainability reports . The
two names refl ect the growing similarity between CSR and sustainability.
Some corporations use alternative names. For example, as we discussed
earlier, Starbucks calls theirs a “ Global Responsibility Report. ” At present,
there are no standardized requirements for CSR reporting in most countries.

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 129

Corporations are free to present their CSR information as they wish. They
choose what to report about their CSR initiatives as well as how to report
it. Of course, corporations with strong CSR performances are probably
more motivated to disclose information than those that have not had strong
performances.

The concerns surrounding CSR communication have led a growing
number of corporations to adopt a more structured reporting method. Here
we offer two well – known structured reporting frameworks: the Global
Reporting Initiative, which is associated with the UN; and the ISO 26000,
which is affi liated with the International Organization for Standards. These
comprehensive social – reporting methods offer guidance on balanced
reporting.

In 1997, the UN Environmental Program worked with various partners
to create guidelines for the voluntary reporting of a company ’ s economic,
social, and environmental activities. These guidelines are called the Global
Reporting Initiative. GRI is the dominant framework for CSR and sustain-
ability reports globally. It identifi es what to report and how to report it.
The centerpiece of company reports is the performance indicators for sus-
tainability. The performance indicators report the measured effects of the
company in three broad areas: (1) economic, (2) environmental, and (3)
social. The social indicator is further divided into labor practices and decent
work, human rights, society, and product responsibility. Essentially the
performance indicators inventory the key topics that companies must cover
in their CSR reporting. Below are the defi nitions of the three areas and
subcategories that can be used to guide the creation of CSR reports based
on the GRI.

Economic : “ the organization ’ s impacts on the economic conditions of its
stakeholders and on economic systems at local, national, and global levels ”
(Global Reporting Initiative, 2006 , p. 26).

Economic performance
Market presence
Indirect economic impacts

Environmental : “ an organization ’ s impacts on living and non – living natural
systems, including ecosystems, land, air, and water ” (Global Reporting
Initiative, 2006 , p. 27).

Materials
Energy
Emission, effl uents, and waste
Water
Biodiversity
Products and services
Compliance

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130 Communicate the CSR Initiative

Transport
Overall

Social : “ the impacts an organization has on the social systems within which
it operates ” (Global Reporting Initiative, 2006 , p. 29).

Labor practices and decent work
Employment
Labor – management relations
Occupational health and safety
Diversity and equal opportunity
Training and education

Human rights
Investment and procurement practices
Nondiscrimination
Freedom of association and collective bargaining
Child labor
Forced and compulsory labor
Security practices
Indigenous rights

Society
Community
Corruption
Public policy
Anticompetitive behavior
Compliance

Product responsibility
Customer health and safety
Product and service labeling
Marketing and communications
Customer privacy
Compliance

The work of well – known organizations such as the United Nations can
provide a framework for organizing CSR information. For example, in its
“ Global Responsibility Report ” for 2009, Starbucks (2009b) explains it is
a member of the UN Global Compact and that it sees its corporate mission
as consistent with the 10 guiding principles of the compact. The website
lists the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact, identifi es areas of
Starbuck ’ s operations it feels are relevant to each of the principles, and
identifi es areas of its responsibility report that address each operations area.
Clickable links provide opportunities to learn more about how Starbucks
is addressing the issues. For example, principle number 9 of the UN Global
Compact states, “ Businesses should encourage the development and diffu-
sion of environmentally friendly technologies. ” The responsibility report

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 131

then lists four areas of relevance to Starbucks: (1) environment (including
recycling, climate change, energy, water, and green building as subsets of
“ environment ” ), (2) climate change, (3) green store design, and (4) cups.
Each of these categories also includes clickable links where readers can
obtain more information. The report also lists organizations that advise
them on their global responsibility initiatives. For example, Conservation
International is listed with an explanation noting that the organization
advises on issues related to ethical sourcing. The logo for Conservation
International also is clickable and provides additional information about
the organization and its functions.

ISO is the International Organization for Standards and a familiar name
for those in international business. ISO, Greek for “ equal, ” is a name rather
than an acronym. ISO is a nongovernmental organization composed of
national standards institutes from 129 nations. Its role is to create and
publish international standards on a wide array of business concerns. ISO
facilitates international business through standardization. In 2001, ISO
instituted a committee to investigate the possibility of creating standards
for social responsibility. The interest stemmed from the fact that CSR was
increasing in importance globally and stakeholders needed some way to
assess the social integrity of organizations. Working drafts of CSR docu-
ments began circulating in 2005. The 2004 preliminary report noted how
social responsibility is complicated because it means different things to dif-
ferent people. As result, ISO focused not on creating the “ one ” defi nition
of CSR but on identifying the essential characteristics of social responsibility
(International Organization for Standardization [ISO], 2004 ). ISO 26000,
the fi nal draft of international CSR standards, was circulated in 2009 with
a vote ending in 2010. The ISO 26000 standards were then published in
2010 (ISO, 2010a ).

On November 1, 2010, the ISO 26000, providing guidance for social
responsibility, was formally released. Here is the announcement describing
ISO 26000:

ISO 26000 is an ISO International Standard giving guidance on SR. It is
intended for use by organizations of all types, in both public and private
sectors, in developed and developing countries, as well as in economies in
transition. It will assist them in their efforts to operate in the socially respon-
sible manner that society increasingly demands. ISO 26000 contains volun-
tary guidance, not requirements, and therefore is not for use as a certifi cation
standard like ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 14001:2004. (ISO, 2010 )

The report contains information on scope, terms and defi nitions, under-
standing social responsibility, the principles of social responsibility, recog-
nizing social responsibility and engaging stakeholders, guidance on social

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132 Communicate the CSR Initiative

responsibility core subjects, guidance on integrating social responsibility
throughout an organization, and examples of voluntary initiatives and tools
for social responsibility.

ISO 26000 provides another set of international guidelines for CSR, but
it is a voluntary program, not a certifi cation program, and does not include
specifi c requirements. Instead, ISO 26000 attempts to create a common set
of concepts, defi nitions, and methods of evaluation. It recognizes that CSR
is complex and variable from industry to industry and country to country.
As ISO stated, “ There is a range of many different opinions as to the right
approach ranging from strict legislation at one end to complete freedom at
the other ” (ISO, 2010b ). ISO is looking for a golden middle way that pro-
motes respect and responsibility based on known reference documents
without stifl ing creativity and development. ISO 26000 should meet the
demands of stakeholders and corporations interested in social responsibility
reporting.

As with the GRI, ISO 26000 emphasizes engaging stakeholders in CSR.
Section 5 of the ISO 26000 draft is devoted to engaging stakeholders.
Section 6 identifi es the seven core subjects that should be addressed in CSR
efforts: (1) organizational governance, (2) human rights, (3) labor practices,
(4) the environment, (5) fair operating practices, (6) consumer issues, and
(7) community involvement and development (ISO, 2009 ). The seven core
CSR subjects are defi ned below.

Organizational governance: “ the system by which an organization makes
and implements decisions in pursuit of its objectives ” (ISO, 2009 , p. 21).
Human rights: “ the basic rights to which all human beings are entitled
because they are human beings ” (p. 22).
Labor practices: “ encompass all policies and practices relating to work
performed within, by or on behalf of the organization ” (p. 32).
Environment: considers the impacts of an organization ’ s decisions and
behavior on the environment that can include “ the organization ’ s use of
living and non – living resources, the location of the activities of the organiza-
tion, the generation of pollution and waste, and the implications of the
organization ’ s activities, products and services for natural habitats ” (p. 40).
Fair operating practices: these “ concern ethical conduct in an organiza-
tion ’ s dealings with other organizations and individuals ” (p. 46).
Consumer issues: these “ include providing education and accurate infor-
mation, using fair, transparent and helpful marketing [of] information and
contractual processes and promoting sustainable consumption ” (p. 50).
Community involvement and development: seeks to “ enhance the public
good – helps to strengthen civil society ” (p. 58), and “ encompasses support
for and identifi cation within the community ” (p. 59).

