Young women and girls sit on swing sets, run around a playground, pay on a roundabout, and toss softballs. They rally off stats on how they can reduce their risk of breast cancer, unplanned pregnancy, and depression if they played organized sports.
This scene played across televisions nationwide in 1995 as part of Nike’s “If You Let Me Play” campaign. And the message is still relevant and true today.
These corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs ran during a difficult time for Nike. While this campaign successfully raised awareness on the lack of female participation in sports, the company’s public image was far from great.
In May 1998, their CEO Phil Knight addressed their damaged public image, thanks in large part to their questionable labor practices.
“The Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse,” Knight said. “I truly believe the American consumer doesn’t want to buy products made under abusive conditions.” He promised a change in philosophy.
Indeed, change did come. Just a few years ago, Fortune named them as the sixth most socially responsible company in the world. They continue to dedicate themselves to corporate social responsibility. Thanks to their dedication to transparency, they release sustainability reports publicly on a regular basis.
Socially responsible companies like Nike understand the importance of improving their communities. They develop corporate social responsibility strategies to address societal issues to improve the world we live in.
Why is this so important? We recently chatted with David Tyahla, an instructor for Georgetown University’s Sports Industry Management Program, to find out. As a former Director of Government Relations for the U.S. Soccer Foundation, he shed some light on the basics of corporate social responsibility (CSR):
What It Means
Corporate social responsibility is a broad term describing a company’s efforts to improve society. Efforts can include everything from monetary donations to environmentally-friendly policies.
“Nike has a history of promoting social issues through marketing campaigns,” Tyahla said. “Their ‘If You Let Me Play’ campaign took place during a time when the value of Title IX was in question and girls were falling behind in participation. It used powerful data and statistics to help make the case that playing sports was critically important to a young woman’s health and well-being.”
Tyahla also points to their latest CSR program, the Equality campaign. It promotes the importance of diversity and inclusion, using famous athletes like Lebron James, Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, Megan Rapinoe, and Dalilah Muhammad to highlight fairness among different genders, sexual orientations, and races.
“This is not only an example of strategic CSR,” he said. ”It’s also philanthropy. Nike has chosen to sell branded apparel (t-shirts and shoes) with proceeds benefiting two new national partners: Mentor and PeacePlayers International. Both are excellent philanthropic organizations.”
Nike’s ongoing commitment to philanthropy and improving society makes them one of the top socially responsible companies in the world. Their efforts have helped their brand in various ways.
How Companies Benefit
Socially responsible companies see several benefits when they start to invest in improving communities. First of all, social responsibility can drastically improve a company’s public image — especially in Nike’s case. Tyahla provided a personal example of how important public image is:
“When my son was five years old, he’d sometimes join me watching my favorite teams on TV. He would often ask, ‘Did your team win the trophy this year, Dad?’ or some other variation on the ‘Which team is the champion?’ theme,” he said.
“Even at that age, he was figuring out that only one team can win the big trophy each year. Because of this, other teams must use other means for keeping their many stakeholders satisfied, including showing their commitment to their local communities through CSR and strategic philanthropy.”
Community relations programs make it easier for companies to ask for public support. For example, as Tyahla points out, if you favorite team is known for losing, you will likely cite their community impact as one of the reasons people still remain loyal.
Their programs also impact one of the most common issues plaguing the modern workplace — employee engagement. Gallup’s February 2017 poll found that only 34.5 percent of employees are engaged at work.
Simply put, employees love working for companies that receive public praise. They feel more enthusiastic and motivated in their work because they understand the impact their company has on the world. Tyahla explains a simple yet effective model for doing business — the Three P’s: Profit, People, and Planet. This is especially effective in attracting millennials as consumers and as employees.
“Research shows that millennials are much more likely to consider a company’s CSR, strategic philanthropy efforts, and reputation when they make purchases and consider employment,” he said. “Millennials support (and try to work for) companies that match their views.”
The fact that job seekers are actively seeking out socially responsible companies is changing the way companies do business. A March 2016 report from Governance and Accountability Institute found that more than 80 percent of S&P 500 companies publish CSR and/or sustainability reports, up from 20 percent in 2011.
The most common mistake socially responsible companies make is being inauthentic. It’s up to companies to be transparent and educate people on how the company’s partnership benefits the cause.
“For instance, a sports league or team doesn’t need to apologize that their primary purpose is to win and make money while doing so,” Tyahla said. “They just need to be transparent about their goal for the cause they partner with and help the public understand exactly what their purchase is going toward.”
Similarly, athletes who act as spokespeople need to be authentic, and companies that partner with them must consider their behavior.
“This is an important factor in sports philanthropy and social responsibility that doesn’t exist within more traditional philanthropy,” he said. “All relationships between sports and charities are dependent on the athlete’s’ actions and behaviors on and off the playing field.”
Finally, socially responsible companies can’t be contradictions. As Tyahla pointed out, some may act philanthropically while at the same time being involved in corrupt business practices or unethical behavior.
“An excellent CSR initiative can be viewed as nothing more than hypocritical and an attempt to distract the public from a company’s legitimate problems or negatives,” he said. “This is often referred to a ‘Greenwashing’ — spending money and resources to address a problem the company may have caused, but spending even more to promote the fact they’re being a responsible corporate citizen.”
Why You Need to Know About It
As a job seeker, you need to be discerning of employers. For example, if you value innovation, look for the most innovative companies in your industry. If you want to work for socially responsible companies, you need to find them and know when not to pursue them.
A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 56 percent of the 7,700 millennials surveyed said they have ruled out working for an organization because of its values. What’s more, 70 percent believe their personal values are shared by the organizations they work for.
It’s important to find the most socially responsible companies in your industry when pursuing a career. You’ll likely be happier and more engaged in your day-to-day. Socially responsible companies create happier workplaces, encourage personal growth, boost creativity, and promote individual philanthropy.
What are some of your favorite socially responsible companies?