BK Copywriting

A New Slant On CSR: Creative Social Responsibility

Long criticized for ignoring social, and environmental interests in the pursuit of personal profit, the corporate world is now warming to the idea of introducing a more altruistic view into their business operations. These efforts are often labeled under the heading of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and they serve both the companies self-interests – often strengthening employee engagement, increasing profits, and leading to more loyal customers – while benefiting the world at large, either through environmental stewardship or improving social conditions for a less fortunate society.

Many advertising agencies, and creative professionals, including freelance copywriters like me, are pushing CSR agendas, advocating socially responsible brand actions over traditional advertising. And, by all accounts, this is a good thing.

But, at times, this emerging imperative seems less like a moral movement and more like a new plaything; adopted by companies wishing to be considered contemporary and on-trend; it's fate to be determined by percentages and spreadsheets; it's future presence on plans subject to the whim of creative interests and the idea du jour.

This will hold true as long as we view social-responsibility, in a business setting, as a project, as an externalized initiative with a measurable outcome most often rooted in its immediate impact on a business's bottom line.

In order for CSR to be successful, it must permeate a company's culture, and be embraced by its marketing partners and the creative professionals who work on behalf of the brand.

Perhaps it's time that we, as creative professionals, create a code of ethics consistent with the CSR ideas that we advocate. Perhaps it's time that we hijack the acronym to develop our own personal brand of CSR, simply called: Creative Social Responsibility.

As a copywriter exclusive to principle-based companies and non-profits, this socially-minded mentality is vital to me. It pervades every aspect of my business life: from the types of projects I take on, to the way I work with clients, to how I personally commit myself to an organization's mission. Here, there is no grandiose need to achieve personal recognition through creative awards. The reward is in helping a client you believe in achieve its goals.

While Creative Social Responsibility is especially important when dealing with ethics-based organizations, it provides a platform that applies across all client engagements.

Following are a few tenets critical to cultivating a spirit of Creative Social Responsibility:
  • Authentic Core Values: In order to truly embrace a company's mission, one must share in its core values. This cannot be faked. It cannot be manufactured. We all have intrinsic interests and a general value system that helps guide our way through life. Be true to this. Nurture it, and let it lead you to opportunities where your contributions will come from an authentic expression of your core beliefs.
  • Transparency: Trust is such an important component of the client/creative relationship. Always be honest in the way you perform your work for a client. Be clear and upfront on estimates. Give them your best effort on every assignment, regardless of its ability to bolster your portfolio or further your career. Track time diligently and invoice accurately. Be clear and open with your thought process and other potential options, provided they have merit. Tell clients what you believe to be true, not what you think they want to hear.
  • Accountability: It is difficult for some creative professionals to develop a true sense of responsibility towards a client given the transient nature of the business, with new projects always coming and going. The key is to immerse yourself completely in every project. Forget everything that has come before and anything to follow. Put yourself in the position of the business owner and the customers they serve. From their point-of-view, what would you expect from yourself? Give nothing less and always see the job through to the end.
As with any idea, it's always best to boil it down to its simplest terms. With Creative Social Responsibility that means: Do The Right Thing. Do the thing that gives your client his or her best chance for success, not that which solely serves your self-interests. Odds are you know what that means given most situations, and, if you don't, well, your clients will likely let you know in the end.