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 133

Each of the seven CSR subjects is further delineated by identifying key issues
within each subject. For instance, the environment issues include prevention
and pollution, sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and
adaptation, and protection of the environment and restoration of natural
habitats (ISO, 2009 ).

These two recognized social – reporting frameworks can offer guidance to
corporations that want to develop a method of communicating with stake-
holders about their CSR initiatives. Both GRI and ISO 26000 provide
corporations with ideas of the general content and structure of annual CSR
reports. However, such annual reports are just one aspect of CSR commu-
nication. Managers must decide how the annual reports fi t within their
larger CSR communication efforts.

Conclusion and Critical Questions

Communication often is treated as a simple transmission task of sending
information to people. Managers develop a CSR initiative and then com-
municate it to the stakeholders. Although this view oversimplifi es the com-
munication process, some communication may seem more one – way than
two – way at times. However, no overall communication effort should rely
on the simple transmission of information with no concern for feedback
from those receiving the messages. The stakeholder engagement process
remains valuable for soliciting reactions to CSR – related information pro-
vided through controlled and uncontrolled media.

We have identifi ed a series of questions that managers should consider
when developing their CSR communication efforts. In the next chapter on
evaluation and feedback, we elaborate on how stakeholders should be
involved throughout this communication process.

Critical Questions for Communicating
the CSR Initiative

Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

Which internal and external stakeholders should
be targeted?

X X

How should the CSR message be communicated
to internal stakeholders (employees)?

X

How should the CSR message be communicated
to external stakeholders?

X X

Which communication channels should be used to
reach internal stakeholders?

X

Which communication channels should be used to
reach external stakeholders?

X X

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134 Communicate the CSR Initiative

Critical Questions for Communicating
the CSR Initiative

Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

What steps can be taken to prevent a backlash
from overpromotion?

X

How could early feedback systems be used to
help adjust the CSR communication effort,
including detection of a backlash?

X X

Will the communication effort be report driven or
more regular in its presentation?

X X

What is the potential for creating a partnership
between the corporation and stakeholders?

X X

What potential exists for using social media to
communicate the CSR concern?

X

What potential exists for direct third – party
endorsements?

X

What potential exists for indirect third – party
endorsements?

X

The starting point is deciding which internal and external stakeholders
should receive the messages. Identifying the targets guides the presentation
of the CSR messages and the selection of communication channels.
Combined, the targets, messages, and channels provide the raw materials
for the CSR communication plan. Internal stakeholders should be an early
target because they can then serve as an additional channel for communicat-
ing the CSR initiative to external stakeholders. A critical concern is a
backlash whereby the communication about the CSR initiative creates harm
rather than good. As noted earlier, a variety of actions can be taken to
reduce the likelihood of a backlash, including reliance on online channels
to reduce the appearance of overpromoting the CSR initiative. It is impor-
tant to detect any early signs of a backlash and general reactions to the
CSR communication effort in order to make necessary corrections to the
communication plan. We began the discussion of backlash with the fi nal
selection of a CSR initiative because some stakeholders will be aware of the
choice at that stage of the CSR process. However, many stakeholders will
not learn about the selection of a CSR initiative until it is announced
through the CSR communication. Again, managers should prepare mes-
sages designed for coping with negative stakeholder reactions to a CSR
initiative.

Finally, managers must decide if the CSR initiative communication will
be driven by an annual CSR report or a regular exchange of CSR informa-
tion with stakeholders. Stakeholders have a vested interest in who is tar-
geted, messaging, channel selection, and feedback on the CSR initiative.

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Communicate the CSR Initiative 135

Stakeholders want accurate information from the messages, and feedback
provides additional infl uence over the CSR process. At present, there are
no standardized requirements for CSR reporting. Companies are free to
present their CSR information as they wish. They choose what to report
about their CSR initiatives as well as how to report it. Careful attention
should be devoted to CSR communication because of its role in the overall
strategic process.

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REVIEW

Creating value through
responsible business

Corporate Citizenship

Novartis, a major pharmaceutical
company headquartered in
Switzerland, describes four pillars
of citizenship: patients, people
and community, environment, and
ethical business conduct. Courtesy
of Novartis International AG,
Basel, Switzerland

BBC CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY
REPORT 2010

For more information, see www.bbc.co.uk/outreach

Image © Chris Christodoulou

The BBC (British Broadcasting
Corporation) is the world ’ s largest
broadcaster. It provides public
service broadcasting all over the
world via television, online, and
radio. Courtesy of BBC

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7

Evaluation and Feedback

Ultimately, CSR initiatives are about creating change. Effective CSR initia-
tives should have positive effects on both society and the corporation. CSR
is designed to benefi t society, and corporate benefi ts help to justify CSR
expenditures. Once the CSR initiative is operational, its effects can be evalu-
ated. Evaluation is predicated on having measurable objectives. Data are

Scan and
monitor

Formative
research

Create
CSR

initiative

Communicate
CSR initiative

Evaluation
and

feedback

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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138 Evaluation and Feedback

collected and used to determine whether or not the CSR initiative reached
its stated outcome objectives. Feedback from stakeholders is useful as well
because it can provide insights into refi ning the CSR initiative and the
overall CSR process. Evaluation is the formal process of assessing the
success of the CSR initiative. In contrast, feedback focuses on stakeholders.
The corporation collects stakeholder reactions to the CSR initiatives, the
CSR process, and the effectiveness of CSR communication. This chapter
explores the utility of evaluation and feedback in the CSR process and how
this fi fth stage naturally segues into the fi rst stage of the CSR process, scan-
ning and monitoring.

Evaluation

Evaluation and feedback comprise the fi fth stage of the CSR process. It
would be misleading to call evaluation and feedback the “ fi nal ” step.
The evaluation and feedback processes fl ow naturally into scanning and
monitoring processes because feedback really is a form of monitoring.
The corporation, working with stakeholders (perhaps including third
parties), should assess whether or not the stated objectives were achieved
(evaluation). Ideally, the objectives include the desired effects of the
CSR initiative on the corporation and the effects on society and stake-
holders. Too often, corporations report how the CSR initiative benefi ts
them and provide no information about how it might have affected the
stakeholders it was designed to help (Blowfi eld, 2007 ; Smith, 2003 ).
This makes the CSR initiative look self – serving, a point we discussed
in conjunction with the CSR promotional communication dilemma in
chapter 6 .

A focal point in evaluation is whether or not the CSR initiative ’ s objec-
tives have been achieved. Managers must avoid the mistake of developing
assessments that refl ect only corporate concerns such as reputational ben-
efi ts. Doing so would only confi rm stakeholders ’ fears about exclusion
from the full CSR process. The engagement process may appear fraudulent
when stakeholder concerns are omitted. Stakeholders may have questions
about the veracity of the evaluation data when they are neglected in this
process.

As noted in chapter 5 on creating the CSR initiative, process objectives
and outcome objectives are commonly confused. For evaluative purposes,
processes and outcomes are very different. CSR and sustainability reports
lean heavily toward reporting what corporations have done (process) rather
than emphasizing the effects or impacts of those actions (outcomes). Recall

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Evaluation and Feedback 139

that process objectives track what is done during the communication
process, while outcome objectives are used to assess the effectiveness
(success or failure) of the communication process (Coombs, 2005 ). Although
it is important to document and report process objectives because stake-
holders need to know what actions are being taken, true evaluation demands
assessment of outcome objectives.

