BBB CSR Forum–Cub Reporter's Debut Performance

Apologies to the organizers, sponsors and speakers from the Better Business Bureau CSR Forum III – Good Business 2010 held on Tuesday, May 4,  but instead of  detailing your excellent performance, I'm writing mostly about my own shaky experience as a long-time blogger getting his first taste of real world reporting.  For those who want to skip the fun and stick to the news, just read the bold face type.  For the loyal few who are here only because they miss As Good As News, you are not allowed to skip the bold sections and read only the funny stuff.

On Monday night, Forum eve,  I'm planning to finally extract some value from one of those suits that's been hanging lifeless in my closet since 2006, when my wife says “Sports jacket, no one wears suits or ties anymore, especially to a conference.”

Tuesday morning, I visit my toxic assets, feeling my taxpayer oats as I pass the  Fed on Maiden Lane crossing lower Manhattan.  Arrive fairly early, using iron will to pass pastry tables and march directly into conference room.  Event photographer seems to be focusing on me, probably needs photo to go with caption “Only man not in suit and tie.”  Mild embarrassment outweighed by prospect of “I told you so” opportunity to come.

I fail to locate fellow Justmean's blogger Madeline and recognize no one.  Engage with small group milling near front of room, peering at clip-on name tags.  Accountants – good, accountants were usually friendly at work, recognizing  lawyers as fellow corporate pariah.  Ernst & Young accountants from the NY office, even better.  I launch a question, the first investigative probe of  my budding reportorial career,  “Did you work with my brother-in-law ?”  Answer turns out to be yes, producing pleasant conversation but no real progress toward Pulitzer Prize.

Return to seat, chatting, er, I mean interviewing,  with interesting lady behind me.  She is also an in-house lawyer, but she is  here at the Forum as a volunteer officer of another organization, how does she find the time ....wait, she has just published a book.  Ouch.  I'm retired and I can barely publish a column.  And my topic for today is.......... still not readily apparent.

After welcoming remarks and intros - including Claire Rosenzweig of Better Business Bureau (when you think about it, Better Business Bureau was a CSR pioneer before there was CSR) – the keynote speaker is James Turley, Chairman & CEO of Ernst & Young.  E&Y's commitment to CSR, demonstrated by the investment of Mr. Turley's time in the Forum, is impressive.  We get a brief, interesting CEO level update on the state of the world.  Then Mr. Turley offers an overview of E&Y's approach to corporate responsibility: Focus; Align with organizational values; Engage the masses; Leverage your skills; Do things you know will make a difference.  This approach leads E&Y into education, entrepreneurship and environment with mentoring programs,  tutoring programs around PBS Kids Cyberchase, participation in PACI (partnering against corruption initiative), and  lots more – all  doing some good, building  the  brand  and  all  part of  the  broader plan to  keep E&Y's people, its real asset, engaged and fulfilled.

Next up is Michael Holland, Exec VP and Group Head, Corporate Social Responsibility, New York, Edelman, who has some serious numbers on the rewards of doing good.  Consumer decisions are  effected by view of corporation as responsible. NGOs and for-profit corporations partnering with NGOs are seen as more responsible.   The full trust barometer slide is eye popping – suitable for framing – as are numbers like a stock price increase of 45% (for the do gooders) v 12% (for the less good) over three years or a profit/year increase of 16% v 7%.  Some of Mr. Holland's overview echoes Turley – focus on strengths, get results.  At times the CSR focus seems to slide into brand management, but Mr. Holland is clear in his initial and final view – CSR is  a belief system and an operational model that needs to start at the top, more than brand management.

Break time.  Still not seeing Madeline, but a blogger from another site spots my Justmeans name tag and queries me, she is looking for Madeline too.  Wait a minute, other reporters are here????.  One is asking me what I think of the Forum so far?????  I don't  know what I think, much less what I will write.  Return to pastry area.  Iron will fades as I spot chocolate croissants.  Also spot Madeline, unfortunately seat I was hoping to save for her was utilized by mad texter.  At least we can compare notes later, I have had my first live meeting with a real person from Justmeans, feels like someone should be shouting "Stop the Presses" in the background.

Robin Reibel, Macy's Group VP, Media Relations, Cause Marketing and Visitor's Center, speaks next.  Cause marketing takes Macy's into many different affiliations and programs.  At first this seems to conflict with the advise from Messrs Turley and Holland to focus on strengths – but maybe not.  Retail is a world unto itself and one strength is the ability to engage with many different types of customers.  The programs Ms Reibel describes are working for customers, employees and the Macy's brand – not to mention cancer survivors, national parks, etc.  Even I have heard of several, and  I never shop – anywhere.

Following another break (iron will restored, I stick to one croissant for the day - donuts do not count, they are not considered croissants, in fact glazed donuts may actually be petroleum products), Madeline has exchanged seats with mad texter and  the  day's final act takes the stage.

Stuart Elliott, advertising columnist for The New York Times, interviews Christopher Graves, Global CEO, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.  Actually “interview” is not quite what happened.  Mr. Elliott slipped in a few starter questions, comments, even a riposte or two, but he was basically launching Mr. Graves into a series of monologues.  Grave's performance was worthy of a Comedy Central special – Mr. Graves, if you are reading this, I can introduce you to the bookers at Comix, Gotham and Stress Factory.  Mr. Graves has mastered the art of stating a truth (or at least something that passes for truth) simply, boldly and colorfully when others would tread carefully, the basis for much of stand up comedy.  The topic was “Managing Your Brand's Reputation.”  The content dealt mostly with crisis management, but there was room for some interesting detours, including a brief note on moral self licensing – or why do gooders do bad things.  Specifics included analyses of current crises,  case studies, including war stories, some great video of skirmishes between Greenpeace and Unilever (Dove) compared with Greenpeace v Nestle – too much to summarize here.  Some of the lessons:  Even the well intentioned will be crucified at times, so get ready for it, and get ready with repeated simulations, not just paper plans;  Think about the next day story, get ahead of the media coverage;  Where possible, move yourself from culprit to victim on the blame scale, but leave any necessary finger pointing to others (see Madeline Ravich's post on BP for the related case study on this one).

Forum over.  Speakers rare combination of informative and entertaining, but no headline stories flashing before my eyes. Walk to subway with Madeline, giving her boring lecture on historic sites in Wall Street area,   including  ancient  ruins  still  standing   from  my early  days  as  a  lawyer. Fortunately, I just miss train connection, which gives me the opportunity to spend an hour in historic Newark Penn station, fitting punishment for my lecture.  Return home to find Justmean's e-mail repeating detailed instructions on use of keywords.  My performance in this area has been weak – although you will note I have now used “performance” five times in this article, including title and first sentence.

Photo Credit: FundScrip