As the third Monday of January approaches, Americans will celebrate MLK Day in a variety of ways. Some will attend marches, others will surely post on social media, and some will engage in quiet reflection. Many may wonder how their actions contribute to societal progress, as the black and white images of brave civil rights protesters seem like relics of a more torrential past.
Dr. King transformed American society for the better by not only confronting segregationists on the ground, but by harnessing the power of mass media. His movement’s acts of civil disobedience were broadcast into homes across the country, forcing Americans to grapple with the ugly truth of segregation.
Today, new technologies for relaying powerful messaging to potentially spark social progress abound. At Public Alliance, we believe public relations can be a tool for progress–not just profit–because we see proof everyday, especially in our work with great local non-profit organizations that are making an impact in affordable housing, the lives of individuals with disabilities and at-risk youth, economic development in low-income communities and more.
How Companies Use PR for Social Impact
Often relayed as a tool for promotion and marketing toward the public image of a brand, Public Relations (PR) is a practice that is not frequently mentioned as a socially charitable endeavor. Typically, PR is branded as more self-serving or as spinning communicative webs from the truth. An aspect of the art that people fail to realize is that companies/organizations can and have used public relations to bring about positive social change.
Companies can use PR for the betterment of society in a number of ways. One way is through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. CSR is a way for companies to take responsibility for the social and environmental impact of their operations and to actively work to make a positive impact. Examples of CSR initiatives include:
- Supporting charitable causes
- Developing environmentally friendly products or business practices
- Providing training and job opportunities in underprivileged communities
- Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
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Patagonia, for example, has used PR to raise awareness about environmental issues, including promoting the importance of sustainability and supporting a variety of conservation efforts. In September of 2022, the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, donated the entirety of the company’s non-voting stock towards fighting climate change and supporting nonprofit organizations. The entirety of the donation is close to $3 billion and the news of this action was featured in over a variety of print and digital news outlets. The release of this information not only raised brand awareness for Patagonia but also strengthened the cause of fighting climate change.
Companies can also use PR to educate the public on important issues and to advocate for policies that align with their values. This could include working with policymakers on legislation that promotes sustainability or promoting awareness of important social issues such as human rights, diversity, and inclusion.
The beauty brand, Dove, has used this form of PR to promote body positivity and challenge stereotypical beauty standards through their almost 2 decades of “Real Beauty” campaigns. This type of PR significantly raised brand awareness in 2004 while also helping promote more inclusive attitudes towards women’s bodies. Similarly, Chick-fil-A has used PR to promote its philanthropic initiatives and partnerships with organizations such as Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, setting an example for other corporations to follow.
Another way companies can use PR for the betterment of society is by being transparent and honest in their communication with the public. This can include being open about their business practices, products, and supply chains. This transparency helps to build trust with the public and can help to prevent potential crises caused by a lack of information.
Part of what makes us at Public Alliance passionate about our work is the chance to help our clients realize the potential for good in their PR and marketing efforts. If your company or organization is interested in making an impact, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org