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Social Responsibility and Rand McNally: Doing Well by Doing Good

Interview with Courtney Marsh, Assistant Marketing Manager at Rand McNally (Chicago)

Tell me about how Rand McNally defines “socially responsible” and how they are accomplishing that goal?

We are dedicated to responsible purchasing practices because we purchase 4000 tons of paper a year, given the number of road atlases, street maps, local street guides and other products we print.  We use paper from sustainably managed forests, and we have made other strides in our efforts in this area, too.

We also work with an outside partner called NAEIR to donate obsolete or excess educational products to schools who might not otherwise be able to afford them.  And like a lot of companies, we have a paper recycling program.

Does your own definition of “socially responsible” differ at all from Rand McNally, and if so, how?

I was a political science major in college, and my minor was in environmental studies.  I did a lot of work on public policy related issues and sustainable development.  I got interested in the intersection of doing good but also doing well.  I was taking environmental economics classes as part of my minor, and a lot of classes were about how to solve the world’s problems but how to do that in a business-friendly way so that it made sense.  You’re not just trying to fight the good fight, but you’re also taking into account the cost to corporate America.  So as I explored careers, I tried to marry the “do good” and “do well” messages I encountered in college.

I also had a couple of career changes after college – I was a commercial banker for about four years.  Before that, I also worked at an international development consulting firm in Washington, D.C. for a couple years.  I then decided to go back to business school.  I wanted to look at how to combine all the different interests I had in the business world with my desire to get closer to the social responsibility issues I had encountered during and right after college.

I got my MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern here in Evanston, IL.  As I was looking at my job search, I wanted to work for a company whose products I felt good about and whose products made an impact in the world.  I had several friends who went to consumer packaged goods companies, but it just wasn’t my thing.

The CEO of Rand McNally happened to speak in one of my marketing classes.  I went up to him after our class and introduced myself.  He had spoken about the education business in his presentation.  I thought, “Wow, what’s better than helping kids discover the world?”  So I just approached him afterwards and chatted for a few minutes, and we agreed on the spot that I should send him my resume.  It was a great example of networking and taking advantage of opportunities that arise.

So I sent him my resume, and it took several months as it got passed around the company.  But it just so turned out that the company at the time was going through a transition, and our CEO wanted to invest more in our education business.  It had been ignored for quite a while under previous management.  They were looking for a marketing manager, and it was a perfect fit for me, in terms of getting involved with products that had an end-mission. 

What are the challenges as well as advantages to being a socially responsible company?

Every company faces the reality at any given time of the budgets and resources they can dedicate to socially responsible programs and initiatives.  There are some companies who take a holistic approach, though, and incorporate it into everything they do – companies like Stonyfield Farms, Starbucks, Home Depot and Timberland are all good examples.  They infuse it across the entire chain – not just the operations, but also the marketing and how they talk about themselves.  The message that the consumers get is that they are purchasing products from a company who eats, sleeps and breathes social responsibility. The idea is that this makes good business and will give these companies a competitive edge. It’s hard to get to that point, I think, but that would be my idealistic view of what it means to be socially responsible. 

What is necessary to make that leap?

I think it is often senior managements’ priorities.  There are just some CEOs who see social responsibility differently than others do.  Some take a one-off project approach, while others, based on their personal beliefs or views on the intersection of business and society, take a more systematic approach. 

Do you see how social networking can assist with this process or how it helps you with some of your marketing choices?

We’re always looking at ways to promote our educational products. Given the nature of Rand McNally’s educational product line, which I consider socially responsible, corporate partnerships are a great way to extend the reach of our marketing efforts with companies who may have a similar “mission” to help kids discover the world.  And this is a great time for that because of how these social networking technologies support those kinds of conversations.  That’s actually how I reconnected with a friend at a company, one whose mission is to get technology into the hands of students in developing countries.  I knew him from Kellogg, and he was a part of my LinkedIn network.  Through the LinkedIn network, we reconnected and are talking about ways in which we might partner in a win-win scenario.

I don’t know the full extent to which sites like LinkedIn are taken advantage of in terms of partnerships between companies.  I see a lot of job postings or requests for expertise.  But personally I haven’t seen a lot of people exploring partnerships, at least not openly. There’s a tendency, which is understandable, to be really cautious about anything that may compromise trade secrets; so using social networking sites openly for this purpose may not necessarily make sense in all cases.

To the extent that you can get companies (versus just the individual consumer) participating in the dialogue, there is a higher potential that social responsibility and sustainability will take off.  When you get companies really behind those issues engaging in those conversations with consumers on a social networking platform, that’s when you’ll start to see larger scale change. 

Lora Freeman, Networlding Partner Blogger
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Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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