Let ’ s explore further the distinction between process and outcome objec-
tives. Recall that the importance of objectives and the difference between
process and outcome objectives were introduced in chapter 5 . Process
objectives simply describe the CSR activities. Sometimes corporations
report only process objectives in an attempt to appear transparent.
However, these reports are misleading because actions themselves are not
a substitute for measurable effects. Consider these sample objectives from
ING ’ s 2009 corporate sustainability report: (1) 15% of the ING manage-
ment council will be women, (2) 25% of the business units will set targets
for electricity and paper use, and (3) ING will develop a program to
stimulate sustainable entrepreneurship (ING, 2010 ). Of these three, only
the fi rst objective is a true outcome objective that is measurable. However,
even that objective does not develop the societal impact of altering the
gender composition of the management council. The effects can be dis-
cussed in accompanying text, but that is not the same as providing meas-
ured progress on the societal effects. The more signifi cant information
about the results of CSR initiatives comes from the evaluation of outcome
objectives.

Outcome objectives assess the specifi c results of the actions that were
taken. What happened as a result of these CSR initiatives? Although meas-
urements of effectiveness can be diffi cult to conduct, they are a necessary
component of evaluation. Reporting outcome objectives indicates the extent
to which the CSR initiatives were effective and for whom. Did the changes
implemented produce the targeted reductions in emissions? How much
paper was saved by making all documents electronic? What were the cost
savings from installing energy – effi cient lighting? How did regular inspec-
tions of production facilities reduce the number of labor violations reported
in an Indonesian factory? How many children in the target population
received free vaccines? Outcome objectives should provide specifi c data
about how the CSR initiative affected society. Reporting outcome objectives
also helps the corporation determine its return on CSR investments. This
could provide important information for fi nancial stakeholders who are
cautious about embracing CSR.

Of course, a potential danger in reporting outcome objectives is that
they reveal the “ truth ” about CSR performance. Corporations should have
hard data for evaluation purposes. They certainly rely on hard data to

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140 Evaluation and Feedback

evaluate other aspects of business performance. But CSR initiatives may
be labeled by some stakeholders or corporations as failures if they do not
reach their specifi ed targets. The corporation may be reluctant to report
its CSR shortcomings. When evaluation data fail to support the value of
a particular initiative, that initiative needs to be reviewed and perhaps
reformulated. Why should a corporation continue to invest resources when
desired outcomes are not achieved? The engagement process may help to
identify alternatives or encourage reconsideration of ideas that were previ-
ously rejected. In addition, it may be the case that a short – term outcome
objective has fallen short of expectations. But a long – term outcome objec-
tive might be reached if the corporation remains committed to pursuing
the initiative. Failure to reach objectives can be demoralizing for those
involved in the initiatives and engagement process. Regardless of what the
data reveal, collecting and evaluating data on outcome objectives are good
ideas. They contribute to transparency and can lead to a realistic appraisal
of progress on CSR initiatives.

At http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/learn – more/goals – and – progress ,
readers interested in Starbuck ’ s “ Global Responsibility ” reports can
download them in PDF format or view specifi c portions of them. In addi-
tion, readers can click on the “ Global Responsibility Scorecard ” to view
an abbreviated version of the report. In 2009, the “ Scorecard ” presented
the corporation ’ s goals, progress, and specifi c statistics related to their
Shared Planet goals. The scorecard also provided an evaluation of
Starbuck ’ s progress toward the goals. Each goal statement appears in a
row followed by a description of the progress toward that goal using these
labels: “ achieved, ” “ on track, ” or “ needs improvement. ” A more precise
description of the progress is offered along with statistics and graphic
displays to help readers visualize the level of progress toward the goal.
For long – term goals (e.g., goals that set a time frame for achievement,
such as doubling farmer loans by 2015), the “ on track ” designation sig-
naled that Starbucks ’ efforts are likely to meet that future – oriented goal.
Another long – term goal, mobilizing employees and customers to contribute
more than 1 million hours of community service per year by 2015, was
evaluated as “ needs improvement ” because service hours actually decreased
by 24% in 2009 compared to 2008. Some goals such as doubling
purchases of FairTrade – certifi ed coffee in 2009 were evaluated as “ achieved ”
to indicate the specifi c outcome objective was reached because purchases
increased from 19 million pounds in 2008 to 39 million pounds in
2009 (Starbucks, 2009a ). Starbucks reports indicate transparency of
outcome objectives and progress toward those objectives. They move
beyond merely reporting process objectives and provide specifi c data
and useful visuals to support their claims of progress in their CSR
initiatives.

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Evaluation and Feedback 141

Assurance and CSR Evaluation

When corporations themselves present the data and information about
objectives, it raises the question of assurance. Assurance is an established
process in accounting. It involves having an outside, independent third
party review and verify the information and communication that a corpo-
ration is providing to its stakeholders, including government offi cials. The
assurance statement presents in writing the verifi cation from the third – party
source. There are a number of international requirements for the assurance
of fi nancial information. Clearly, CSR outcome evaluation data would
benefi t from assurance. However, there is no mandatory international code
governing assurance of CSR. That does not mean you will not encounter
CSR assurance statements. In fact, CSR assurance is considered a growth
industry (Scott, 2008 ). The growth is much faster in Europe than in the
United States. Around 30% of European reports contain assurance state-
ments compared to only 7% in the United States. Assurance is discussed
in connection with annual reports that provide data about the corpora-
tion ’ s fi nancial performance. In 2008, around 3,000 CSR reports were
published globally and about 750 included an external assurance
statement.

If there is no set standard, what guides CSR assurance? CSR assurance
draws from two sources that address the principles of independence
of assurance with a focus on CSR: AA100AS and the International
Standard on Assurance Engagements (ISAE 100). The AA1000AS describes
itself as

unique as it requires the assurance provider to evaluate the extent of adher-
ence to a set of principles rather than simply assessing the reliability of the
data. AA1000AS (2008) requires the assurance provider to look at underlying
management approaches, systems and processes and how stakeholders have
participated. Using AA1000AS, the assurance provider evaluates the nature
and extent to which an organisation adheres to the AccountAbility Principles.
(AccountAbility, 2008 )

ISAE 100 claims it

was designed to provide a basic framework for large scale audits concerned
with non – fi nancial data process monitoring. These types of audits include
environmental, social and sustainability reports; auditing of information
systems, internal control, and corporate governance processes; and compli-
ance audits for grant conditions, contracts and regulations. (IHS, 2008 )

There is no one, accepted code, but there are some shared guidelines for
CSR assurance.

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142 Evaluation and Feedback

Who conducts CSR assurance? A variety of actors supply CSR assurance.
The dominant providers are major accounting fi rms, certifi cation organiza-
tions, and specialized CSR consultancies (Scott, 2008 ). The belief is that
the CSR assurance will increase the credibility of the CSR reports by verify-
ing the data and, in some cases, the processes related to CSR. Assurance is
a formalized third – party endorsement. In most countries, CSR reporting,
including assessment of objectives, is still voluntary. Assurance adds an
additional level of confi dence to stakeholders who are reading and evaluat-
ing unregulated statements that corporations are making about the evalu-
ation of their CSR efforts. Some verifi cation from an independent, third – party
source can enhance the believability of outcome evaluations provided in
CSR or sustainability reports and other CSR messaging. Box 7.1 presents
a sample assurance statement from the Musgrave Group ’ s 2006 sustainabil-
ity report.

Stakeholder Engagement in the Evaluation Process

Corporations and stakeholders should collaborate in deciding how to assess
the objectives and report the results. Failure to engage stakeholders in the
assessment and reporting process could taint the legitimacy of the CSR
effort. Remember that stakeholders must remain relevant throughout the
CSR process. Evaluation is very communication oriented because data must
be collected, interpreted, and reported. Stakeholders can assist the collection
and evaluation of data and/or help to verify the data collected by the cor-
poration. Stakeholders must believe the evaluative data are credible, and
continued stakeholder involvement in the data collection contributes to
its credibility. To bolster confi dence in the results, third – party sources can
verify the results and/or conduct the evaluative research, and/or stakehold-
ers can be involved in the evaluation process. Involving stakeholders in
the evaluation process increases the transparency of the evaluation of
objectives.

