Corporate Eye

Authenticity and Audience – Being Human: interview with Mallen Baker

It seems obvious that not all your stakeholders are the same, with the same needs; yet for many companies it would seem that one size fits all when it comes to corporate responsibility reporting and communication. Simply producing a CR report isn’t enough to communicate with all of your audiences; and not all of them want all the information there is in your report.

Paul (Corporate Eye CEO) talked to Mallen Baker about the importance of identifying the different audiences for your corporate responsibility communications: about providing them with the information that interests them; about creating the opportunity to engage with them and to discuss the issues that matter.

I’ve broken the interview down into smaller pieces, so that you can quickly find particular points you’d like to hear about. I’ve also included the whole interview and a transcript.

Part 1: Tailoring content and conveying authenticity

Key topics:

  • understanding the different audiences
  • tailoring content for those audiences
  • conveying authenticity and generating trust

Soundbites:

“The key distinguishing features between a good report online and a mediocre one are a couple of things. First of all is that the company is clear about who its audience or audiences are… and the second part is the integrity of information and the authenticity of the voice that you’re hearing.”

“If you care about your audiences, you use a medium and an approach that they will relate to as your starting point.”

“Consumers see through the fluff very quickly. And all of the polls show that they’re becoming more and more cynical about the claims that companies make in the environmental and ethical space.

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Length: 8:40
Download: Mallen Baker interview: part 1

Part 2: Communicating commitment

Key topics:

  • the Centrica report interviews
  • CEO commitment; embedding sustainability in the business
  • discussing issues that are in the public domain

Soundbites:

“[they] had the courage to step up and say ‘We are prepared to be placed in an area that’s just slightly outside of the comfort zone’ ”

“Whenever there’s a controversy in the press relating to a company the first thing that I will do is go to their website and see what they say about it… the mind boggles just how often the answer to that question is ‘Nothing'”

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Length: 4:13
Download: Mallen Baker interview: part 2

Part 3: Authenticity and audit

Key topics

  • third party commentary
  • collaborating with the audience to solve a problem
  • using neutral spaces to exchange ideas and information

Soundbites:
“Having trusted third parties who have had the time – and the incentive presumably – to look carefully at what the company’s doing and to talk to them, and then to give their own reflections, good and bad… that generally plays pretty well”

“The other thing that provides authenticity is when people not only are admitting that something has gone the wrong way this year but actually seek to engage their audiences with problems that they face that they haven’t yet worked out how to solve”

“It’s shifted the focus a little bit from ‘the company is the star, the company is the centre of the universe’ and puts it into a position where there are sustainability issues and the company is one of the actors… one of the creators of environmental consequences alongside the rest of society”

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Length: 7:15
Download: Mallen Baker interview: part 3

Part 4: Audience and integrated reporting

Key topics:

  • integrated reporting
  • importance of the audience
  • interim sustainability reporting

Soundbites:

“integrated reporting could be … a very positive thing, and potentially a dangerous thing in equal measure.”

“The encouraging thing is that… it will lead you to be clear about the communication that you send to one of your key audiences… the danger, the downside, is if you begin to believe that that integrated report is what you produce for all of your stakeholder audiences.”

“Many of your direct stakeholders do not get their information from reports.”

“Where you are engaging your customers or your supply chain or your employees with what you are doing and what’s happened, then the more up-to-date and current that is, and preferably more of a discussion and two-way flow that is, then the more likely you’re going to succeed.”

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Length: 6:47
Download: Mallen Baker interview: part 4

Part 5: Social media and CSR

Key topics:

  • the right social media mindset
  • going to where the audience is
  • expanding the audience for CSR

Soundbites:

“You can’t have a discussion with a corporate entity. You can only have a discussion with a human being or a highly trained parrot.”

“One of the big challenges for the companies who are used to corporate communications and to being faceless – except for maybe the CEO in certain contexts – is that they find it very difficult to shift to a medium where it’s personal.”

“If you really want to engage the people who are your stakeholders… you need to go to where they naturally gather. And social media potentially creates tools that enable you to do that.”

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Length: 9:13
Download: Mallen Baker interview: part 5

Part 6: Trends in CSR communication

Key topics:

  • conflicting trends in CSR communication
  • legislation and innovation
  • the human element; stories

Soundbites:

“The evolution of corporate responsibility reporting or sustainability reporting to date is completely unsustainable in itself, ironically, because… the current state of the art doesn’t connect with audiences.”

“The trend has been more and more GRI reports, more and more standardisation. And I start to see a counter trend now, which is from the leading companies [who are starting to say] “We’re going to find ways that actually communicate better with some of our key audiences… we’re interested in finding the way that works.”

“It’s the human element, the story. … and it is the most elusive element because it requires you to be prepared to corporately communicate on a human level. That will always be a minority sport. But I think there can be some very, very good rewards for those who will pick up the intelligence about how it’s done well and give it a go.”

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Length: 7:32
Download: Mallen Baker interview: part 6

Here’s the whole interview, in case you’d rather listen to it end-to-end; and the transcript, for those who prefer to read.

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Length: 43.43
Download: Mallen Baker interview (whole interview)
Download: Transcript

Many thanks to Mallen for taking the time to talk to Paul.

Who were we speaking to?

Mallen BakerMallen Baker is a writer, speaker and strategic advisor on corporate social responsibility and Founding Director of Business Respect. He is responsible for the Business Respect email newsletter on CSR, which is the longest running CSR internet newsletter in the world.

He is a regular columnist and contributing editor with Ethical Corporation.

Mallen was formerly the development director with Business in the Community, where he was responsible for developing BITC’s approach to marketplace issues, which includes how companies manage issues that arise around their core products and services. He produced the Marketplace Responsibility Principles working with a leadership team of CEOs from major companies headquartered in the UK.

He initiated the Business Impact Review Group – the group of 20 companies who developed a common approach to CSR reporting, and was responsible for the work of the Business Impact Taskforce which produced the landmark “Winning with Integrity” report.

Mallen chaired Kingfisher plc’s Stakeholder Advisory Panel 2007-2010, and was a board member of CSR Europe 2006 – 2008.

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Lucy is Editor at Corporate Eye
 
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