Walk & talk: Corporate social responsibility

Rikke Augustinus Eriksen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has during the years gained increasing awareness among stakeholders and CSR has accordingly won emphasis on the corporate agenda. Whereas stakeholders encourage corporations to engage in CSR they discourage them to communicate CSR. A ‘catch 22’ which implies tremendous challenges for corporations when attempting to prove to the skeptic audience that they are as good as they say they are. The fundamental basis of this master thesis is to investigate the managerial tasks of engaging in and communicating CSR. The main objective of the thesis is to contribute to the limited amount of literature on CSR communication. The objective is sought achieved by investigating why corporations engage in corporate social responsibility and how the corporate brand can be instrumental in strategic CSR communication. CSR is an elusive concept and numerous and distinct definitions exist. Each individual corporation should define CSR according to context including range of stakeholders, core expertise and skills. CSR should furthermore be integrated into vision, values, strategies, and organizational culture and into business operations. This implies that there is no one size that fits all definition. A corporatewide integration of CSR is influenced by what motives and outcomes corporations are driven by when engaging in CSR. The likelihood of CSR being integrated is low when corporations are driven by isomorphism. Corporations driven by strategic motives and outcomes are likely to integrate CSR. Corporations driven by moral incentives are very likely to integrate CSR. It is however questioned whether there is such a thing as selfless good deeds and self‐interest driven CSR can be found in all three drivers, motives and outcomes for engaging in CSR. In regards to this it is suggested that the business case of CSR is prevailing and that CSR should always be approached strategically. Integrated CSR is a requirement for CSR to be judged as a genuine commitment opposed to merely window‐dressing by stakeholders and society. A challenge, which brings forward the double‐edge of CSR communication, which entails that corporations risk achieving the opposite effect than they intended. Brand value in a CSR communication context is created through implicit and indirect communication, stakeholder involvement and dialogue, and symbolic communication should always be backed up by substantive action. In response to the key findings ‘the strategic CSR communication model’ is introduced. The basic premise of the model is that it is instrumental to incorporate CSR into vision and values, which then affects corporate strategy and organizational culture and thereby enable the corporate brand identity as a steering device for aligning action and communication. ‘The strategic CSR communication model’ provides managers with an instrument for achieving a favorable corporate reputation and high brand equity for being socially responsible without communicating CSR too explicitly and thereby gain the opposite effect than what was intended. Consequently, a hole in existing literature on CSR communication is filled.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2009
Number of pages107