May 05, 2006

The results of a study by corporate social responsibility consultants at Fleishman-Hillard (FH) surprised many people because they seemed to demonstrate that consumers care far more about how companies treat their employees than any other measure of so-called "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR)--including corporate philanthropy. According to the HF report, 50 percent of Americans say employee welfare is their first criterion for evaluating CSR. And if there was any doubt that this is important, the FH report goes on, fully 76 percent say the way a business treats its employees is a litmus test for their patronage.

Although employee welfare may have come out ahead, the two main arenas (employee welfare and philanthropy) still have common needs--namely, PR and advertising. Communicating a company's achievements still requires some kind of marketing effort, but trumpeting corporate virtue is a lot harder than selling soap. For one thing, Americans are more likely to forgive puffery in product advertising than they are "messages" about a company's social responsibility, according to a 2002 report from the Arthur W. Page Society, a corporate governance think tank.

Speaking of FH's more recent study, Tony Calandro, an FH senior vice president, explained: "What the survey suggests is that any kind of paid advertising ought to come from a third party to be credible. People generally don't think corporate advertising is very credible on this sort of thing." On the subject of employee welfare specifically, Calandro said that likely candidates for providing third-party confirmation include "consumer watchdog groups" and trade publications that list, for example, the "100 best places to work."

by Erik Sass
Courtesy of

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