According to this report from Global Reporting Initiative, the number of sustainability reports registered on the GRI Reports List increased by 22 percent in year 2010. This article tells us that 80% of the top 15 global brands and 43% of the top 100 global brands also issue Corporate Social Responsibility reports. Looking at these numbers, it would seem that any company would willingly hop on to the CSR reporting bandwagon. Sadly, that is not true, whether you are practitioner or the CSR champion in a company, selling anything CSR to the top management is a challenge and a report is no exception.
When dealing with companies and individuals who are convinced on the value of CSR but are not entirely sold on a report, the biggest mistake one could make is to pitch a report as a way to gain visibility. Yes, it will give you visibility but so will a PR campaign and with much less effort. The argument just doesn’t hold enough ground. It is important to make an argument for a report beyond the PR benefits and this post will tell you how to do exactly that.
1. Pitch it as a Starting Point: Sustainability reports don’t always have to be outcomes of the sustainability process. The fact is that it is inherently about disclosure and for companies who understand the significance of ethics and responsibility in business often have processes and policies in place that when disclosed in the form of a report serves as an excellent baseline for sustainability efforts. Yes, the report may not be at a higher application level; yes the reporter may have to come clean on some of the missing aspects of sustainability, but it is still a great first step and public commitment towards a full blown sustainability agenda. Like I said here, nothing like a public commitment to keep you accountable.
2. Pitch it as a Learning Exercise: I firmly believe that the most substantial benefits of a report actually come from the learning process gained during the reporting process. Taking the GRI framework for example, after having gone through the company procedures during the data collection for all indicator categories, most people see the company in a new light. You identify your areas of strength and the loopholes and by the end, you will have identified not only your sustainability challenges but also the solutions. I have often suggested to clients who think they are not ready for a report to actually take the GRI guidelines as a check-list and see where they fall short and where they hold strong. Most companies are often very excited with the results…in a good way!
3. Pitch it as an Engagement Tool: The amount of stakeholder interaction that usually goes on during the reporting process is incomparable to any other activity. Done strategically and in such way that this engagement serves a higher purpose than just data collection will not only give you the required data but will also get the buy-in of the person engaged. One key way to address this to shape it like an interview with the specific data items coming towards the end and the bulk of the interview time spent on a carefully planned engagement process that tackles their fears, their expectations and perceptions . With respect to external stakeholders, it makes sense to have at least 2 workshops/ forums to have their buy-in onto the report and to gather their insights and suggestions.
4. Pitch it as a Competitive Edge: According to Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting in the United States report by McNair Scholars Research Journal, industries like real estate, water, life insurance and steel are very low in terms of CSR reporting. Globally, there are countries and regions where only less than 5% of the companies issue Sustainability reports. If your target company is operating in such regions or industries, a report can give the company a competitive advantage.
5. Pitch it is a Celebratory Exercise: Last but not the least, a CSR report is testament to the CSR successes AND failures of a company. By making these public, the company is not just being transparent but gives a sense of pride to everyone associated with it. The fact that a company is being proactive and transparent in talking about its challenges and victories says volumes about its long term commitment to CSR and Sustainability.
There are two types of Report Naysayers:
Type 1: Those who don’t see the report as anything beyond a PR activity
Type 2: Those who view it as the end-all of CSR and Sustainability.
Your perfect pitch is the one that is tailored to their personalities.
The problem often is not in the report itself but in the way most people view a report. For them it is a report card of how well or badly they have fared on their sustainability programs. This fact alone is enough to scare anyone. Nobody wants to be judged, nobody wants to be put on the witness stand and answer questions about what they did and why they did it. Your job is to tell them that a report is more than a report card and I hope the above points will help you do just that.