It is possible that stakeholders and corporations may differ in their
interpretation of the meaning of objectives. For example, it may be the case
that stakeholders are satisfi ed with the accomplishment of process objec-
tives even though the corporation is disappointed with the initiative ’ s failure
to reach particular outcome objectives. For stakeholders, the fact that the
corporation engaged in some action like giving employees time off from
work to volunteer at a local food bank may be more important than the
fact that the specifi c target number of employees who participated during
the specifi ed time frame did not reach the corporation ’ s outcome objective.
Along the same lines, stakeholders may be relatively uninterested in a
corporation ’ s return on investment (ROI). But the ROI does matter to

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Evaluation and Feedback 143

Box 7.1 Musgrave Group Assurance
Statement 2006

Independent Assurance Statement

Scope and Objectives

Musgrave Group (Musgrave) commissioned csrnetwork to undertake
a limited assurance engagement over the information and data within
the printed version of the Musgrave 2006 Sustainability Report ( ‘ the
Report ’ ). The objectives of the assurance process were to check claims
and the systems for collection of data, and to review the arrangements
for the management and reporting of sustainability issues. The assur-
ance process was conducted in accordance with the AA1000 Assurance
Standard, and we have commented on the report against the princi-
ples of materiality, completeness and responsiveness. A review of
Musgrave ’ s performance against the UN Global Compact Principles
was not included in the scope of our work. Any fi nancial information
contained within the reports is excluded from the scope of this assur-
ance process.

Responsibilities of the Directors of Musgrave and
the Assurance Providers

The directors of Musgrave have sole responsibility for the preparation
of the Report. In performing our assurance activities, our responsibil-
ity is to the management of Musgrave, however our statement repre-
sents our independent opinion and is intended to inform all Musgrave
stakeholders including the management of Musgrave. We were not
involved in the preparation of any part of the Report. We have no
other contract with Musgrave. This is the third time that we have
acted as independent assurance providers for Musgrave. We adopt a
balanced approach towards all Musgrave stakeholders and a
Statement of Impartiality relating to our contract with Musgrave will
be made available on request. The opinion expressed in this assurance
statement should not be relied upon as the basis for any fi nancial or
investment decisions. The independent assurance team for this con-
tract with Musgrave comprised Mark Line and Jon Woodhead.
Further information, including a statement of competencies relating
to the team can be found at: www.csrnetwork.com .

(Continued)

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144 Evaluation and Feedback

Basis of Our Opinion

Our work was designed to gather evidence to obtain a limited level
of assurance on which to base our conclusions. We undertook the
following activities:

• We conducted interviews with a selection of directors and senior
managers responsible for areas of management and stakeholder
relationships covered by the Report. The objective of these discus-
sions was to understand Musgrave ’ s governance arrangements and
management priorities;

• We discussed Musgrave ’ s approach to stakeholder engagement
with relevant managers, although we undertook no direct engage-
ment with stakeholders (other than employees and management)
to test the fi ndings from these discussions;

• We conducted a top level review of issues raised by external parties
that could be relevant to Musgrave ’ s policies to provide a check
on the appropriateness of statements made in the report;

• Subject to the exclusions set out below, we reviewed data collated
at the corporate level for accuracy and completeness, and
against claims made in the Report. This process included a review
of the systems and processes for data collection and analysis.
Specifi c data were checked for consistency against these systems
and processes. The scope of our work did not include visits to
operational sites. Selected performance data at site and Divisional
level were reviewed as part of our review of consolidated corpo-
rate data.

• We undertook an assessment of the company ’ s reporting and man-
agement processes against the principles of materiality, complete-
ness and responsiveness as described in the AA1000 Assurance
Standard.

• We reviewed the Report against the Global Reporting Initiative
(GRI) 2006 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (Draft), including
application of the principles and use of indicators.

Observations

Materiality – has Musgrave provided information on material
issues to enable stakeholders to make informed judgements?

• With the exception of the issues noted below, the Report includes
information on Musgrave ’ s main sustainability performance issues

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Evaluation and Feedback 145

and should enable stakeholders to make informed judgements. For
the fi rst time this year, the results of stakeholder engagement have
been systematically analysed to assist in determining the contents
or focus for reporting.

Source : Musgrave Group (2006) .

managers. The possibility of different perceptions of “ success ” and “ failure ”
highlights the need for communication between stakeholders and the cor-
poration. The objectives and progress toward those objectives should be
documented and reported. But the meaning of the outcomes may differ for
stakeholders and the corporation.

Considering Return on Investment

Return on investment is an important corporate concept for judging success.
ROI is a way of assessing the value of corporate spending. Box 7.2 presents
a commonly used ROI formula. ROI works well when all of the factors
can be expressed in monetary amounts. Suppose a corporation invests
$500,000 in a project over four years. The project results in returns of $3.5
million over the four years. The ROI over the four period years is 86%.
The ROI calculation is heavily dependent on what counts as costs and what
counts as returns. For CSR, costs and returns can be diffi cult to defi ne and
to assess.

Corporations treat CSR costs as the costs to the corporation for the CSR
initiative. Should those costs include contributions from stakeholders?
Stakeholders often supply their time and efforts. How do you quantify
stakeholder costs? Would stakeholder costs be added to and subtracted

Box 7.2 Basic ROI Formula

Return on Investment
Gain from Investment Cost of Investm

=
−( eent

Cost of Investment
)

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146 Evaluation and Feedback

from the corporate costs when calculating ROI? You could argue that the
stakeholders are underwriting the corporate costs to a degree and therefore
they should be subtracted. Or you could argue that the stakeholder costs
are part of the total cost of the CSR initiative.

Costs are simple compared to returns. Corporations are looking at
returns to assess the validity of the business argument for CSR. Returns are
defi ned in terms of fi nancial gains and reputational gains. Reputational
gains are harder to quantify but corporations do recognize and attempt to
assess this valuable symbolic asset. A common ROI for CSR includes the
amount of money a corporation has saved from sustainability efforts. In
spite of the fact that CSR initiatives are supposed to benefi t society, the
return for society is often neglected by corporations. What are the societal
returns? Frequently a return is the end of some societal harm such as child
labor. How do you quantify that return? We can list that child laborers
have been removed from the corporation ’ s supply chain but the societal
value reaches beyond those numbers. It is diffi cult to place a price on having
just one less child laborer in the supply chain. Is it enough to specify
progress toward social improvement as a return? Can we really place a
monetary value on that? As this discussion illustrates, determining ROI can
be challenging.

Feedback

Feedback can be independent of evaluation. Feedback involves assessing
stakeholder reactions to the CSR initiative as well as to the engagement
process in which they participated. Managers need to hear both positive
and negative feedback from stakeholders about their reactions to the cor-
poration ’ s efforts. Furthermore, employees should be among the stakehold-
ers solicited for feedback. Stakeholders have an interest in all but the
corporate objectives and perhaps the communication audit questions.
Stakeholders want to make sure their views on the CSR initiative are heard
and will be taken into account by management. Do stakeholders feel the
CSR initiative is effective? How well do they believe it addresses the social
concern? Do they feel it does enough? What additional information about
the initiative would they like to see reported? What might be done in the
future to improve the CSR initiative? Could additional elements be added
to improve the implementation or assessment of the initiative? Were there
any unintended consequences from the CSR initiative? What else could the
corporation be doing to help society?

It is important to note that the corporation ’ s efforts to solicit feedback
from stakeholders return the CSR process to the scanning and monitoring

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Evaluation and Feedback 147

stage discussed in chapter 3 . CSR is a continuous process, much like quality
improvement processes. There always will be more that a corporation can
learn and could do. Stakeholder reactions to the CSR initiative provide
valuable insights and connect directly to monitoring.

