Transforming social responsibility to social advocacy for legacy | Jesmond Saliba

While companies may initially fear the sectarian mentality in a tiny nation-state like ours, corporate social advocacy can be a catalyst to overcome this same peculiarity

Jesmond Saliba, managing director Corporate Identities
Jesmond Saliba, managing director Corporate Identities

Corporate Social Advocacy is not a new entry in the dictionary of business buzzwords. It is new, yes – but it is not a buzzword. CSA is a researched area of corporate action where brands become more tangible and more socially-relevant. Internaitonal research is showing as well that millenials are giving weight to social activity when making choices about their brands, or their work places. 

We are entering an age of confluence of brand value and community development that will place businesses in a more prominent position to influence domains outside the conventional commercial ones. Corporate Social Advocacy is the strategic navigation of these waters, and Corporate Identities has already embarked on an ambitious initiative to prepare the business community in Malta for the approaching horizon.

Nothing sells likes values

Towards the end of the century, companies slowly started shifting attention from the attributes of their products to the values of their brands. In doing so organisations naturally sought to follow social narratives more closely, making sure that the values they expound are reflective of the market they’re in. This phenomenon was not passed up in Malta and local companies too moved to curate their corporate brands.

This transformation has been gathering momentum for the best part of 30 years and in the 1980s organizational theorists even drew up models to help companies pick up and understand trends in society they could then take advantage of or brace themselves for.

Strategic Issues Management, as the specialized arm within Public Relations came to be formally known, is the identification of emerging trends and social policies that may potentially impact the business. A company will want to be able to influence policy and social directions as much as possible and prepare itself for the changes hitting the context it operates within.

Although trends monitored by SIM are central to the organisation, they may not be important enough or noteworthy to customers. Ever seeking to earn legitimacy from the market, especially after a new wariness of business processes started to seep into the collective mind, PR professionals proposed a new function: Corporate Social Responsibility.

It has to go beyond earning applause and likes

CSR dwells on the maxim that “brands that do good will do well” and actively seeks to show the more conscientious side of business. Over the years, Social Responsibility has matured from simple philanthropy into a strategic exercise that builds a reputational resorvoir. No longer are companies content with the random tree-planting effort by its employees; they now select relevance and continuity in the causes they support.

Social Responsibility is thus an investment in the conditions that make the business sustainable and allows a company to give something back to the community.

Companies making history

Social Corporate Advocacy goes beyond the established PR efforts in that it contributes to areas that are, in the traditional sense, none of its business. Social Advocacy seeks to align the brand to one side of an often binary debate emerging out of a complex collection of ideas, issues, and conditions.

By lending brand muscle to a cause out of pure interest, business relationships suddenly become much more intricate, whether B2C, B2B, or B2G. Corporate Social Advocacy forces companies to take a place in the history of a community and to contribute more than just economically to society.

Corporate Social Advocacy roots a brand deeper into the social fabric and inserts it more intimately with the story of a community. Bearing the dangers in mind, particularly to brand equity, CSA nonetheless makes organisations more real, more legitimate members of society.

Taking the lead to transform CSR into CSA

The tightly-knit society in Malta, where discussion themes often cross over social, political, ethical, and economic borders in one breath, Corporate Social Advocacy is an opportunity for brands to engage more meaningfully with communities and take Corporate Social Responsibility to a new level.

While companies may initially fear the sectarian mentality in a tiny nation-state like ours, CSA can be a catalyst to overcome this same peculiarity. At the same time, however, neither is Advocacy meant to be divisive, brusque politicking. Quite the contrary, companies can lead the way into serious and concrete issues that are frequently ignored by the traditional social actors.

Corporate Identities understands that for businesses to go further, they need to go deeper. In tomorrow’s hyper-connected societies brands with shallow roots can only expect a short life, no matter how many kittens they help down trees. Companies cannot wall up their brands away from the realities around them, if anything; they are uniquely positioned to bring foresight, expertise, and concrete action into the equation.

In view of this, through Corporate Identities we will be teaming up with specialists in the sector to transform the Corporate Social Responisbilty, into perhaps a more engaging role which will deliver on engagement with employees and society, transforming the CSR into CSA with the ultimate aim of creating a legacy that lasts where is needed for societal well being.

Jesmond Saliba is Managing Director, Corporate Identities

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