How CMOs Can Also Be Chief Responsibility Officers

It's Your Job to Create and Promote Your Company's Socially Responsible Agenda, Culture and Behaviors

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Andrew Benett
Andrew Benett
Greg Welch
Greg Welch
As the bottom-line value of corporate reputation has moved beyond conjecture to gospel, more companies are recognizing the need to have a chief responsibility officer. Maybe someday every company will have a fully defined CRO role, but until that day comes, more often than not, that duty falls to the chief marketing officer.

Many of the critical actions required for pursuing this agenda will depend on how CMOs navigate and embrace these opportunities and challenges. It's an easy enough job to oversee ad hoc CSR efforts; increasingly, though, the CMO/CRO is being charged with something more fundamental: actually transforming the organization into a bona fide "conscious corporation" with a purpose beyond profit. That's all well and good for the Ben and Jerry's and Toms Shoes of the world, but not every business model was built around CSR principles and not every company is naturally positioned to reinvent itself as such.

The situation presents distinct challenges for CMOs: How can one successfully drive the reinvention of the corporate brand while still balancing the shorter term challenges around sales and customer relations? Moreover, given current economic headwinds, are companies truly prepared to reallocate precious corporate resources to such activities? Obviously pushing them can also prove somewhat risky for CMOs -- and today, no marketer wants to become part of our annual tenure statistics.

The reality is, no matter how great the challenge, the rewards of "humanizing" a corporation far outweigh the effort required. And there's no longer much of a choice, as recent studies by Euro RSCG have confirmed: 82% of consumers surveyed in the U.S. and Europe believe that, to be successful, corporations of the future will need to show a more "human" face by caring about people (employees, customers, suppliers) and taking a more active role in community and social causes; 74% believe businesses bear as much responsibility as government for driving positive social change.

With this in mind, the real question is not, "Why should a CMO institute a culture of responsibility?" but "How?" Smart CMOs will stack the odds in their favor by taking these three steps.

1. Be real. Before anything else, the CMO needs to take stock of what the company is already doing and can credibly talk about (we've all witnessed the backlash against claims that ring hollow). In some cases these practices are so intrinsic to how a company operates, they can be difficult to recognize as anything beyond the ordinary. Catalog everything, and you'll have a chance to spot patterns and areas of achievement that will come as a surprise to even your most attentive stakeholders. Then work with your team to determine those areas of focus that promise the greatest return. Is it a good thing that Home Deport supports breast cancer research? Absolutely. But think how much more value accrues to Avon courtesy of its Walk for the Cure and other women-centered efforts. This area of focus works because Avon is a company that has long espoused female empowerment, self-sufficiency and mutual support. The purpose beyond profit is intimately aligned with its business, its brand and its customer base. And that makes it far more believable and effective.

2. Build your bench. No one can bring about institutional change on his own. Don't even try. Take a cue from "Survivor" and identify not only those people inclined to support you, but also those most likely to undermine your efforts. First, go for the low-hanging fruit, whether that be a sympathetic member of the C-suite or a group of junior colleagues passionately committed to the change you espouse. Don't forget that you'll need buy-in from above and below.

Our experience has shown us that when venturing into the sustainability arena, securing buy-in from outside critics and other authorities also is essential. In writing "Good for Business," we spoke with Senior VP-CMO Beth Comstock about GE's far-reaching Ecomagination initiative. She explained the importance of involving the company's most vocal skeptics from the outset: "Initially, we reached out to NGOs, looking for their help. We built an eco-advisory board, which has been invaluable to us. This group of savvy sustainability experts and businesspeople helps us determine which technology investments we should be making and also helps ensure our overall scorecards are clean and accurate." Clorox gained instant credibility for its Green Works line by securing the endorsement of both the EPA and the Sierra Club.

3. Deputize your employees. It's an irony of the Web 2.0 era that just as companies are trying so hard to spark conversations with consumers online, so many continue to clamp down on employees' public utterances. Don't dismiss the potential benefits of informal communication online: Encourage employees at all levels to engage the public in the inner workings of your company's culture and values. You might even push to make such communications a parameter in performance assessments. Based on our recent investigation, we believe that almost every company has pockets of passionate employees who would welcome the opportunity to jump on this bandwagon.

Zappos is a company so committed to its customer-focused culture that it offers new hires a $2,000 "bribe" to quit after the first week of training. If a person is not a good fit for the company and its culture, the online retailer prefers to sever the relationship at once. Aaron Magness, business development and marketing executive at the company, encourages total exposure of the Zappos culture, through employee tweets, blogs, Zappos TV (posted videos), Facebook, and an annually published Culture Book. The latter is a collection of hundreds of short essays written by Zappos employees and business partners, explaining what makes the company culture unique and successful.

Whether you are a CMO or a CRO, it's your job to both create and promote your organization's socially responsible agenda, culture and behaviors. Don't miss the opportunity to let others help you with this critical imperative.

Andrew Benett is global chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide and co-CEO of Euro RSCG New York. Greg Welch is global leader for the consumer goods and services practice at executive-search firm Spencer Stuart. They are coauthors of the recently released "Good for Business: The Rise of the Conscious Corporation" (Palgrave Macmillan).
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