Feedback from Stakeholders on the CSR Process

The CSR process is designed to identify what a corporation can reasonably
do by working with stakeholders on the development of CSR initiatives.
We can separate CSR process evaluations into two cases: (1) when no action
is taken by the corporation and (2) when a new CSR initiative is imple-
mented. It is possible that through engagement, CSR ideas are discussed
but are not translated into corporate action. In the fi rst case, the corpora-
tion must gauge how stakeholders are reacting to the decision not to pursue
the CSR issue. Engagement permits direct discussion with stakeholders
about the lack of action. In addition, other data – gathering techniques such
as surveys, statements in the news media, and statements posted online can
be used to collect feedback from stakeholders. When corporations decide
not to take action, they need to understand the overall sense of the reaction:
will stakeholders be quiescent (accept it) or take action against the corpora-
tion (engage in stakeholder churn)? When stakeholders feel like the engage-
ment process was genuinely two – way, they may be less likely to be surprised
by any corporate decision. Important questions to consider include the
following:

• Are stakeholders angry enough to take action against the corporation?
• Do stakeholders accept the corporation ’ s justifi cation for not taking

action at this time?
• Do stakeholders want to restart engagement on the CSR concern?

Answers to these questions will dictate what actions the corporation must
now pursue in relation to the particular CSR concern. Stakeholder reactions
to CSR initiatives can provide information for refi ning the efforts. In essence,
the feedback transitions the CSR process back to scanning and monitoring.
It would be useful to know if stakeholders felt the CSR initiative was suf-
fi cient and effective, in addition to knowing what else stakeholders might
like to see done to address the CSR concern.

In the second case where a CSR initiative is implemented, feedback
about the process is needed as well. How satisfi ed are they with the engage-
ment process? Corporations also can solicit feedback from stakeholders
about the initiative itself. Important questions to consider include the
following:

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148 Evaluation and Feedback

• How satisfi ed are they with the outcome?
• What additional issues remain unresolved with this CSR concern?
• What else might be done?

By improving the overall CSR process, the corporation can increase the
effectiveness of its CSR initiatives and stakeholder satisfaction with those
initiatives. A critical concern for feedback is that the CSR process as a whole
is viewed as just. As discussed in chapter 5 , perceptions of organizational
justice are central to stakeholder satisfaction with the engagement process.
Feedback may signal that future engagement efforts must be modifi ed to
enhance perceptions of justice.

The Communication Audit

Finally, corporations might want to execute a communication audit for
the CSR initiative. Corporations could survey stakeholders concerning: (1)
their knowledge of the CSR initiative, (2) how they learned about the
CSR initiative (communication channels), and (3) their preferred channels
for CSR information. The communication audit could be executed
along with any surveys that assess reactions to the CSR initiative. The
audit data would help improve future CSR communication. The corpora-
tion would be able to determine what information reached stakeholders
and the utility of various channels that could be used for CSR communi-
cation. A CSR communication audit can indicate strengths and weaknesses
in the CSR communication plan. For example, it may reveal that
social media were highly effective for reaching stakeholders but failed to
provide the specifi city they wanted or that stakeholders preferred receiving
CSR information from uncontrolled media compared to controlled media.
Managers can build on the strengths and look to correct the weaknesses
in future communication about CSR initiatives. The information obtained
from a communication audit is likely to be of greater interest to the cor-
poration than to stakeholders. However, there is no reason why the audit
information cannot be shared with stakeholders who are interested in the
results.

Conclusion and Critical Questions

After the CSR initiative is in full operation, it is time to assess whether or
not it met the stated objectives. Evaluation refers to the formal process of
assessing the success of the CSR initiative. In contrast, feedback involves
soliciting stakeholder reactions to the CSR initiatives rather than the assess-
ment of outcome objectives.

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Critical Questions for Evaluation and Feedback Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

What evidence is there to support that the
CSR initiative met stakeholder outcome
objectives?

X X

What evidence is there to support that the CSR
initiative met the corporation ’ s outcome
objectives?

X

What evidence is there to support that the
CSR initiative met stakeholder process
objectives?

X X

What evidence is there to support that the CSR
initiative met the corporation ’ s process
objectives?

X

What type of assurance was provided for the
outcome objective evaluation?

X X

Is there a need for third – party verifi cation of the
CSR evaluation?

X X

Which stakeholders should be involved in the
evaluation process?

X X

What role do stakeholders play in the
evaluation process?

X X

Do stakeholders feel the CSR initiative
has suffi ciently addressed the CSR
concern?

X X

Do stakeholders feel the CSR initiative is
effective?

X X

What might be done to improve the CSR
initiative?

X X

Do stakeholders feel the overall CSR process
was just?

X X

Do stakeholders accept the corporation ’ s
justifi cation for not acting on a specifi c CSR
concern?

X X

Is a CSR communication audit warranted? X

Were there any unintended consequences from
the CSR initiative?

X X

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150 Evaluation and Feedback

Critical Questions for Evaluation and Feedback Relevant Parties

Corporation Stakeholders

Do stakeholders want to restart engagement on
a neglected CSR concern?

X X

Are stakeholders angry enough to take action
against the corporation for neglecting a CSR
concern?

X X

What is the ROI on the CSR initiative for the
corporation?

X

A focal point in evaluation is whether or not the CSR initiative ’ s
objectives have been achieved. The objectives include those that concern
the stakeholders and the corporation. Admittedly, some objectives may
be more important to the corporation than to stakeholders, and vice versa.
Managers must avoid the mistake of developing assessments that refl ect
only corporate concerns because doing so would only confi rm stakehold-
ers ’ fears about exclusion from the full CSR process. Sometimes corpora-
tions report only process objectives in an attempt to appear transparent
and appease stakeholders. However, the more signifi cant information
about the results of CSR initiatives is provided by analyses of outcome
objectives. Outcome objectives assess the specifi c results of the actions
that were taken. What happened as a result of these CSR initiatives?
Reporting outcome objectives can indicate the extent to which the
CSR initiatives were effective and effective for whom. Although measure-
ments of effectiveness can be diffi cult to conduct, they are a necessary
component of evaluation. Reporting outcome objectives also helps the cor-
poration determine its return on CSR investments. This could provide impor-
tant information for fi nancial stakeholders who were cautious about embracing
CSR. In addition, managers should consider what the ROI is for society.
Although return on investment can be diffi cult to assess, especially in the case
of less tangible benefi ts for society, it is a necessary element in the evaluation
process.

General feedback from stakeholders about the CSR initiative is
valuable as well. Stakeholder reactions to CSR initiatives can provide infor-
mation for refi ning to the efforts. In essence, the feedback transitions the
CSR process back to scanning and monitoring. It would be useful to
know if stakeholders felt the CSR initiative was suffi cient and effective in
addition to knowing what else stakeholders might like to see done to
address the CSR concern. Future efforts might require changes to the
process to increase perceptions of justice. Similarly, a CSR communication
audit can indicate strengths and weaknesses in the CSR communication

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Evaluation and Feedback 151

plan that can be addressed in the next iteration. Managers can build on
the strengths and look to correcting the weaknesses in future CSR
initiatives.

The potential negative effects of the CSR initiative must be considered.
Carefully review the situation to determine if there were any unintended
consequences from the CSR initiative. One serious unintended consequence
could arise if certain stakeholders become angry enough to engage
in churn. One reason for anger could be the corporation ’ s failure to
address the stakeholders ’ concerns. That is why it is helpful to assess reac-
tions to the rationale the corporation provided for not taking action on a
particular CSR concern. Stakeholders want to make sure their views on
the CSR initiative are heard and will be taken into account by
management.

