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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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573

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Influence of Corporate Social Responsibility on Organization-Public Relationships, Attitudes, and Behavioral Intentions

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to test an integrated model of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for relationship management in public relations. A two-step approach to structural equation modeling was used to examine hypothesized associations among CSR, organizationpublic relationships (OPRs), company evaluations, and behavioral intentions. The results revealed that CSR initiatives were positively associated with OPRs and had even more of a positive influence on the relationships than did corporate ability. CSR also appeared to have an indirect effect on company evaluations through OPRs, as well as both direct and indirect effects on behavioral intentions (purchase, employment, and investment). The findings of this study point to the need for an organization to incorporate CSR aspects into its business activities and maintain its commitment to CSR. The adoption of CSR helps an organization promote its sustainable competitive edge while serving societal needs.





575

Introduction

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives have become more common in recent years due to various programs, including philanthropy, employee volunteerism, and other innovative endeavors. Recent examples of CSR initiatives include Ben & Jerry’s sustainability efforts, The Body Shop’s campaign for a ban on animal testing, and Starbucks RED and Shared Planet campaigns. In academic terms, CSR is defined as “voluntary corporate commitment to exceed the explicit and implicit obligations imposed on a company by society’s expectations of conventional corporate behavior” (Falck & Heblich, 2007, p. 247). CSR is one of the two dimensions of corporate associations by which the public identify and evaluate companies (Brown & Dacin, 1997). The other type is corporate ability (CA), which refers to a company’s skill in terms of producing quality products and services. Although both CA and CSR influence the public’s evaluation of a company, the company’s character, as reflected by its CSR actions, may have more enduring values and provide more distinctive advantages than other CA-based aspects of the corporate identity (Sen & Bhattacharya, 2001).

Maintaining CSR can be conceived as an investment in a company’s future. Through practicing CSR activities, corporations can improve their images and reputations, as well as generate greater profits, while making a positive impact on society (Marin & Ruiz, 2007; Wigley, 2008).

Recognizing the potential impact of CSR initiatives, many companies have recently attempted to leverage CSR in order to develop and enhance strategic advantages over their competitors (Sen, Bhattacharya, & Korschun, 2006). More importantly, the fundamental idea behind CSR further suggests its importance in building and maintaining organization-public relationships (OPRs) since the quality and longevity of such relationships are determined by the extent to which those expectations are met (Ledingham, 2003). In Ledingham and Bruning’s (2000) study, consumers reported experiencing a stronger relationship with and loyalty to an organization when they were aware of the organization’s investment and involvement in their community. Therefore, CSR can serve as the cornerstone for organizations’ facilitating long-term relationships with the public.

Organizations’ efforts to build satisfying relationships with the public will, in turn, improve the public’s attitudes toward the organizations and encourage the public to purchase more of their products and take supportive actions for them (Ki & Hon, 2007).

Although increasing attention has been accorded to CSR and relationship management as prominent themes in the field of public relations, very little is known about the linkages among CSR, OPRs, and attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. Given the need for an integrated model of CSR for relationship management, the purpose of this study was to explore the role of CSR in promoting well-developed OPRs and positive attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. Therefore, this study attempted to explore two main questions: (a) How do CSR and CA affect relationships between an organization and its publics? and (b) Does CSR directly affect the publics’ evaluations of an organization and their behavioral intentions (i.e., purchase, employment, and investment), or does it affect those outcomes through OPRs? This study provides valuable insights into how CSR works for enhancing OPRs and other desirable outcomes and thereby contributes to the growing body of knowledge on CSR in public relations. For the practice of public relations, this study reinforces the importance of CSR as a viable and robust strategy that can bring long-term benefits both to organizations and society in general.

576 Literature Review CSR Initiatives and Relationship Building In broad terms, CSR basically benefits society and is often viewed as interrelated and interdependent with business ethics (Joyner & Payne, 2002; Valentine & Fleischman, 2008).

CSR can be defined as a “voluntary corporate commitment to exceed the explicit and implicit obligations imposed on a company by society’s expectations of conventional corporate behavior” (Falck & Heblich, 2007, p. 247). Understood as ethical behaviors derived from organizational values and culture, CSR initiatives assist an organization in establishing a desirable corporate identity that enhances its credibility and legitimacy (David, Kline, & Dai, 2005). In terms of corporate identity, CSR can be described as an important aspect of corporate associations, which is “a generic label for all the information about a company that a person holds” (Brown & Dacin, 1997, p. 69).

Brown and Dacin (1997) propose two types of corporate associations, namely corporate ability and corporate social responsibility. While CA involves a company’s ability to provide quality products and services, CSR associations reflect a company’s commitment to its perceived moral, ethical, and social obligations. Even though both CA and CSR influence assorted publics’ perceptions of an organization, the organization’s character as reflected by its CSR actions may have more enduring value and provide more distinctive advantages than other CA-based aspects of corporate associations (Sen & Bhattacharya, 2001).

The CSR orientations of organizations encompass economic benefits, conformance to legal and ethical expectations, and philanthropic involvement (Uhlaner, Goor-Balk, & Masurel, 2004).

Carroll (1979, 1991) proposes that CSR be classified into four categories, including economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary (or philanthropic) responsibilities. Economic responsibilities pertain to obligations companies should meet as the basic economic unit of society (Carroll, 1991). In other words, while companies need to produce goods and services for members of society, they also aspire to increase their profits for their owners and shareholders. Legal responsibilities, on the other hand, pertain to the legal framework, rules, and regulations imposed by the society in which they operate that must be obeyed and within which companies are to achieve their economic goals (Carroll, 1991). Beyond complying with codified laws, ethical responsibilities embrace business decisions and activities that are acceptable to the society (Carroll, 1991). Thus, ethical components of CSR include behaviors and activities that are not necessarily forced on companies by the law but that are expected by society. For example, companies may choose to act in environmentally friendly ways in accordance with ethical responsibilities even if they are not legally obliged. The final category of CSR, discretionary (or philanthropic) responsibilities, is purely voluntary in nature. Business practices and activities derived from philanthropy can show an organization’s good will or desire to make contributions to improving welfare in the society (Carroll, 1991). As the highest criterion of CSR, discretionary responsibilities include such activities as generous donations to charities and significant efforts to solve problems in the community, actions that go beyond societal expectations.

CSR dimensions can also be classified in terms of targeted public groups, including customers, employees, and community (Sotorrio & Sanchez, 2008). Although specific aspects of CSR programs are designed to meet the expectations of investors or employees, customers may evaluate those CSR programs from a more holistic viewpoint (Pirsch, Gupta, & Grau, 2007).

This idea suggests that CSR activities tailored to a specific group of publics may not only satisfy the targeted group, but may also enhance other groups’ or individuals’ perceptions of the 577 company and its behaviors by virtue of the good will underlying those programs. Thus, a company’s commitment to CSR may cultivate a positive public image of the company, thereby motivating several of its publics to engage in a relationship with it (Marin & Ruiz, 2007).



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