different P logo's

Achieving the right relationship between a company’s brand and its corporate social responsibility efforts is a delicate balancing act. Many companies struggle with identifying the appropriate equilibrium between altruism for its own sake and using altruism to support a company’s brand. When it comes to CSR-focused advertising, firms need to be especially careful: unless the messaging is right, it’s very easy to come across as inauthentic or self-serving.

In 2013, Paul Klein, Forbes CSR contributor and founder of Impakt, suggested a new set of marketing “Ps” meant to help firms decide how and when it is appropriate to tell their CSR story. It’s a great starting point for how to think about CSR communications. Here is a quick summary of Klein’s CSR Marketing “Ps”:

  1. Focus on the issue your organization is addressing through CSR activities rather than trying to convince people your company is socially responsible.
  2. Make sure any people or examples cited in your communications are credible and inspiring.
  3. Stay away from cause-related promotions, which can seem opportunistic. Stick to communications about initiatives that are program-based and substantive.
  4. Only include partners that are credible and won’t be seen as having a conflict of interest with your CSR program and message.

Balancing authenticity and reputation is a critical issue for companies that want to communicate their philanthropic, volunteerism and sustainability activities without appearing self-serving. Last year, we published a white paper that examined another set of ‘Ps’ – four overarching principles designed to help guide a company in aligning CSR activities with the corporate brand for authenticity and impact. These principles could easily complement Klein’s framework as firms think about their CSR messaging. You can read the specific examples in the white paper, but here is a breakdown of the most common brand alignment strategies:


As with any aspect of building a brand, the key to determining the optimal linkage between a company’s brand and its CSR efforts is research. To be most effective, this research should include internal and external stakeholders, including employees, customers, prospects, communities and even investors. But it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming undertaking. Research can be done through online surveys, focus groups, or even through surveying social media channels which offer a quick (and inexpensive) way to gain insights from key audiences. The information uncovered is highly valuable, often providing a blueprint for future charitable efforts and a roadmap for communicating these efforts them with credibility and impact.

Achieving the right relationship is a delicate balancing act, with much at stake—the integrity of the corporate brand as well as the important work being done in the community. But it’s well worth the effort. When a company is associated with social responsibility—and its initiatives don’t come across as self-serving—it can truly be said to do well by doing good.