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8

CSR Issues

CSR can benefi t both society and corporations. However, we must be aware
of the word can . CSR initiatives also might result in no benefi ts to society,
simply hide a social ill, or produce no benefi ts for the corporation. CSR is
not a panacea for environmental and social problems, nor is it an invest-
ment with guaranteed returns for corporations. CSR has the potential to
reduce harmful environmental and social concerns. Corporations may try
to alleviate problems they have created or simply help to address broader
social and environmental concerns that require attention. CSR efforts must
be properly evaluated to determine whether or not they are helping to make
the world a better place. We must know if the CSR initiative is simply some
form of “ washing ” that gives the illusion of addressing a societal concern
or if noneconomic stakeholders experience a tangible benefi t from the
efforts. We cannot assume that just because a CSR initiative is implemented
it produces the promised societal benefi ts. Moreover, corporations cannot
assume that engaging in CSR initiatives will produce the many business
benefi ts often associated with CSR. The type of CSR effort undertaken, how
it is enacted, and how it is communicated to stakeholders all have signifi cant
effects on whether or not a corporation realizes positive returns on its CSR
investments.

It is easy to become cynical about CSR in general when some CSR initia-
tives are revealed as washing or serve to hide rather than to address a social
problem. Managers also can become cynical if they believe that CSR may
be just another fad that promises amazing returns on investments yet yields
nothing. But cynicism should be resisted because it is equally easy to fi nd

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, First Edition.
W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay.
© 2012 W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. Published 2012 by Blackwell
Publishing Ltd.

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154 CSR Issues

examples of where CSR initiatives are improving stakeholders ’ lives whilst
benefi ting the corporation engaging in the CSR efforts. Both stakeholders
and managers should bring a healthy skepticism, not cynicism, to their
involvement with CSR. But CSR should not be mindlessly embraced in a
Pollyannaish fashion. Although CSR has an attractive public side, it can
have a dark, seedy undercurrent as well. Stakeholders and managers should
bring tempered optimism to CSR initiatives by maintaining a dose of skepti-
cism and considering both the good and bad qualities of a CSR initiative.
We have tried to raise awareness of CSR ’ s positives and negatives for stake-
holders and corporations throughout this book. We believe in the potential
value of CSR but are not blind to the pitfalls it may entail.

Chapters 3 through 7 examined specifi c tasks and challenges related to
each of the fi ve phases in the CSR Process Model. In this chapter, we con-
sider the bigger issues that managers need to consider. These issues are not
confi ned to one phase of the CSR process but are salient to the CSR process
as a whole. At various points in this book, we have touched upon these
issues, but we include them here because of their importance to the overall
CSR process. We have divided the issues into overarching concerns, respon-
sibility for CSR, and limitations stemming from industry, law, and culture.

Overarching Concerns for CSR Initiatives

There are three overarching concerns that managers must consider when
deciding to become involved in the CSR process. A failure to address these
three issues is likely to doom a CSR program to failure. The fi rst issue is
the need to align stakeholder concerns with the strategic concerns of the
corporation. To be effective, a CSR initiative must simultaneously be salient
to stakeholders and support the corporation ’ s business strategy. Admittedly,
this is a pragmatic view of CSR. The effectiveness of a CSR initiative is
defi ned in terms of benefi ts to both stakeholders and corporations. Some
claim that corporations should “ do the right thing ” to improve society and
not worry about the return on investment. A small number of CSR initia-
tives may fall into the purely altruistic category. However, the vast majority
of CSR initiatives involve corporations reaping some benefi t as well. As
noted previously, those benefi ts might include improved employee morale,
a more favorable reputation, increased sales, or reduced operating costs.
CSR is more effective for corporations when it is integrated into their busi-
ness strategies. Still, the CSR initiative must capture the concerns of stake-
holders too. If a CSR initiative is not salient to stakeholders, it will be
ignored by stakeholders and produce no benefi t to the corporation.

The second issue is the need for tangible gains for stakeholders ’ concerns,
not symbolic actions that simply appear to make the world a better place.

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CSR Issues 155

Throughout this book, we have repeatedly noted the danger of CSR – washing
– giving the illusion of addressing environmental or social concerns when
no substantive actions are taken or benefi ts are accrued. Any CSR initiative
must demonstrate it actually makes a positive difference for stakeholders.
If a CSR initiative claims to help protect indigenous rights, management
should provide tangible evidence that it delivers on that promise.
Corporations should report the outcomes produced through the CSR initia-
tives, even if those outcomes are less positive than anticipated. Ultimately,
CSR initiatives need to be judged on their results, not their promises or
appearances.

The third issue pertains to the importance of perceived justice in the CSR
process. The term perceived is used because justice is perceptual rather than
an absolute that is easy to measure. In essence, justice is about keeping the
CSR process honest and transparent. Stakeholders should know how and
why the corporation selected the CSR initiative and why other CSR con-
cerns were not selected. Stakeholder engagement is a form of dialogue that
offers signifi cant contributions to perceptions of justice. Through engage-
ment, stakeholders contribute to the decision – making process and under-
stand how decisions are made. If that process is consistent and fair,
stakeholders will perceive procedural justice surrounding the CSR process.
Even formerly hostile stakeholders will accept decisions as just when they
feel the decision – making process is fair (Jahansoozi, 2006, 2007 ). Moreover,
how managers communicate with stakeholders during the engagement
process helps to establish interactional justice. By treating stakeholders and
their ideas with respect, management builds interactional justice. Perceptions
of procedural and interactional justice make stakeholders more willing to
accept and support rather than oppose decisions and the CSR initiatives
born of those decisions.

Responsibility for CSR Initiatives

Who in a corporation is responsible for CSR initiatives? The short answer
is everyone in the corporation. But effective CSR must begin at the top.
Senior management must provide the leadership on CSR to prove its legiti-
macy and establish its importance to the corporation ’ s strategy (Carter &
Jennings, 2004 ). Without overt commitment from its leaders, a corpora-
tion ’ s CSR efforts are unlikely to succeed. Top management becomes role
models for CSR that others in the company emulate. With management
buy – in, CSR is embraced as part of the core value system that infl uences
the corporate culture (Mamic, 2005 ). Throughout this book, we have pro-
vided examples of companies that were born with CSR as part of their
DNA. In those cases, CSR is viewed as a natural fi t with the corporations.

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156 CSR Issues

Their worldviews are shaped by CSR. However, just as corporations learn,
adapt, and develop new business – related competencies, corporations can
adopt a CSR orientation and embrace values and practices consistent with
a CSR orientation.

Along the same lines, the corporation must be willing to devote resources
to CSR. Simply announcing that a company will undertake a CSR initiative
is not enough to support a move toward a CSR orientation. The commit-
ment needs to be more visible and tangible. Committing fi nancial resources
signals a determination to follow through on the announcement. To echo
an earlier point, effective CSR is not a simple Band – Aid to be slapped on
the corporation. Instead, CSR must be part of what a corporation does for
CSR initiatives to be effective. This integration of CSR into business opera-
tions also makes fi nancial sense and may appease opponents who contend
that CSR initiatives drain resources. This is consistent with our strategic
orientation to CSR.

But turf battles over the CSR process can develop, especially over com-
munication responsibilities. The potential for confl ict is rooted in resources
and power. As CSR increases in importance and visibility, the units attached
to CSR become more important, powerful, and resource attractive. When
the issue of CSR was fi rst emerging and struggling to gain traction in most
corporations, departments considered it more of a burden than an asset.
Almost by default, the public relations departments in many corporations
oversaw CSR communication. CSR communication concentrates on exter-
nal and internal communication to a variety of stakeholders; thus it was
viewed as consistent with other public relations responsibilities.
Unquestionably, it is important to spread the word about CSR initiatives.
However, as we have described in this book, the stakeholder engagement
process is central to effective CSR programs. This stakeholder orientation
supports public relations ’ involvement in the overall CSR process. But we
see a shift as marketing and other departments seek to claim CSR com-
munication as their own. Some argue that CSR is “ too important ” to leave
to public relations because the taint stemming from the association with
public relations functions can undermine a corporation ’ s CSR credibility
(see Coombs & Holladay, 2010 , for a discussion of this argument).
Obviously those positions are debatable. Our point is that the appropriate
“ home ” of CSR communication is a contentious issue and managers should
prepare for turf disputes.

