Last night, the annual Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship conference kicked off with a talk from David Wilhelm, a political strategist who recently worked on both Bill Clinton’s and Barak Obama’s campaigns. In his remarks, he talked about how the skills required to run a successful political campaign are often the same required to successfully create and implement a successful CSR program.And although somewhat tongue in cheek, he told the crowd of CSR practitioners why he thought our jobs were often harder than that of the CEO. Now, pretty sure Paul Otellini would disagree with that one in a heartbeat. But David’s point was is that the CEO has a clear understanding of the business value of his or her actions and communications. In CSR, this is often still not as easy to make the connection and as practioners and communicators we must be more disciplined in our approach and make sure that others – both inside and outside of the company – understand the business value of CSR to the company and the connection to our business strategy.Three of his “top ten” observatjons rang particularly true for me. (1) Have a crisp and clear message. In his comparisons of successful political campaign communications – “Yes we can,” “It’s the economy, stupid,” and “Compassionate conservatism” – he stressed that it’s important to focus on communicating the essence of your CSR approach (the 8-second message) and not be afraid to be repetitive. Know what sticks. Make sure people can remember your message. Now, we CSR practitioners love our details (100 page CSR reports are good evidence of that), but we need to be careful about getting bogged down in trying to communicate all of the details to every audience. (2) Make sure that your CSR programs drive your competitive advantage. His argument was that CSR should be defined with absolute clarity and it must be integrated into your business strategy. We should embrace CSR’s connection to profits – because that puts it at the center of corporate strategy. I think this is especially important during these economic times when every action and program are being scrutinized across the organization. (3) Does the person at the “operator level” get it? One of the most important things in the political realm is to make sure that the “average American” gets and understands your message. His advice for CSR practitioners – if people at every level of your company (includig front line employees) can’t articulate what your CSR strategy or message is, then your job is not yet done. This is exactly the challenge that we are working on right now at Intel – how to make sure each and every employee understands how CSR is relevant to their day to day jobs. So, I’ll pose the question to both you and my other colleagues here attending the conference – what three things do you think are essential for good corporate citizenship?
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