Mark Hanna
Richline Group, Inc.

Our job, as the CMO, the keeper of corporate reputation, is to pursue a “Return on Responsibility” model that both holds our firm to a clear “glass house” discipline and communicates our trustworthy journey to true corporate responsibility. Transparency and Trustability (thanks Peppers and Rogers) are the real goals for the overused “Authenticity” mantra. We can be the corporate leaders in both strategic direction and reputational value…more than any other member of the “C” suite.

I believe that we all want our Corporate Social Responsibility programs to be real. Profitability increases when any firm’s competitive advantage improves.

As leaders in our industry, we must devote time, effort and money to do work that, in many cases, may not bear fruit for years or be easy to measure a direct value. We understand legal compliance but, generally, we avoid the idea of “should do” because we are too busy or it is too costly. And, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of carefully selecting issues where we believe we actually can make a difference, rather than those where we would simply like to.

It is important that we act as leaders because it’s incredibly meaningful to our industry position and reputation value. The “return on responsibility” from such involvement exceeds that of pretty much anything else we could promote…. It’s that significant. Think of “return on responsibility” as “Return on Relationship” (thanks Ted Rubin) with Mother Earth and its citizens.

I believe sustainability initiatives have to be driven from the top and integrated into the culture….they must become a way of doing business and require the participation of all company resources. If given the charge to do so, we should be more than willing to make an investment in the education needed to effectively provide the appropriate leadership and direction to any/all sustainability initiatives the organization has determined it wants to pursue. Employee advocacy will follow.

CMOs Responsibility_1 According to new research carried out by MIT Sloan Management Review, the Boston Consulting Group, and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), organizations need and want the involvement of top management in their sustainability efforts — but don’t yet have it. “A significant majority (87%) of respondents to our sixth annual Sustainability and Innovation survey agreed that corporate boards should play a strong role, but only 42% reported that their boards actually were engaged on this topic”.

The specific frameworks are less important than the core idea behind them– businesses can and should integrate social responsibility into their business models. The increasing pressure on private enterprise to create social good is only going to grow. And, starting now, the expectation that business will contribute meaningfully to society will become the norm. Companies that just give lip service to integrating their business purpose with social purpose, with no real action behind it or business models that reflect a commitment to social intent will be called out and held accountable.

As the facilitator of our markets’ futures, we recognize that an obvious force is a global audience with rising expectations. In a world of transparency and real-time response, people are demanding that companies act ethically and responsibly. In fact, according to a recent Edelman “good purpose” study that explores attitudes around social purpose and business, an overwhelming majority of global consumers — 87% — believe that society’s interests should be at least as important to business as commercial interests.

It’s in the interest of a company’s future to attract young, talented employees (and consumers) who are increasingly attracted to vibrant, truly responsible companies. We need to create meaning by social, ecological leadership and commitment. The creativity and success will follow the talent.

CMOs Responsibility_2

And, let’s talk Sustainability. We should be the Chief Communications Officer that ensures Sustainability/CSR efforts enhance:

  • Reputation in general
  • Employee attraction, motivation, innovation, retention and productivity
  • B2B partner and supplier relationships
  • Local and national government relations
  • Your ability to meet current and future environmental requirements
  • NGO conversations and partnerships
  • Community satisfaction

I read recently that the principle that companies should have a social purpose that is inherent to their business lies at the heart of Etsy, which enables people around the world to connect offline and online to make, sell and buy unique goods. They help creative entrepreneurs start, scale and enjoy their businesses, and connect them to buyers who care about where they spend their money. Etsy is a global platform, but the proceeds from these transactions flow locally, largely going back to the communities where sellers live.

CMOs Responsibility_3A CMO that is the catalyst of strengthening reputation, differentiating from competitors and maintaining a social persona, is one that pushes the agenda of increased transparency and other responsible strategic priorities. The more the CMO is the instigator, the more certain that your corporate message on responsible practices is authentic.

Advocate Return on Responsibility by leading the movement in your firm. You will never communicate anything but the reality. Let’s add a new C-suite job to our resumes…..Chief Corporate Conscience.