May 17, 2012
By Pamela Williams
In recent years, the concept of corporate responsibility (CR) has spread like wildfire across the business landscape—there is even a magazine devoted solely to the topic. In virtually all industries, employers are ramping up efforts to be good corporate citizens, doing their part to make their hometowns and the whole world better places in which to live and work. Within the cable industry, though, active community involvement is nothing new. Both programmers and MSOs have long made community outreach part and parcel of their corporate missions. I asked a few CTHRA members to tell us about some of their employers’ major philanthropic initiatives and their impact on employees, the community and (yes) the company’s bottom line.
When it comes to corporate responsibility, you’d be hard put to find a more ambitious objective than the one Scripps Networks Interactive has set for itself with its program entitled “Change the World,” run jointly by the HR and corporate communications departments. Jerilyn Bliss, vice president of corporate communications admits that changing the world is one huge goal, “but we believe that it can be done, one step at a time.”
Those steps range from donation matches, a robust United Way campaign and general encouragement of employees’ volunteer activities to an arrangement in which each of the network’s six lifestyle brands partners with a specific national non-profit related to its area of interest. For instance, said Bliss, “Food Network’s partner is Share Our Strength, which focuses on hunger. This spring we held Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale fundraisers in multiple offices with the assistance of our Employee Action Committee, and offered employee advance-screening opportunities for the co-produced documentary Hunger Hits Home.”
During this period, in addition to baking and selling up a storm, Scripps’ employees raised money, donated food and learned about hunger problems and solutions. And when the documentary aired on Food Network, viewers and online users immediately responded with more than $100,000 in donations to end childhood hunger.
In another targeted effort, Scripps, Travel Channel and the Friends of the Smokies organization have raised more than $2 million to preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park, our most-visited national park and a major draw for the nearly 1,000 employees working and living in Knoxville, where SNI is headquartered. Said Bliss, “Several of our employees also serve on boards and committees dedicated to the upkeep, promotion and preservation of the park.”
Scripps isn’t the only employer to find strength in specialization. For example, although Time Warner Cable (TWC) has a long history of investing money, volunteer hours and technology in communities throughout the country, since 2009 the company has aligned its community outreach and giving more closely with its business imperatives and core competencies. According to Tessie Topol, TWC’s senior director of strategic philanthropy and community affairs, “We are inspiring the next generation of problem solvers through Connect a Million Minds (CAMM), a five-year, $100 million philanthropic effort to encourage young people to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and careers. CAMM was launched in November 2009 with clear objectives: Build connections with customers, enhance employee morale, establish TWC as a credible thought leader and achieve tangible social impact on an issue of great importance to our nation.”
In a similar vein, said Kevin Martinez, senior director of corporate outreach for ESPN Inc., “All of our corporate responsibility strategies complement and enhance the business and community case. ESPN’s mission, to serve the sports fan, drives our content, production and relationships, whether to further our business or support charity.”
Given ESPN’s corporate parent, The Walt Disney Company, as well as the network’s Education Through Sports program, one key beneficiary of time and money, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, is a natural. In addition, said Martinez, “Through our focus on health and fitness, ESPN partnered with Jimmy Valvano to found The V Foundation for Cancer Research, which has raised more than $120 million for the cause. Our tireless support of our military and veterans led us to produce our highly acclaimed week honoring veterans, as well as Disney’s Heroes Work Here initiative. And our commitment to social inclusion helps us foster our Enabled strategy that works globally with Special Olympics International.”
All Hands on Deck
From all accounts, it hasn’t taken any arm-twisting to get employees involved in their companies’ community outreach efforts. Said TWC’s Topol, “Once we established strong partnerships to help bring CAMM to life, including For Recognition and Inspiration in Science and Technology (FIRST) and the Coalition for Science After School (CSAS), the stage was set for a major grassroots effort among consumers and employees.
TWC employees have enthusiastically embraced CAMM by mentoring and coaching FIRST
robotics teams and teaching kids about the STEM principles behind cable technology with TWC’s signature curriculum, “Cracking the Codes in a Wireless World.” For example, last April, 1,500 TWC employees hosted STEM learning events for 7,000 students. This year, employees have been involved with our “Wouldn’t It Be Cool If” contest, which invited kids ages 10 through 15 to dream up inventions that would make their lives, communities or even the world a more wonderful place. And they have!” (Visit www.connectamillionminds.com
to learn more.)
But wait—that’s not all! Said Topol, “TWC’s employee involvement in corporate social responsibility extends beyond CAMM. For example, employees across the company are forming green teams to support our stewardship of the environment. ”
The folks who work at ESPN are an equally enthusiastic bunch. According to Kevin Martinez, “This is a company made up of entrepreneurial and innovative employees who love sports and want to share that knowledge and love of their favorite games with others. They are innately team players who want to help their team mates and their company to be the best they can be. Team ESPN is a program that realizes those objectives every day in more than 400 volunteer events each year with thousands of our employees lending a hand.
“Our outreach department creates hundreds of engagement opportunities each year which help direct employee talent in skills-based volunteerism and service to community. In addition, Team ESPN is supported by The Walt Disney Company’s VoluntEARS program that translates volunteer hours into financial grants to thank both employees and community organizations for the work that they accomplish.”
Good Citizenship Pays Off
No one pretends that pouring money, talent and volunteer time into the community is any substitute for delivering a good product and excellent service. Still, word gets around, and research has shown that a company’s good deeds do enhance its reputation among its customers and, by implication, the broader public (a.k.a. potential customers).
For example, consumer research conducted in 2011, a little over two years after TWC implemented its more focused cause strategy, found that awareness of its CR activities had increased 52 percent. “Further,” Topol explained, “there was strong recognition of the CAMM brand specifically, and the positive perception of TWC among consumers had doubled. We are proud of our how far we’ve come in a relatively short time and appreciate the benefits of being recognized as a thought leader in STEM education.”
Employers have found that a solid community outreach program also packs a major punch in rising to one of our industry’s major challenges: the on-going war for talent. As Steve O’Connor, senior director of executive staffing for ESPN Inc. put it, “When our activities are discussed and written about they become part of the overall employment brand, which in turn results in greater company awareness and increased desirability for candidates to seek out and review potential opportunities. When we ask applicants the reasons they pursue opportunities with ESPN, the most common responses are a good fit with the position described, the product the company represents and our reputation in the community as a good corporate citizen.”
Scripps’ Bliss agrees that community involvement can work like a talent magnet, enticing candidates to come onboard and helping to keep them there. As an example, she cites an employee profile from the internal newsletter that hangs in her office. It quotes the subject’s response to a question about benefits: “My favorite part about Scripps’ benefits is how the company promotes Community Social Responsibility (CSR). I like to participate in Volunteer Day every year, where, instead of coming to work, employees select an organization and go work in the community.”
I don’t think there is an employer in our industry who would not echo Bliss’s reaction to that quote: “It’s a pretty cool thing that when employees think of their benefits at Scripps Networks Interactive, they think about involvement with our CSR practices and activities right up there with pay and healthcare.”
(Pamela Williams, CAE, is Executive Director of the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association (CTHRA))