Dissident Spin Doctor: When CSI becomes CS-BS
by Emma King (@EmmainSA) A side effect of being in the industry for many years (apart from grey hairs and a slightly crazed look in one’s eyes) is that we become jaded and bored with all the spin-doctoring nonsense that we see on a daily basis. For me, this is never more so than when I see the BS that is peddled around in the name of CSI — or corporate social investment.
Making a tangible difference
Don’t get me wrong; there are many cases, I do think, where big businesses truly believe in trying to make the communities within which they operate better places. I have worked on behalf of a number of corporates that spend a huge amount of their bottom lines investing in people, programmes, training and on-the-ground projects that are laudable and make a tangible difference to the status quo.
The big alcohol clients are a good example of this. True, many of their sustainable business operations were originally bought into being as a measure of protecting their licences to operate.
But those who are smart know that a business built upon a solid ground of ethical and sustainable systems will probably be a sound one. So they have hired people and built teams that are focused upon investing in and driving industry-leading sustainable practices — whether that be “greening” their operations, or investing in “Responsible Drinking” education programmes.
However, there are still the bad ol’ people who continue to operate dodgy businesses and use spin doctoring and flimsy “CSI” programmes in an attempt to push their own agendas.
A recent case in point is that of a local factory that has spewed pollution and putrid smoke into the neighbouring residential areas for years. When faced with growing complaints from residents, it embarked upon a sustained PR plan to stifle them — from threatening to cut jobs of local people, stirring up employees to threaten complainants on social media, and enlisting trade unions to create tension between the “haves” and “have-nots”.
The cherry on the cake has been the “good news” CSI stories it has spun in order to present itself as supporters of the local community, complete with much back-slapping and photos of outsized cheques being handed over in local community papers. These actions appear to be part of a sustained and ongoing PR campaign that may be aiming to hide suspect environmental and operational practices under a thinly constructed veil of respectability.
It seems crazy that — in an age where transparent business practices are demanded as standard — PR spin-doctoring continues to allow businesses to be bullies. Poor or disadvantaged communities continue to be used as pawns in order gain brownie points; and the wool continues being pulled over the eyes of people who do not know better.
Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). Previously, she was head of PR at The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). She contributes the monthly “The Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.
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