Study finds more communication needed on corporate social responsibility

Source: APCO Worldwide, 17 September 2004

A new global study among opinion elites, released today by APCO Worldwide, demonstrates a growing need for greater communication of companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. While corporations are making considerable efforts to report social and environmental practices, an overwhelming majority of the individuals surveyed still have limited awareness of companies’ contributions to their communities.
Opinion elites (representing the top 10 percent of society in terms of media consumption, civic engagement and interest in public policy issues) pay attention to what companies and stakeholders say about corporate social responsibility, but are not hearing enough, the study found. A third of the participants reported they know little or nothing about the social responsibility activities of companies.

"Despite companies’ attempts to behave responsibly, there is still considerable cynicism among opinion elites surrounding CSR progress," said Margery Kraus, president and CEO, APCO Worldwide. "This study demonstrates the importance of proactive and transparent communication with stakeholders to help improve a company’s credibility and demonstrate a real commitment to infusing CSR into how a company conducts its business."

The study also revealed that news about CSR initiatives influences the attitudes and actions of opinion elites. Other findings include:

Ongoing collaboration and partnership with third parties is essential to a company’s credibility. Two out of three respondents consider direct CSR communication credible, but nine out of 10 agreed such communication is "much more credible" when verified by a third-party such as a non-governmental organization or local government.
Positive and negative CSR information can impact purchasing decisions. Seventy-two percent of opinion elites have purchased a company’s products and services and 61 percent have recommended the company to others in response to positive CSR information. Negative news also influences consumer behavior – 60 percent of opinion elites have boycotted a company’s products and services in response to negative CSR news.
The media is a considerable force in shaping a company’s image regarding CSR. Media ranked as one of the most important tools for driving positive change in a company’s CSR practice. By harnessing the power of the media, companies can help mold public opinion and the regulatory environment.
"This study demonstrates how important CSR communication is in shaping corporate reputation and influencing consumer behavior," said Chrystine Zacherau, vice president, APCO Insight, the opinion research division of APCO Worldwide that conducted the survey. "It sheds new light on the value of CSR, and also reminds companies they need to take the initiative to spotlight their positive efforts."

About the Global CSR Survey
APCO Worldwide’s Global CSR Survey is part of a broader five-year research endeavor to understand society’s expectations for corporate responsibility and reputation. The study was conducted through APCO Insight’s Opinion Elite Panel, which is a representative and scientific sample of the most active and informed citizens within each country. Panelists for the survey were recruited through random-sampling techniques and screened to include only the top 10 percent of each country’s population based on their news consumption frequency, level of interest in public policy issues and civic engagement. A total of 419 opinion elite panelists from 10 countries in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific completed the survey between Feb 5 and April 17, 2004. The sampling margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.8 percent

Download the full study report (pdf)