An ever‐increasing number of companies are recognising the reputational risks and opportunities that corporate responsibility brings, and for these companies aligning corporate behaviour with stakeholder expectations is an ongoing business priority. Communication, however, often remains the missing link in the practice of corporate responsibility. The information requirements of a range of opinion leader and mass stakeholder audiences are not currently being satisfied by many companies, so they are not getting full credit for their responsible corporate behaviour. Of course, there are specific challenges in communicating corporate responsibility – including scepticism towards company messages and potentially hostile reactions from the media, campaign groups and others. The diverse information requirements of different stakeholder groups also present special communication challenges, and these requirements are examined in turn. Using MORI’s British opinion research to illustrate the case, this paper first examines communication to opinion leader audiences (such as legislators, business press, investors and non‐governmental organisations), and in particular the opportunities and limitations of the social report. It then goes on to address communication of corporate responsibility to the general public and the need to trigger wider consumer engagement in this topic. Lastly, it covers the communication opportunity presented by companies’ own employees and the internal communication challenges surrounding corporate responsibility. The paper suggests, in conclusion, that effective communication of corporate responsibility depends on a clear strategy which evaluates both the opportunities and the risks to the brand, and which tailors messages to different stakeholder groups. It calls for a coordinated approach, which ideally embeds corporate responsibility messages into mainstream communications. The paper also identifies internal communication as an under‐utilised and potentially powerful channel for enhancing a company’s reputation for responsibility among its key stakeholders.
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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