NEW YORK—Burson-Marsteller has formed a new global practice focused exclusively on corporate and institutional ethical and social responsibility. The new global ESR Practice consolidates the agency’s experts in change communications, corporate reputation management and corporate social responsibility at a time when corporate credibility on ethical issues is close to an all time low.
According to Judi Mackey, chair of Burson-Marsteller’s corporate and financial practice, recent corporate scandals in the US and around the globe have had a negative impact on the public perception of corporate trustworthiness. At the same time, public and investor activism is on the rise, and companies are increasingly being ‘punished’ for behaving in a socially irresponsible way.
“Once companies address the corporate governance issues they currently face they will quickly have to address other issues that impact the way society as a whole views them,” says Mackey. “Society will demand that corporations operate in a more ethical and socially responsible way. The challenge companies face is in deciding which issues they should be focusing on—that is, where is their greatest impact, greatest risk, greatest opportunities—and working out how to do so.”
The practice will offer three main services: first, research into how a company is perceived, why it is seen that way and how it compares with peer companies; second, issues identification to establish what is and is not important, and stakeholder identification and analysis; and third, investment in the key driver of any successful ESR initiative, change communications, the process of creating an internal corporate culture that can consistently deliver on a company’s commitments in the area of ethical, social and environmental responsibility.
The ESR team is led by Richard Aylard, Nick Bent and Louise Hawson in London, and John Clarke, Jordana Friedman and Julie Jack in New York.  They are supported by more than 100 communications professionals experienced in relevant areas of community relations, constituency relations, change communications, investor relations, marketing and crisis management, among others.
“There is nothing new in the public’s expectation that a company should act in a responsible manner. Companies must deliver on the promise to create wealth in an ethical manner and benefit society at the same time,” says Mackey.  “What is different today is that stakeholders also expects companies, in partnership with governments and NGOs, to actively engage in addressing deep-rooted social issues, on both a local and global basis.
“CSR is not a ‘nice to do’, it is a ‘must do.’ Companies need to identify their key issues, play a positive role in addressing them and successfully communicate what has been achieved. If they do this, they have an excellent opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors, strengthen their reputations, build deeper brand loyalty among customers, create trust with their investors, and increase company loyalty among employees.”