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Social Responsibility

Image and Impact: How CSR Affects a Corporation’s Relationship with the Public

Molson-CoorsSee that Molson “In the Community” Ad to your right? Well, it’s not because Molson bought the ad space: this is an example of Corporate Social Responsibility publicity. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has many names. It is the reflection of positive impact the organization has outside of its finances and product. How an organization goes about developing their image affects the perception of the organization’s relationship to the  public (OSR) and corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Benoit’s five image restoration categories of strategies are denial (or scapegoat), evading of responsibility, reducing offensiveness of the event, corrective action, and a full apology. Michael M. Haigh and Pamela Brubaker of Pennsylvania State University found that reducing the offensiveness strategy produced the best perceptions of the OPR and CSR. But nothing is cut-and-dry: messages should always be contextualized and tailored for an organization.

Some examples include Encana’s Responsible Product Program, Suncor’s Community Investments and Suncor Energy Foundation, and Husky Energy’s Education and Community Initiative. What do these companies have in common? As part of the energy sector in Alberta, they are under social scrutiny all. the. time. And what better way to show that these companies are not just about profit than through social initiatives.

ImageBut what does any of this have to do with public relations? Simple: how do I know, sitting here in Ottawa, that these companies are engaged in CSR initiatives in Alberta? Ta da! CSR is a wonderful initiative for a company to undertake, but without the public knowing about the event, facilitating information to stakeholders about what the company has done in the community, the value of CSR as part of the brand of the organization. I’ll use Husky as an example: They have a webpage dedicated to showing all of their most recent initiatives with images and descriptions. There is also contact information for higher resolution images, all of this from the News Center section.  You can check out their CSR page here.

How these messages are conveyed to us change how we perceive them. Benoit’s categories of image restoration illustrate how there are different ways to show how these messages can be conveyed. Would Husky’s CSR be as effective without action? Benoit uses the Pepsi vs. Cola years in 1990-1992 as an example, illustrating how different ads aims at producing the same effect on its customers can produce different results. Coke was the victor, with more effective ads that were both defensive and offensive:

“Always the real thing” ads from the 90’s: try the ad at 1:34…

Interesting Reads:

Michel M. Haigh, Pamela Brubaker, (2010) “Examining how image restoration strategy impacts perceptions of corporate social responsibility, organization-public relationships, and source credibility”, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 15 Iss: 4, pp.453 – 468

Benoit, W.L. (1995). Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. Albany: State University of New York.


About Moriah

As a student in Communications, I have written two blogs in my time as an undergrad: New Media Notes and The Public Relations Lens. My favourite communications-themed movies are Primary Colours and Thank You For Smoking.


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