Edelman shares story of going interactive with 2012 Citizenship Report

In September of 2012, Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, released its 2012 Citizenship Report. Rather than adopt a traditional print or PDF format, the report was released as an interactive microsite designed to engage clients and employees alike. John Edelman, Managing Director, Global Engagement and Corporate Responsibility at Edelman, recently shared some insights about the impetus and process of developing the microsite.

Why did you decide to adopt a different platform for your citizenship report? Was this strategy developed by upper management, prompted by employees themselves or the result of feedback from your stakeholders?

Launching the report as a microsite allowed us to practice what we preach when advising our own clients to do microsites.

As a learning experience from last year’s report, due to employees requesting digital versions, we only ordered a total of 2,500 copies of the report for 60 offices. In prior years a minimum order requirement for something like this was 10,000 copies. We took that as a sign of the changing landscape, that everything is now becoming digital. We also thought to meet current trends and the growing demands of the digital age, while being environmentally responsible by saving paper, water, energy, fuel and ink.

Additionally, as we researched how other companies were presenting their CSR reports, we found that all the top companies were going digital and making their reports more accessible, shareable and user-friendly.

What departments were involved in coordinating and developing the microsite?

Developing the microsite was a team effort, comprised of Edelman employees as well as external design and development experts. The team consisted of our Global Citizenship group, our Corporate Executive Marketing team, writers, editors, designers, Web developers and programmers.

How has this platform enabled you to enhance your citizenship goals as a company?

It illustrates in a very big way to our employees and stakeholders that we are serious about philanthropy, volunteerism and environmental sustainability. The microsite facilitates public engagement and provides a shareable platform that we can easily distribute to different types of audiences.

Since its launch, has there been any feedback from your stakeholders, employees or clients? Have employees rallied behind this project and increased their involvement in Edelman’s citizenship efforts?

We’ve received great feedback all around. Our stakeholders and clients are very impressed with the website and are very excited that we are “walking the talk” both in the programs we are implementing worldwide, as well as in developing this year’s citizenship report as a microsite.

Additionally, our employees have been inspired by this report and we’ve received nothing but praise from them. They are proud to be working for a company that supports so many communities worldwide and they are overall very pleased with the look and useability of the microsite. Many of our employees have rallied behind this report and have even gone on to promote it via their personal social media channels – something we’re really pleased with and humbled by. Additionally, the report came out just as our 603 “Summer of Service” efforts were wrapping up. The title recognized Edelman’s 60th anniversary celebration engaging our 60-plus offices to participate in volunteer activities for 60 days. There was lots of buzz and excitement surrounding overall citizenship at Edelman, and the report certainly helped spur that enthusiasm.

Your most recent reports integrated both financial and non-financial data. What was the motivation behind this? How has this shift enhanced the reporting process or impacted your stakeholders?

In 2011 we became one of the 80 companies to join the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) pilot program. The mission of the IIRC is to create an Integrated Reporting framework that provides financial and non-financial information in one report. As part of our commitment, our report reflects some elements of the Integrated Reporting framework, such as identifying our capitals and transforming those capitals to value.

This shift has enabled us to become more transparent. Transparency has never been more important and we strongly believe that whether you’re a private or public company, you must be accountable for everything you do. Being transparent is part of how we operate and it’s necessary for us to report on the progress and challenges of our citizenship journey.

What were some of the best practices or lessons learned in the process of launching a microsite rather than a traditional CSR report?

Since this was our first year issuing our CSR report as a microsite, everything was approached with a “beginner’s eye.” In terms of lessons learned, we noticed that the editing process for a microsite is very complex. You have to take into account the transition of content from a single word document to multiple web pages, searching for any “copy/paste” errors or formatting errors. Additionally, we created PDF versions of the report for download, so any edits that were made to the microsite also needed to be reflected in the PDF versions and vice versa. It was a very detailed process, and it’s good to know that moving forward we now have the knowledge to make the editing process run much more smoothly and effectively.

In regards to best practices, we found that setting specific deadlines and outlining these deadlines in a work-back plan is extremely helpful and necessary. There are so many moving parts to creating a microsite, and it is very important that each step is clearly outlined and assigned to appropriate owners.