Tuesday 24 April 2018

The commercial reality of social purpose

As June wound to a close Edelman was fortunate to partner with the North Melbourne Football Club and World Vision Australia to present a breakfast panel discussion on the topic of the power of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in sport (#csrsport for the Twitterati).

Fundamental to the question of the value of CSR to a corporation is the debate about the commercial reality of fulfilling a CSR program. As anyone working in marketing will tell you, good marketing costs money, but great marketing makes it. Actually, not everyone working in marketing will tell you that, until they’ve read this post.

With a panel featuring the CEO of the AFL, Andrew Demetriou, CEO of World Vision Australia, Tim Costello, and KPMG Australia Chairman, Peter Nash, we were treated to possibly the most high-powered discussion of its type this year.

Regardless of background, each of the panelists pointed consistently to three key themes throughout the morning:

  • Organisations that achieve commercial success will be pilloried for doing so without regard for others – consider the ramifications of sporting codes’ attitudes towards women, or racism, as a case in point
  • While we should strive to measure the value of CSR efforts, we may not necessarily be able to measure the direct benefit to our businesses of participating in CSR – however the downside risk of not making the effort is great (consider the first bullet)
  • Leadership takes guts and commitment, and there’s no-one there to tell you if you’re doing it right

This last point is arguably the most important for Australian businesses to take note of. According to Mr Costello, Australian businesses lag those based in the US or UK when it comes to understanding the importance of a holistic CSR strategy integrated with the vision and values of the business.

Someone has to blink first. The thing about being a leader is it has to be you – no-one can follow you if you don’t take the first step. An opportunity exists for a handful of local business heroes to set the agenda for others to follow. Whether or not that commitment is commercially viable is a major issue for many companies that find themselves in this position. Doing any CSR, whether it’s good or not, will cost money.  But like great marketing, a great CSR strategy will help you make it.

CSR strategies, when aligned with corporate objectives, improve employee engagement. They deliver meaningful, measurable outcomes to those associated with the programs, whether that’s through an increase in carbon sequestration by tree planting programs, or improved literacy and numeracy through initiatives like North Melbourne’s The Huddle. Regardless of the form it takes, CSR will only work if it’s accepted by the community as a valuable proposition, and if it delivers some kind of strategic value to the company trying to deliver on it.

As we know from this year’s goodpurpose research, the Australian consumer of 2012 expects businesses to align profits with purpose. Strategic CSR is the key to meeting that demand.


- Grant Smith, General Manager Melbourne


Link to North Melbourne Football Club media release

Link to World Vision Australia media release