Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, has been something of a buzzphrase in recent years. More and more people were interested in finding out which are the socially responsible companies, maybe even considering working for such a company – but does the hype live up to the reality or is interest waning?

From a Google perspective, it certainly seems to be an area of business and social well-being or community spirit that’s less in favour than it was. Search volume for CSR is down 18% on the year and whilst interest has risen as covid has declined, the volume of interest is down circa 50% on the 2017 peak.

Graph showing the trend searching for CSR

According to a survey by the Harvard Business Review, in most companies laudable social objectives are at best disjointed and whilst many companies seek increased business/profits, enhanced reputational impact or reduced risk as prime benefits from CSR programs, these should be seen as the spill-over benefits, not the end goal. The goal of Corporate Social Responsibility should indeed be to create greater harmony between businesses and the wider world in which they operate.

What are our own views and positioning?

Since forming our new agency over a decade ago, we’ve always tried to do good somewhere – its part of our ethos or building both an ethical marketing agency (in terms of our online marketing practices in an industry, SEO, that can be pretty shady sometimes), being a good employer and also doing well for others as we’ve enjoyed success in the past.

For us, it was never about winning business or attracting people trying to source from socially responsible companies, although it’s nice to think that a few might try!

We’ve achieved a lot in a small timeframe –

  • One of the first UK SMEs to insist all staff have a non-contributory pension, Healthcare and cash plan for 2000 operations plus dental and optical costs for all staff
  • All employees share in equity in the company, which is increased annually. Partners can participate too – and shares are for life, even earning dividends
  • We’ve paid above the Living Wage even before the enforced minimum wage was a thing. Even Apprentices earn the Minimum Wage, so circa double what’s recommended
  • We’ve provided free training for two local universities and a farmers’ mental health charity
  • Created new employment opportunities for people supposedly less able – through disablement, chronic illness, or lack of experience to break into the difficult world of IT
  • Funded free entertainment for social care environments
  • Donated a lorry load of valuable products to a women’s cancer charity in the USA
  • We’ve offset more than the carbon we use since 2014 and even offset employees’ private mileage
  • More recently we’ve been supporting a school/home for orphans in India
  • Were amongst the first small members of the esteemed Good Business Charter and we’ve just started the first steps towards applying for membership as a B-Corp achieving an initial score of 50% (pass rate is 40%)

There is of course more to do if we are to rest easy at night.

Our efforts at CSR may have had a small impact on the world around us but have they impacted our work world? Have clients shown much interest, have they asked how they too could do something similar? Have prospective clients mentioned CSR or ethics at all?

To the best of my knowledge, not a single one of these things has ever happened. Maybe it’s because Corporate Social Responsibility is normally the remit of big businesses and we focus on delivering world-class SEO and Social Media for SMEs, so it’s a different audience? Or maybe the people in companies that deal with CSR aren’t the same as those that commit to buying services or managing marketing campaigns?

Who knows. Impact or no impact on clients we will continue with our modest efforts to improve the world around us in a small way as it’s the right thing to do and doesn’t impact costs for clients, we take a hit on our own bottom line instead – we can do that as we only have ourselves to answer to.

One day we are sure to run into a prospective client out looking for good online marketing agencies who are socially responsible companies too. They’ll probably be doing CSR as well so it’ll be a double benefit for the broader community, whatever the trends may say!

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