One viable solution to confl icts surrounding CSR communication is
integrated communication. Some people talk about integrated marketing
communication (IMC), but that orientation privileges the customer. We are
using the term integrated communication to retain the focus on a variety
of stakeholders, but the principles are similar. Integrated communication
seeks consistency in messaging between the various communication tools

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CSR Issues 157

and media used to reach stakeholders. The myriad communication func-
tions in the corporation, primarily public relations and marketing, share
information and coordinate their communication efforts (Harris, 1997 ). If
CSR is to be the responsibility of everyone in the corporation, all commu-
nication units should be involved in CSR communication, as should all
employees. The key is to fi nd some way to coordinate the CSR communica-
tion to avoid contradictory messages and waste (e.g., messages overlapping
in the same media).

Limitations from Industry, Culture, and Law

It is important to realize that the industries, cultures, and legal systems
within which corporations operate can shape CSR. Industries differ in terms
of their impacts on society and structures. The extraction industry and
apparel and footwear industries face different CSR issues. While both can
share concerns with worker safety and treatment, extraction faces signifi –
cant environmental issues such as the amount and hazardous nature of
byproducts from the process. It is estimated that 20 tons of often dangerous
waste is created to produce just one gold ring (No Dirty Gold, n.d.). The
diamond industry wrestles with issues related to “ confl ict diamonds, ”
where funds from the sale of diamonds are used to fuel wars. The apparel
and footwear industry is characterized by vast supply chains that have
complex production networks and many layers of subcontractors. The
complicated supply chain makes it diffi cult to monitor and to enforce codes
of conduct designed to protect workers such as child labor bans, limits on
working hours, and the safety of working conditions (Park – Poap & Rees,
2010 ).

Industry Standards

One source of information for guidance on CSR programs would be indus-
try standards. Industries frequently develop their own standards for what
is acceptable and unacceptable in the industry. Corporations should con-
sider what CSR practices are common and practical within their industry.
Managers can begin to think in terms of CSR due diligence. The concept
of due diligence includes applying a certain standard of care as well as the
more common defi nition of investigation before signing a contract. We can
think of CSR due diligence as meeting certain standards of behavior. A
corporation has met its industrial CSR due diligence by enacting CSR initia-
tives common in the industry. While these standards are voluntary, they can
have a dampening effect on CSR. Individual companies within the industry
may decide that the industry standards are “ good enough ” and do little to

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158 CSR Issues

surpass them (Neef, 2004 ; Park – Poap & Rees, 2010 ). For instance, industry
peers have a signifi cant impact on corporate practices concerning environ-
mental issues (Buysse & Verbeke, 2003 ).

Due diligence for CSR is becoming a topic of increasing interest. The
UN holds that corporate responsibility includes due diligence to not infringe
on the rights of others – what has been termed human rights due diligence .
Human rights due diligence contains four elements: (1) development of a
human rights policy statement, (2) periodic assessment of actual and poten-
tial human rights impacts of corporate activities and relationships, (3)
integrating commitments and assessments into internal systems, and (4)
tracking and reporting human rights performance. What constitutes human
rights due diligence is a mixture of CSR – limiting factors including interna-
tional law, local law, and societal expectations. In the end, human rights
due diligence should result in a set of “ best practices ” that establishes
expectations for compliance with these human rights concerns. Human
rights due diligence becomes the process of investigating how well a corpo-
ration is meeting the best practices of protecting human rights. The chal-
lenge for CSR due diligence is to locate the best practices and standards for
the various CSR concerns they encounter.

The Culture and Socioeconomic Context

A discussion of culture and CSR inevitably leads to comparing CSR expec-
tations and practices in various countries. The argument is that CSR dif-
ferences between countries are due in part to cultural factors. Of course,
socioeconomic factors play a role as well. Culture and socioeconomic
factors shape which CSR concerns are addressed in particular countries and
how they are addressed. Some examples will illustrate these differences.

In Europe, the dominant CSR concerns vary from country to country
(Doh & Guay, 2006 ). For example, one research study reports the dominant
CSR concerns by country: Austria focuses on eco – effi ciency and sustainable
consumption; Belgium, on fair trade, nondiscrimination, and transparency;
Czech Republic, on the environment and philanthropy; Germany, on eco-
logical issues; the Netherlands, on water and climate change, biodiversity,
and sustainable building; Italy, on climate change and safety in the work-
place; Norway, on respect for human rights, environmental concerns, and
combating corruption; Poland, on eco – effi ciency and sustainable develop-
ment; Spain, on transparency, and diversity management; and Sweden, on
human rights and climate change (CSR Europe, 2009 ). Clearly, beliefs
about the importance of various CSR issues are not easily condensable to
a commonly shared set of concerns.

Recent research also has begun to explore the differences between CSR
in developed and developing countries (e.g., Visser, 2008 ). While a Western

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CSR Issues 159

concept, CSR does translate into many cultures. Developing countries fre-
quently have a strong cultural tradition of philanthropy, concern for com-
munity, and business ethics embedded in their indigenous cultures. In Latin
America, for example, there is a strong value placed on community self –
help. In Asia, Buddhist tradition is a natural fi t with CSR. In general,
philanthropy dominates CSR in developing countries. In addition to culture,
sociopolitical factors promote philanthropy. Corporations use fi nancial
contributions to address important local concerns such as health, education,
and the environment. CSR concerns include addressing HIV/AIDS and
poverty alleviation. Such CSR concerns can be viewed as an investment for
the corporation because a strong community benefi ts the corporation
located in that community (Visser, 2008 ).

Many developing countries have governments that are corrupt, weak, or
underfunded. Whatever the reason, gaps exist in social services. Corporate
CSR can become an alternative to government – provided social services
(Blowfi eld & Frynas, 2005 ). Corporations assume more responsibility for
housing, roads, utilities, education, and health care. Corporate CSR can be
seen as part of the effort to support sociopolitical reform in a country (De
Oliveira, 2006 ). However, we must recognize the counterpoint that turning
to corporations to handle critical social concerns in developing countries is
not enough. The CSR efforts amount to a number of bandages that create
a piecemeal response to “ problems ” rather than a workable solution to
“ issues. ” Real solutions will be found through a mix of CSR, governmental,
and international efforts.

Given our commitment to stakeholders in the CSR process, stakeholder
activism is an important cultural variable to consider. Stakeholder activism
can be a driver of CSR even in developing countries (Visser, 2008 ).
Sriramesh and Vercic (2003) identifi ed activism as a key infrastructure
ingredient that infl uences international public relations. Activism is a refl ec-
tion of their two other infrastructure ingredients, political system and level
of development. Only pluralistic political systems tolerate activism, while
people in developing nations do not view activism as a pressing concern.
Activism exists in more oppressive regimes, but the risks to activists are
very high. Private voluntary organizations (PVOs) can provide the lead in
activism when the general populace is less interested in the CSR issue than
basic survival issues. Activism in developing countries often is powered by
international PVOs (Visser, 2008 ). Still, activism is of a different nature
when it is driven by “ outsiders. ” Sriramesh and Vercic ’ s (2003) observa-
tions about activism have implications for CSR. CSR is intricately linked
to activism. In part, CSR is a function of stakeholders becoming activists
and pressing corporations for change. By demanding CSR and backing
those demands with actions, stakeholders provide one mechanism for fos-
tering CSR.

