Friday, February 12, 2010

What NOT to call your CSR report

CSR Report.
Sustainability Report.
Corporate Responsibility Report.
Corporate Citizenship Report.
All of these titles for your Sustainability Report are BAD.
Call them anything other than that.

Because these titles are evidence of zero thinking about the underlying material differential competitive advantage of your CSR program and the report that should reflect it. A CSR report is your Company's sustainability story. It should be anything but what we think of as just another boring report, full of statistics and data Although many of them are just that. Your CSR report should be as inspiring as your CSR activities themselves (assuming they are) ( If you don't have an inspiring and authentic CSR program, you are probably not ready to write a report. Just post your carbon emissions and conmunity contributions on your website).

So what SHOULD you call your CSR report?
In answering this question, I often think of Christine Arena's great book called the High-Purpose Company, published in 2007. In this book, Christine exposes the Litmus Test for Companies.  The concept is that a sustainable business "stands for a purpose that is greater than the product it sell or the money it generates for shareholders"(p22).  In other words, what does the Company do besides making money? This, essentially, should drive you to the title of your CSR report, because, essentially again, this is what you should be leveraging in your strategic CSR and sustainability efforts.

I took a look at the GRI Reports list.
I selected the last 40 reports that had been posted to the list (written in English). Of those 40 reports, only 7 had titles other than the BAD ones. Only seven reports have titles that SAY something about the nature of their CSR and the message the report aims to deliver. Less that 20% of these 40 reporting Companies truly exploit the strategic benefit of reporting. Take a look at the following seven report titles. Can you match the name to the reporting Company? The answers are at the bottom of the post. (Wouldn't want to make you work tooooo hard for the answers.This is a mini-quiz.)

1. Making a World of Difference
2. Creating value through innovation
3. Mobilising Development
4. Power to you
5. How are we making a difference?
6. Places that matter
7. It's about time ...

The above are from one real estate company, one travel company, two telecoms companies, one pharma company, one airport and one bank. Can you get which is which ?

Which brings me to another point. If you have taken the trouble to think through your material and strategic CSR approach, and decided to give your CSR Report a name which reflects that, then you should make sure that your content is aligned with the theme encompassed in the title. If your title is about innovation, then your report should refer back to that theme in the stories it tells. If your report is about mobilising development, then that should be evident in the nature of the content that is presented. I didnt look at the above reports in detail, so I cannot comment on how they do that, for now.

Whenever I am starting on a report writing assignment with a client, before I put pen to paper and before we decide how to structure the report, and to a large degree, what data we want to present,  I get the title right. For example, in writing the report for comme il faut, a feminist fashion Company who takes a public stand on women's issues and social justice, out of a desire to influence the social agenda,we used the title Women who Influence because that is the core of their agenda-driven mission. In writing the report for 888 Holdings, an online gaming Company, we used the title People Planet Play, a variation on the people, planet , profit theme, because their mission is to have people enjoy the game. In both cases, not one word was written before we agreed the concept and the title.

If you want to differentiate your report, if you want to write it in an interesting and engaging way, get the concept and the message clear before you start to write. Incidentally, it works well with blog posts as well :)

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm. Visit our website at:   

and here, as promised are the answers to the above report-titles mini-quiz:

1. Thomas Cook Group plc 2008-2009
2. Novo Nordisk 2009
3. Vodafine Germany 2009 Report
4. Vodafone Greece 2009
5. Toronto Dominian Bank 2008 Report
6. Sorouh 2008
7. The Greater Toronto Airports Authority 2008 


Cindy Esposito said...

This was a great post, Elaine! Some great ideas on how companies can differentiate themselves, their report and get noticed. Incidentally, I completely bombed on the mini-quiz! Obviously, I have some work to do here!

elaine said...

Thanks Cindy for reading and commenting. Don't worry about not matching titles with Companies. Picking the title is one thing, making it relevant is another Some Companies havent really got the second bit yet. :)

UKati said...

Hi Elaine,
Missing concept of the report often comes hand-in-hand with missing target stakeholders :-). We see this as a great problem as well. good post!
Just one note to the list of GRI reports having almost all "bad titles". We are now data sharing partners of GRI, and we were asked not to include the titles like "Heading new ways" etc. into the tables we provide, because it makes the info too bulky. This might be a reason why the titles are so boring in the list :-)

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