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Better Storytelling Means More Value


Tuesday, April 9th, 2013


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(csrservice) – Greenwashing is a big problem in CSR. But so is boring communication.

By Valdis Wish

Companies can look insincere in lots of ways, but two pitfalls are particularly common in CSR communications. The biggest no-go is greenwashing – the purposeful misrepresentation of a company’s activities, painting them in an unduly green hue. This impulse comes from either dishonesty or trying to wed the sometimes-dull side of CSR with the glossy world of corporate advertising.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are many more companies that – while possibly trying to do great things for their environment, employees, or community – never get beyond dry reporting metrics and formulaic statements. What it says about the company is, “we’re doing this because we’re expected to.”

To maximize value from CSR, companies need to take the next step – communicating inspiration. This means going from saying, “we’re doing this because we’re expected to” to “our CSR activities are essential for us, and we’re proud to tell you about them.”

What are the hallmarks of inspired CSR communications? Does the fact that the company spent hundreds of thousands of euros on a fancy sustainability report or microsite make it “inspired?” No. Inspired CSR communications is about finding smart ways to integrate better storytelling and interaction.

By better storytelling, we mean telling stories that provide context and add value – in other words, say something besides how generous the company is. If the company is doing CSR, it’s important to examine the social and environmental issues and problems they would like to help address through its products and operations.

“Content marketing” is a buzzword right now in corporate communications. The crux of this trend is that companies now focus more on telling compelling stories, and put the branding in the background. Compelling stories are more likely to get read and shared because they’re more valuable to the reader than raw promotion.

How these stories get told is important. Readers today want to be shown, not only told. To see evidence of this, look no further than the recent explosion of infographics. Suddenly, just telling stories with text is no longer enough. Publishers like The New York Times and Die Zeit know that readers today want different gateways into the same information. So, they’re adding more infographics, video, or interaction to supplement their reporting.

Some companies are also recognizing the importance of interaction in CSR communications. In recent years, companies like Novo Nordisk and IBM have created small, but substantial games that focus on CSR issues, and go beyond “advergaming.”

Another example is, CEO2 , a browser game that our agency developed for Allianz and WWF . Based on a dense report about the decarbonization of key industries in Germany, both organizations understood they could reach more people if this report’s findings could be made interactive and fun.

We wanted to reach a broader group of stakeholders; not only specialists and decisionmakers, but also employees, journalists, bloggers, NGOs and the general public.

The browser game that we developed gave players the chance to become CEO in one of four key industries, and to see how their decisions affect both stock prices and CO2 emissions. Within weeks after launch, this feature had reached tens of thousands of people – many more than a PDF ever would. Within weeks after launch, this feature had reached tens of thousands of people – many more than a PDF ever would.

In some ways, inspired communication correlates to the concept of shared value. A well-produced and fun piece of CSR communications has a better chance of being seen, interacted with, and shared. That’s added value for the company. Meanwhile, the ideas and knowledge – like the scientific findings related to climate change – have a better chance of spreading. That’s added value for the society.

Rather than bury knowledge in inaccessible formats, let’s find new ways to enhance corporate accountability and reach stakeholders in fun, interactive ways.

Valdis Wish is co-founder of LGMi, a strategy consultancy and production studio for sustainability communications in Berlin. LGMi’s clients include Allianz, WWF, FirstClimate, WeSustain, Better Cotton Initiative, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.


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