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160 CSR Issues

Activism is in part a function of culture (Katz, Swanson, & Nelson,
2001 ; Sriramesh & Vercic, 2003 ). Katz et al. (2001) used Hofstede ’ s (1980)
four cultural dimensions to identify the potential for various types of activ-
ism (consumer, environmental, employee, and community). Hofstede ’ s
(1980) original four cultural dimensions are (1) power distance, the degree
to which those with less power accept the unequal distribution of power;
(2) individualism, the degree to which people are interdependent in groups
(collectivistic) or independent as individuals (individualistic); (3) masculin-
ity, the degree to which aggression and traditional gender roles (masculinity)
are valued over caring and less traditional gender roles (femininity); and (4)
uncertainty avoidance, the degree to which people are willing to accept
uncertainty and ambiguity.

Katz et al. (2001) argued that across all forms of activism, low power
distance and low masculinity help to promote activism. People must ques-
tion power issues with activism (low power distance), and most activist
issues concern what may be considered “ feminine ” issues, especially in
relation to CSR. Low uncertainty avoidance is best for all but environmen-
tal activism because activism generally creates uncertainty. Environmental
activism, however, generally seeks to reduce risk, thus making high uncer-
tainty avoidance a benefi t. High individualism promotes consumer and
employee activism as both are extensions of self – expression. Low individu-
alism is best for environmental and community activism because these two
forms of activism have strong collectivistic overtones because they focus on
societal benefi ts. Box 8.1 summarizes Katz et al. ’ s (2001) position on cul-
tural dimensions and activism.

There are implications in the work of Katz et al. (2001) for CSR because
agitating for CSR can involve consumer activism, employee activism, envi-
ronmental activism, community activism, or some mix thereof. These four
types of activism are related to common social concerns found in CSR

Box 8.1 Culture and Activism

Type of
Activism

Power
Distance

Uncertainty
Avoidance

Individualism Masculinity

Consumer Low Low High Low
Environmental Low High Low Low
Community Low Low Low Low
Employee Low Low High Low

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CSR Issues 161

initiatives. Variations in cultural dimensions and activism can help to
explain some of the differences found between CSR practices in various
countries. Managers should expect greater pressure for CSR from native
stakeholders when the national culture refl ects a low power distance and is
feminine, and when uncertainty avoidance is low. However, in our world,
stakeholders represent a mix of cultures. In addition, national culture can
vary throughout different regions of a country. Even if a specifi c culture
does not have high standards for CSR and is unlikely to press for CSR, this
does not mean a corporation can be lax in its CSR efforts. Noticeable dis-
parities in CSR practices will bring charges of exploitation, such as those
associated with the Bhopal tragedy discussed at the beginning of chapter 1 .

The Legal Context

Many countries adopt laws or regulations that shape the conceptualizations
and the practice of CSR. Some proponents of CSR feel that regulation is a
positive step. The belief is that governments need to be an active part of
developing CSR. At the end of 2008, Denmark enacted a law requiring
1,100 of its largest businesses, listed companies, and state – owned limited
companies to include specifi c CSR information in their annual reports. The
law does not mandate CSR in general or specifi c CSR initiatives; it only
requires reporting by certain types of corporations. Although Danish cor-
porations had been active in CSR, the government felt there was a lack of
systematic CSR reporting by these corporations. By mandating the report-
ing of particular types of information, the government was insuring that
the socially responsible corporations would receive the recognition they
deserve and that stakeholders would have consistent information about
CSR activities. The law was framed as a benefi t to the vast majority of
Danish corporations already engaged in CSR (Reporting, 2009 ).

In the United Kingdom, the Companies Act of 2006 is directly linked to
CSR because directors were told their efforts to promote the success of the
company must include a regard for community and environmental issues
(Corporate, 2007 ). These are but two examples of the myriad of laws and
regulations globally that touch on CSR directly or indirectly (Musikanski,
n.d.). In general, Europe has stronger legal frameworks relevant to CSR
than the United States (Matten & Moon, 2004 ).

Beyond Limitations

Industry standards, laws, and culture can be used to establish “ good
enough ” standards for behavior. These standards can become limitations
when they serve as the only targets for responsible behavior. But corpora-
tions can choose to exceed those standards. Corporations can innovate by

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162 CSR Issues

pioneering new ground for CSR in an industry. Corporations can use the
industry standards, cultural standards, and legal standards as a foundation
and seek to raise expectations (Arnold & Hartman, 2004 ). Research sug-
gests that raising expectations serves to alter the norms of what is “ good
enough. ” In time, these positive deviations by innovative corporations serve
to elevate the standards for all companies in the industry (Park – Poap &
Rees, 2010 ). Corporations should not be satisfi ed with simply meeting
standards; they should devise ways to improve CSR standards if they are
to maximize corporate benefi ts from CSR.

Although merely meeting industry standards or legal requirements may
prevent charges of corporate irresponsibility, compliance with standards
does little to generate the benefi ts associated with effective CSR. There is
strategic value in raising expectations and behaviors. By positively deviating
from the limitations of standards, a corporation can establish itself as a
leader in CSR and differentiate itself from the competition. Given the vol-
untary aspect of CSR, simply meeting legal requirements does little to posi-
tion a corporation as socially responsible. Meeting voluntary standards
associated with the industry or culture is a step in the right direction, and
exceeding voluntary standards serves as even stronger evidence of a corpo-
ration ’ s sincere commitment to CSR.

Parting Thoughts

Throughout this book, we have resisted the temptation to provide a simple
checklist of actions to be taken to implement an effective CSR initiative. To
do so would be an oversimplifi cation of a highly complex process that must
be adapted to each company and the context in which it operates. An effec-
tive CSR initiative is one that benefi ts stakeholders and the corporation
implementing it. The initiative should make “ good business sense ” because
it refl ects the corporation ’ s fundamental business mission, processes, and
values. Moreover, it should refl ect concern with the web of stakeholder
relationships in which it is embedded.

CSR is a complex process that is unique in each corporation that under-
takes it. Simply prescribing a sequence of specifi c actions would be mislead-
ing and ultimately counterproductive to managers interested in creating
effective CSR initiatives. We have outlined a communication – centered way
of thinking about a corporation ’ s potential relationships with CSR and with
stakeholders. The CSR Process Model is designed to guide managers through
a logical series of communication – based actions that acknowledges the
importance of stakeholder engagement. Creating a meaningful dialogue and
active partnership with stakeholders is not an easy undertaking. But com-
mitting to a process of stakeholder engagement is consistent with a CSR

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CSR Issues 163

orientation in general. Managers begin with trying to determine if undertak-
ing a CSR initiative is even a viable option for their corporation and stake-
holders. Once the corporation has committed to pursue some form of CSR,
a series of decisions must be made to create the CSR initiatives that are a
good fi t for that corporation and its stakeholders. We articulated the CSR
process as a roadmap for the series of issues that managers, along with the
corporation ’ s stakeholders, must address on the path to an effective CSR
initiative. We have identifi ed the key issues that impact the CSR process
and require managerial attention. This includes providing a series of ques-
tions that managers must ask and answer when developing a CSR initiative.
Many of the questions are challenging – but so is the process of developing,
implementing, and evaluating CSR initiatives.

We are under no delusions that the pursuit of CSR will create a utopian
world. It is far too easy to fi nd examples of CSR – washing. Some managers
seek to leverage the benefi ts of CSR without committing to CSR by actually
trying to improve society. It is easy for CSR to be “ All talk and no show ”
or, as the British might say, “ All mouth and no trousers. ” CSR communica-
tion risks becoming the providence of blowhards hyping the smallest action
as saving the world. But if you look closely at current CSR initiatives, you
will fi nd many corporations and stakeholders working in concert to make
at least some part of society better. CSR actions are helping to reduce child
labor and poverty, improve human rights, pursue social justice, and help
people live healthier lives. CSR is what we choose to make it. We hope this
book can help provide a useful perspective and guidance on developing a
workable process for those committed to bringing CSR initiatives to fruition
in a meaningful way.

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