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CSR Communication: Report or not to report your company

October 18, 2010


We analyzed what is communicated using a content analysis of companies' social reports (if available), CSR content within companies' websites, social advertising, and presence on web 2.0 related to CSR issues. We also interviewed 69 communication or CSR managers within these same companies about their opinions on risks and opportunities in communicating CSR.

What is communicated?

  • Social reporting is still not an institutionalized practice in Europe as it is in the US as only one third of companies provide social or thematic reports to a large audience. Still, the majority of companies (48%) provide CSR content in their annual reports.
  • The most often communicated social issues relate to the environment, market orientation, and workplace climate. While on the contrary community involvement, ethics and governance, local economic development, and stakeholders' engagement are less often disclosed. Notably human rights are rarely communicated.
  • The European common trend is that UK companies have the highest disclosure rate, followed by southern European companies in Spain, Italy and France. This is true for all aspects that were investigated. This reveals how CSR communication it is having a potentially different impact on stakeholders.
  • Many companies, in particular those from the UK, Spain, Italy, and France, tend to use their websites to set their agenda on social issues. They care not only about social reporting or descriptive informing about what the company does, but also about being gatekeepers within the debate on social issues in our society. As the interviews underscored, this behavior is about building a public culture of CSR. For this web2.0 is assuming an important role particularly amongst Spanish and Italian companies.

Managers' opinions

  • Managers do not fear the public opinion or mass media skepticism that CSR communication has an opportunistic marketing purpose. Their point of view is that, in the past, media were attentive only to CSR's worst practices. Today, scandals easily spread, but so do good practices as CSR communication is starting to become known by media and the general public, who seem to have an increasing interest in such issues even when they relate to good news.
  • The managers in the current study shared their opinions about how to avoid risks in communicating CSR. These opinions are summarized in 14 guidelines in the study's conclusion.
  • The variety and type of managers' opinions indicated that CSR communication is a practice yet to be constantly redefined.
  • According to the managers, both processes-namely, engaging in and communicating CSR-have their complexities and risks. Those who consider engaging in CSR to be difficult believe that CSR is about changing the culture of an organization. Meanwhile, communicating CSR is perceived to be difficult because of the complexity of fitting multiple stakeholders' expectations while providing a concise message that is credible.

IE School of Communication is part of IE University. Its programs, taught in English and Spanish, are intended for creative people with initiative and an international mindset. Following IE's principles of excellence and innovation, its portfolio offers flexible and multidisciplinary degrees oriented to the labor market.

Download brief research findings with graphs HERE.

Download full report HERE.

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About the author

Professor Laura Illia, IE Business SchoolLaura Illia is Academic Director of the Master in Corporate Communication at Instituto de Empresa, IE University and Assistant Professor in Corporate and Business Communication at the same university. She studies the identity of companies, their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and identity issues in organizational change. She conducted her post doc at the Judge Business School (University of Cambridge) and London School of Economics (University of London), where she guest lectures since 2006. She has a PhD in communication from the University of Lugano, where she worked as researcher at the Institute of Marketing and Corporate Communication. In the same University she got her degree from the Executive Master in Communication Management and her master and bachelor degree in communication. She is a member of the editorial board of corporate Reputation Review (Palgrave) and Corporate Communication: an international journal (Emerald). She published in academic journals such as for example Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Journal of Business Research, Corporate Reputation Review, Corporate Communication and has recently published a book entitled Changing Organizational Identity: Understanding Difficulty to Change and Member's Concerns, Saärbruche Dr. Muller Verlag. She collaborates with Cotting Consulting International, as special as special coach for media, branding, CSR and image strategies.