The role of public relations in enhancing corporate social responsibility. A case study of Nestle

The role of public relations in enhancing corporate social responsibility. A case study of Nestle


  • Background of the Study

Public relations (PR) is a field concerned with maintaining public image for high-profile people, organizations, or programs and concerns professions working in public message shaping for the functions o f communication, community relations, crisis management, customer relations, employee relations, government affairs, industry relations, investor relations, media relations, mediation, publicity, speech-writing and visitor relations (Grunig and Hunt, 1984). Assembly of Public Relations Associations defines the practice of public relations as the art and social science o f analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs o f action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest (Jensen, 1999). While other define it as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics (Grunig and Hunt, 1984).

On the other hand corporate social responsibility (CSR), also known as corporate citizenship, or sustainable responsible business (SRB), is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. Though businesses are driven by profit maximization, they embrace responsibility for the impact o f their activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere and also promote the public interest by encouraging community growth and development, and voluntarily eliminating practices that harm the public sphere, regardless of legality (Wood, 1991). While increase in competition in business world, marked by inter-firm ‘bad blood’, has enhanced the need for public relations functions, the practice of CSR is subject to much debate and criticism. Proponents argue that there is a strong business case for CSR, in that corporations benefit in multiple ways by operating with a perspective broader and longer than their own immediate, short-term profits.

However, critics argue that CSR distracts from the fundamental economic role o f businesses; others argue that it is nothing more than superficial window-dressing; others yet argue that it is an attempt to pre-empt the role of governments as a watchdog over powerful multinational corporations (Freeman, 1984). However, the overriding factor is that PR and CSR 12 are dependent on each other as they both try to build firm’s image in the market (Saether and Aguilera, 2008). The rise o f CSR. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, coincided with the increased concern for a corporation’s image/public relations. No longer are the boardrooms closed and executives quiet; instead, companies have had to adapt to an ever-increasing demand for information from the public. Although the history of public relations dates back to the turn of the 20th century, its importance, or to some, its unwanted dependence, surged as far back as the late 1970s as well.

The important shifts in business and society during this time also affected public relations by forcing it into the centre of the communication field. It, too. has gone through various iterations, from public information to reputation management to relationship management, yet its process and function remains strikingly similar to the central topics of CSR. In many corporate organizations, the PR department acts as the company’s surveillance team, monitoring relationships between the company and its internal and external environment, anticipating problematic issues and contributing to policies that address these before they become potentially damaging. Just like PR, CSR policies boost the corporate image and reputation.

According to Tench (2006), organizations with good reputations have; differentiation among similar organisations and competitive advantages, more respect for organisational views, that is, the company more likely to be listened to, easier recruitment, improved morale and reduced staff turnover, enhancement and added value for the organisations products and/or services and strengthened information structure with society, with associated improved resources. The rise in consumer awareness and ethical investment are incentives to adopt CSR policies for organizations o f all kinds. PR has found a particular niche in assisting with this, and has benefited from the rise in the popularity o f CSR.

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