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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Are CSR Campaigns being misused for PR Gains:

Recently a coupon site snapdeal.com was in news for running a CSR campaign in a village and the village being renamed as snapdeal.com. I heard some of my colleagues in office discussing how this was a major PR coup and that the client must be so happy with its communication people.

This set me thinking as to what is the real purpose of CSR? Is CSR undertaken by corporates purely as a publicity gimmick, or is there more to it? Should we as PR professionals encourage the practice of undertaking CSR campaigns purely from a PR perspective.

When I posed this question to my colleagues stating that I was uncomfortable with a CSR initiative just to derive PR mileage, the response was enlightening. They said that by this initiative, snapdeal had installed 20 odd handpumps in the village where the villagers had to trek miles to get water, in the process providing them with water, which was a necessity that was required. If they in return derive some mileage, then what is the harm? It was also pointed out that when most of the stories that are carried in the media in India centre around crime, at least these types of stories can motivate others to make some positive contribution to the society. I must admit they have a valid reasoning in the sense that something is better than nothing, But I am still uncomfortable with this idea.

I still remember the time when we were handling this leading footwear brand and the Marketing Director approached us saying that there is a request from the Government of India to contribute shoes to the children who were being given the National Bravery awards and can we help generate media coverage over this saying how the company was socially conscious. We were aghast and shaken to the core and needless to say we dissuaded the client from the publicity aspect of it.

In India giving is a tradition and it is said that "when one gives, the left hand should not know what the right hand has given". This has also been followed by big Business Houses like Tatas, Birlas, Singhanias, etc. for decades. Having been bought up with such ethos and values, creating pure publicity blitzkrieg around CSR activities, makes me cringe.

What the PR agencies and others preach to justify their actions is that media exposure of Philanthropic acts only galvanizes others to contribute. However my take is, that one should set out to undertake charity and CSR programmes for the reason of giving back to the society which has helped them gain wealth in the first instance, and if there is media or other exposure of such acts then it is good, if there is none then it is better.

I do not have any problem with CSR programmes where the primary motive is to benefit the society and the secondary motive is to derive mileage. But when the primary motive becomes to derive mileage and the rest becomes secondary then there is a serious ethical issue.

In Snapdeal's case, this company is a start-up, still looking for funding, most probably still not profitable and this company undertakes a so called CSR initiative spending a paltry $5000 and tom toms it to the world. This is pure bull and I have objections to this kind of act being publicized by the media. I can already hear our clients asking us to devise such low cost CSR initiatives (so called) to gain maximum media mileage. What perfect nonsense???

1 comment:

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