Recap of Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility: working in a world where PR and CSR meet

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When your organization deals in alcohol, marijuana, or gambling, communications and corporate social responsibility are bound to collide. And it’s not just about reputation. From substance use to gambling, the government-owned enterprises that oversee these activities in British Columbia share a dual responsibility to both promote their product and the public best interest.

On October 11, 2018, CPRS Vancouver kicked off event season with a panel moderated by Kyra Laverdiere, Manager of Strategic Programs, Corporate Citizenship at Telus.

Featuring PR professionals Candace Jones, Director of Corporate Communications & Stakeholder Relations with BC Liquor Distribution Branch & BC Cannabis Distribution Branch, and Doug Cheng, Manager of Communications at BC Lottery Corporation, the panel discussed what social responsibility means in industries that must also consider their overall impact on societal health and wellbeing.

From crafting the kind of responsible messaging that still converts those who may be against your brand, to incorporating the social corporate strategy into onboarding for communications employees, the panel explored what it means to communicate authentically in sensitive fields -- and ultimately maintain company integrity.

For example, the recent legalization of “cannabis,” the preferred public relations term, brings with it a whole new set of issues to consider. From general concern about safety regulations and distribution logistics right up to those who just simply do not agree on a moral level, the audiences to consider are vast.

“We have to build within this fine line that ensures we promote responsible use while messaging to win over those who may not be on board,” said Jones.

And, as with alcohol, there comes an audience with which you are actively trying not to engage. How do you ensure that your messaging is being distributed broadly while trying to avoid affecting a negative influence on youth? Part of the strategic direction at the BC Liquor Stores & BC Cannabis Stores involved mirroring already successful campaigns around liquor consumption.

“Everything that we do around cannabis has to be done around social responsibility. Campaigns are very much aligned to liquor and we have numerous education campaigns,” added Jones.

This is the same at BCLC, with strong education campaigns around Gamesense (who hasn’t heard the refrain “if you gamble, use your gamesense” on the radio or television?). This approach is as much rooted in pragmatism as it is altruism.

“Everything that we do has to go through a corporate social responsibility assessment -- it’s at the core of what we do,” said Chen. “If we want our business to have optimal growth, we need a strong customer base, so we need to do the right thing and foster a healthy player base.”

So it would seem that deriving strategic communication direction from the lens of CSR is not only a standard set by the parameters of industries with Canadian taxpayers’ eyes on them, but it is also prudent one. And taking a proactive approach to the negative consequences that may arise within these industries provides more room to focus on the many positive facets.

“Remember, whatever growth we do generate from the business, we address responsibly,” continued Chen. “We generate a lot of money that goes back into the government including health care and other social programs. There is a balance between generating revenue and doing what’s right.”

About the Author

Kristine Sostar McLellan is the Corporate Communications Manager at Concert Properties, and holds a Master of Publishing degree from SFU with a BA in English Literature from UBC. Working in both not-for-profit and corporate environments, she has over ten years of strategic communications experience. Twitter: @KristineSostar