Best Practices for CSR Action Plans
More and more brands are developing CSR programs. INTA recently published a guide to support them. James Nurton spoke to three of its authors.
“Be open about where you are now and what you want to achieve and then take your consumers on the journey with you.”
- Rachel Tan | Rouse (Hong Kong SAR, China)
Best Practices for CSR Action Plans
On Earth Day this year (April 22) INTA published the “Guide to Implementing and Managing CSR Programs.” This accessible chart, prepared by the Association’s Brands for a Better Society Committee, provides advice and best practices for brands that are starting corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as well as those that want to evaluate existing CSR programs or are considering adopting CSR as part of their business model.
The guide follows a 2019 survey of INTA members which found there was a need to have a more focused direction in CSR action plans. The resulting study found that many brands have yet to implement CSR policies or engage in CSR activities, and not all brands have yet taken advantage of the economic and other benefits of CSR.
Stakeholders—including customers, employees, investors, board members, vendors, and others—are increasingly calling on brands to demonstrate social responsibility and provide moral leadership on issues they care about. In response, many brands have developed CSR programs to support causes, including sustainability, human rights, education, the environment, diversity, equality, and inclusion.
These CSR programs can involve aligning company operations with certain goals as well as donating money, time, or resources. But brands looking to create or develop a CSR program may find there is little guidance or direction on how to go about doing so.
The INTA Guide addresses precisely this by breaking down the process into three key steps: (1) Conduct an Assessment; (2) Action Plan; and (3) Promote & Measure. For each step, the Guide provides beginner, intermediate, and advanced tips and, crucially, sets out what role intellectual property (IP) professionals, in particular, can play in the process and how they can support CSR efforts.
““[IP Professionals] should work together with a company’s leadership, CSR professionals, marketing and branding teams, and others in defining the company’s values, mission, and culture and how these can add brand value and strengthen their IP.”
-Daniel Reis Nobre | Inventa (Portugal)
Key Priorities for Brands
Rachel Tan, Principal and Global Head of Trade Marks, Rouse (Hong Kong SAR, China), who is one of the authors of the Guide, emphasizes the importance of sincerity to overcome potential skepticism about CSR intentions among stakeholders: “Any corporate declaration needs to be backed up with a real desire for change and that means ensuring the whole business is on board—as well as third parties the brand partners with—to understand the part they can play not just to be seen to achieve the corporate ambitions but to be part of a general movement to ‘do good things.’”
She adds that this means that progress should be both measurable and publicized: “Be open about where you are now and what you want to achieve and then take your consumers on the journey with you. Can you work with an organization to help give you that transparency and hold you to account on the promises you have made?”
Another of the Guide’s authors, Daniel Reis Nobre, Managing Partner, Inventa (Portugal), points out that consumers are much more aware of the story and organization behind the products and services they buy today, and brands have to consider that when developing or reviewing their CSR action plans: “The purpose and message of the brand (and company) behind any purchase, how they contribute to a better planet or give back to the community, their transparency in showing their responsible and sustainable production or repurposing methods—these are some examples of key things brands should consider doing, as their consumers nowadays are also much more concerned about it.”
He explains that this means brands need to pay attention to what the world, and their consumers, need and how they can make a positive difference. They should then adapt their CSR action plans accordingly: “Brands should be leading in creating meaningful change and not just acting in that direction because of what their competition is doing or when governments implement new rules.”
Mr. Reis Nobre cites the example of INTA corporate member TOMS Shoes, which has run campaigns such as “One for One,” where for each pair of shoes bought, TOMS donated another pair to a child in need, with over 100 million pairs distributed worldwide, and “Grassroots Good” (giving US $1 for every US $3 made to support grassroots campaigns, such as Black Lives Matter). Promoting these CSR initiatives has increased TOMS brand value, offering consumers the opportunity to make their money help to support good causes.
The third author of the report—Adjoa Anim, Trade Mark Director, HGF (United Kingdom)—says that brands should constantly be asking themselves: will these actions make a lasting and positive impact? “Brands should think about how their action plans will have a meaningful impact in and on the areas of society they wish to support and consider how this marries with their values and those of other stakeholders, including staff and customers,” she explains.
“Brands should think about how their action plans will have a meaningful impact in and on the areas of society they wish to support and consider how this marries with their values and those of other stakeholders, including staff and customers.”
- Adjoa Anim | HGF (United Kingdom)
One question that brands often face when it comes to CSR is how to measure the success of their programs. Ms. Anim stresses the importance of having a “concerted plan” and encourages brands to “seek input from professionals in the field and get staff, customers, and the related communities involved. That way, the actions are targeted and purposeful, the brand gets buy-in from staff and customers, and communities get action that they need.”
Ms. Tan adds that it is important to consider every stage of the product lifecycle, and not just its production: “More and more, governments are wanting brands to take responsibility for their products even when they have gone into the hands of consumers—to achieve circularity.”
Role of IP Professionals
This invites the question: how can IP professionals support brand’s CSR action plans? To start with, Mr. Reis Nobre encourages all IP professionals to understand and get involved with CSR policies. “They should work together with a company’s leadership, CSR professionals, marketing and branding teams, and others in defining the company’s values, mission, and culture and how these can add brand value and strengthen their IP,” he says.
In particular, IP professionals can help by creating use guidelines and monitoring how IP is being used by the brand and by any commercial partners. This is important in ensuring legal compliance, goodwill, and brand consistency. Any changes that are necessary should then be fed through to the corporate leadership.
Ms. Tan agrees that IP professionals have a role to play. In particular, “They should look at their own management processes to see where changes can be made to support the ambitions of a CSR plan. While on the surface IP management and protection may be working well for the business, there are always improvements that could be made when looking at them through the lens of CSR.” She also warns: “IP and the professionals working with a brand should not be seen as an obstacle to circularity, preventing a product which has passed its shelf life being repurposed into something else.”
Ms. Anim encourages IP professionals to read the guide to understand what they can do. It is a concise four pages, and each step includes short, direct points providing guidance on how to get involved in CSR. She cautions that brands have to actively give permission to practitioners and support them when they participate in these activities. “Without support from the top, and through all levels of management, it is difficult to sustain these actions on a long-term basis,” she says.