Policy Innovations Digital Magazine (2006-2016): Briefings: Six Models for Brand-CSR Integration

Oct 1, 2009

Corporations today know that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is inextricably linked to their reputations and their brand identities. Yet integrating CSR and brand development can be daunting without a road map. To address this need, my co-author and I conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with key managers in brand and CSR departments in the five industries identified by McKinsey as being most prominently engaged in CSR activities—financial services, pharmaceuticals, extraction, consumer products, and technology. Our analysis identifies six organizational models for integrating brand and CSR, half of which are readily replicable examples that companies can apply to their own situation.

Model #1: Mission-Driven
This model is the purest example of brand-CSR integration and occurs almost exclusively in companies that were founded with social responsibility as a core value. In fact, these companies are so aligned with CSR in both brand and operations as to warrant the label "social enterprises." Even in this social enterprise environment, however, brand and CSR must be formally linked for reporting and other purposes. For example, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters hired its first CSR officer only recently, some 20+ years after the company was founded, and its first CSR report was published in 2005.

Model #2: Product-Driven Consumer Companies
PepsiCo is an example of a company whose brand-CSR integration is product-focused, such as its partnership between Quaker Oats and the World Heart Foundation. Despite corporate-level support and measurement, brand-CSR integration of this type will always depend upon the characteristics of specific products.

Model #3: Super-Regulated Industries
Companies in this category are often blocked from efforts to integrate brand and CSR because their products are so highly scrutinized by regulators and the public that they risk being accused of whitewashing if they talk about their good deed. We spoke with several pharmaceutical companies, all of whom were reluctant to talk to us for this study because their culture does not support brand-CSR integration.

Model #4: Individual Champion
This model, exemplified by Symantec, the maker of Norton Anti-Virus software, is based on a single person who initiates and manages CSR in all its facets, including brand-CSR integration. Though Symantec's initial idea for a CSR program came out of branding, the effort was actually launched in the External Affairs department. Cecily Joseph, Director of CSR, used the UN Global Compact as Symantec's CSR framework, then added the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Once the structure was in place and management involvement was established, the project took on a life of its own. One example Joseph cites is the "environmental stewardship council, which started with 10 or 15 people. By the end of the year we had 50 people. And this includes senior people, VPs—all volunteers."

Model #5: Communications Team
In this model, CSR resides in the communications department and is used specifically as a brand-building tool. According to Steve Kess, VP Professional Relations at Henry Schein, the drug distribution company, CSR is managed by three departments, Corporate Communications, Community Relations, and Professional Relations, all of whom report to the EVP of Communications to insure that the branded CSR program "Henry Schein Cares" reaches both employees and Schein's suppliers and worldwide operating companies.

Different models were found at larger companies—like Adobe, the design software company, where the CSR department is within marketing and works closely with the Brand Director—and at smaller ones—like Bankrate, the personal finance website, where marketing managers with different functions all participate in CSR projects.

Model #6: Organic Partnerships
This is the most mature brand-CSR integration model and is based on systematically interrelated parts within companies rather than an existing structure.

At HSBC, CSR is a separate department but brand-CSR integration is applied throughout the company. For example, Nicole Rousseau, VP of Retail Marketing, coordinated the launch of HSBC's first U.S. environmental campaign "Commit to Change."

Key to building the campaign was the formation of an employee launch team. "[We found people] who were really engaged and energized about the environment in every department," said Rousseau. Another initial task was identifying the sustainability projects that already existed in the U.S. Bank: "Everyone learned in the process about what we had been doing for years." Working closely with HSBC's Sustainable Development Group in the United Kingdom and HSBC's U.S. CSR department, Rousseau's team built a campaign that put CSR at the center of HSBC's retail marketing efforts.

At Chevron, the oil giant, the CSR report is the responsibility of the Global Issues and Policy Group while the company's new brand "Human Energy" reinforces company-wide CSR integration across all geographies.

At Cherokee, the private equity firm, Jonathan Philips, Senior Director of Marketing, describes brand-CSR integration as central to their brand: "To this day, (we) do not have a corporate brochure, (we use) our Sustainability Report for both investors and recruiting employees."

In identifying organizational prototypes on which managers can build brand-CSR integration, we found not only replicable organizational prototypes but also an evolutionary path:

  • The Individual Champion is the model common to early stage brand-CSR integration efforts and the model of choice for high-tech companies and other flat, nimble organizations.
  • Three of the four companies we identified as following the Individual Champion Model evolved to the Communications Team Model within 10 years of launching. We argue that this is a natural and predictable evolution.
  • The Organic Partnerships Model works well in the old-line companies we interviewed. Their age and industry maturity guarantee that some form of community involvement is well entrenched in the organization and culture, and the full integration of brand and CSR evolves organically over time.

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