An introduction to Strategic Communication

How can we understand organizations’ use of CSR ?

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The department of affairs and economic in Malmö held on September 25th a breakfast meeting with the theme ”CSR – a way to strengthen competitiveness” (Näringslivskontoret Malmö stad, 2013). This is a current example of a trend in which organizations’ social responsibility, called ”Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) has become increasingly relevant in a competitive business environment to excel the business or product, and meet stakeholders’ growing expectations in this area (Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011; Cornelissen, 2008; Falkheimer & Heide, 2007; Mossberg & Sundström, 2011). Cornelissen (2011) argues that formerly organizations were seen as separate economic entities operating for profit, but today there is an expectation that organizations will demonstrate a responsibility to society at large. The trend means that organizations makes an effort to improve its reputation in an environment where the media constantly is reporting on their business, and can include everything from internal factors such as gender equality, campaigns against corruption, regulations applicable to code of conduct for labor and environmental awareness among suppliers.

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So how can we understand organizations’ reasons for working with CSR? The question is closely tied a world knowledge of how the organization in reality acts and how it is perceived by the group or individuals affected by or affecting the goals, so-called stakeholders (Cornelissen, 2008). Botan and Taylor (2004) would from a public relations perspective explain CSR as part of ”issues management”, which is a strategic tool to understand how problems or crises (issues) pertaining to organization and stakeholders arise. The goal is to anticipate and prevent problems that could threaten the existence of the organization. This means a business intelligence that allows preventive work, in which CSR can serve as a way to both build a public reputation which strengthens confidence in the organization and provide benefit if problems arise, and partly a practical work to avoid problems with for example unethical production. Based in issues management, CSR is thus a tool to keep the organization alive more than a marketing strategy. From a marketing perspective, however, Vargo and Lusch (2004) instead emphasizes of the value creation process with the customer as the main points when intangible products and services are the focus. Here, the focus shifts from issues management’s view of the internal tool to a customer perspective. Mossberg & Sundström (2012) follows this line and puts CSR as a piece of the organization’s macro environment, which ”pervades the modern marketing .” CSR is here a way to compete in the market. Mossberg & Sundström (2012) seems to have an unreflective positive attitude towards CSR as part of a necessary and prioritized sustainability mindset in society in general.

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Cornelissen (2008) describes from an organizational perspective CSR as ”the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits” where social, environmental and profit activities form three dimensions that CSR will communicate. Here it becomes important how and in which channels communication is for it to have an economic impact on the organization (Amaladoss & Manohar, 2013). Cornelissen (2011) and Christoferson and Cornelissen (2011) seem to see CSR as part of an anticipated business strategy directed towards stakeholders. Above all CSR in the literature seems to focus on external stakeholders, more than as a function of the internal organization’s creation of meaning. Possibly, this may reflect a grounding in economic thinking in which the focus after all is situated on profits generated by transactions with customers.

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Jansson (2009) from a media and communication perspective, has a more questioning attitude toward organizations taking up place in their environment. Is there a reason to question the CSR as a phenomenon? Jansson could ask whether organizations should be present in various social issues. Is it appropriate to link social issues with a specific commercial business? The author’s concept of ”encapsulation” with drivers from consumption and security culture, reflects among other things how organizations are increasingly woven into social functions, and how it can sometimes seem innocent. Few will perhaps protest when a company pays for a work fair for young people, even though it involves an agenda setting in paying attention to work among young people as an important political point, and that the organization broadens its reach into taking up place in young people’s and society’s spatial world. The importance of the work is then hold ahead in importance of the individual distance and integrity in relation to the organization. So where is the line between external environmental monitoring and CSR to social control and bugging? On this, few of the above mentioned authors besides Jansson seem to reflect on. There seems to be a contradiction in how organizations’ coverage extends more broadly in society while words like transparency and openness become the buzz word in organizations’ communication.

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