Racepoint and PRWeek Host Event on “CSR in the Digital Age” 2

On Tuesday evening, Racepoint and PRWeek co-hosted an event at San Jose State University on “CSR in a Digital World.”  Our colleague Lindsey Scott was live at the event and shares this report.

By Lindsey Scott

The “CSR in a Digital World” event, which was attended by local media and entrepreneurs, SJSU students and PR professionals, kicked-off with a keynote from One Laptop per Child Founder Nicholas Negroponte.

The audience was given background on the history of OLPC and its mission to connect kids in very remote parts of the world and alleviate poverty through access to education.

Negroponte described the tremendous success his organization has enjoyed in countries like Uruguay, Peru and Mongolia, despite warnings he received early on against becoming a non-profit. Scale, he emphasized, is crucial, which explains his lofty goal of launching 1-2 million laptops in 2008 and 10-20 million in 2009, while achieving a price tag of $0 by the end of 2010. Negroponte stressed multiple times that the project is not about laptops or technology, but about “something much, much bigger.”

After Negroponte fielded questions from the audience, a panel of corporate marketing and communications professionals took the stage for a discussion of how the prevalence of online media has affected corporate social responsibility. The panel, which was moderated by PRWeek’s editor-in-chief, Keith O’Brien, featured the following individuals:

  • Amra Tareen, co-founder and CEO, AllVoices
  • Helen Clark, manager, corporate marketing, policy, gov’t and public affairs, Chevron
  • Paul Bergevin, general manager, global communications group, Intel

Each individual was given the opportunity to discuss the CSR efforts of his or her company. Examples included the one million volunteer hours pledged by Intel employees in honor of the company’s 40th anniversary and Chevron’s recent launch of willyoujoinus.com, an online forum for consumer discussions about energy. Tareen described AllVoices’ mission to become “the people’s CNN” and to provide a place where people can discuss what’s happening in the world around them.

Despite obvious differences in the companies represented on the panel, a few common themes emerged. The proliferation of digital media and self-publishing is effectively changing the way large corporations do business. Not only are these companies being forced to adhere to a very high set of standards, but the PR professionals that represent them are being forced to evolve as well. Transparency has to be a guiding principle in all communication with the public. As Clark put it, “You can’t position a company… you have to live your ethics.”

Bergevin recalled a time earlier in his career when “PR people were control freaks,” and noted that the industry has changed drastically. He stated that those in the PR industry need to “cede control in order to gain credibility.” The panelists made it evident that relinquishing this control was a large part of CSR in the digital age and made the following points:

  • Providing people with access to information about your company is essential.
  • Communication needs to be two-way
  • Conversations should entail a free exchange of ideas, both good and bad, and companies should not step in to regulate

The rapidly changing landscape has resulted in changes to job descriptions at Intel and the addition of new reputation and social media departments at Chevron. Despite this, Bergevin noted that most companies are really just “figuring it out as they go along.” In the meantime, they are seeing some of the immediate benefits of the digital environment, such as instant feedback from the public in the form of blogs posts and comments, and greater insight into customers and potential customers.

Disclosure: AllVoices and One Laptop per Child are clients of the Racepoint Group

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