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A sparkle of marketing

By Elaine Cohen (BeyondBusiness) on January 10, 2009 at 4:27pm.

One-line summary: Positive first report, with a sparkle of marcom, but lacking in depth and context

Content:

Who owns LexisNexis? I get that it's a division of Reed Elsevier. OK. I make a quick jump to Reed Elsevier and find that LexisNexis is 29% of that group. Via the LexisNexis website I get a sense of size and scale. Full marks to LexisNexis for going it alone taking that important decision to adopt individual transparency in addition to the existence of a mother company report. But for completeness I would recommend that future reports contain a complete picture a little company profiling would provide the context which I feel is lacking in this first report. Especially for those readers, like me, who aren't intimately familiar with content-enabled workplace solutions. It's a short report 10 well-packed pages. But no content index and no section which describes the LexisNexis approach to reporting. As a GRI freak, these elements for me are lacking. I like to know the background to the report, the process, the core drivers, and the intent. Similarly, materiality hasn't found its way into the LexisNexis vocabulary yet, apparently (I did a PDF search just to be sure total instances found 0 ). What's material for LexisNexis? What's material for LexisNexis stakeholders? Did LexisNexis ask them? The CEO says in his opening remarks "Our stakeholders know that LexisNexis is passionate about improving the world." But this report provides no evidence of stakeholder dialogue or engagement. To be fair (OK, I try), there are some recurring themes in the LexisNexis report which point to some form of materiality - the Rule of Law (you can't miss that maybe they should rename the Company LexisRuleofLawNexis), global issues such as human trafficking , access to the law and transparency of legal systems. LexisNexis provides a convincing picture of positive impacts in these and other areas.

Communication:

The report covers the following sections: 2007 progress and 2008 objectives; community; workplace; governance; environment; marketplace. In that order. Rather a strange order. I like to read about governance before I read about impacts. Page 3 is probably the most significant page in the report and nearly the only one which contains any data. An impressive list of positive impacts in the 5 core report sections. But the problem with lists of data is that they are hard to understand if not delivered in context. So I look for context. Take this great workplace 2008 objective: "Continue to improve employee opinion survey scores". Superduper. 2006 and 2007 were rated 62% favorable employee scores. But in the one page dedicated to workplace, there is zero content about employee feedback channels, dialogue or the reason 38% of employees do not give this employer a favorable rating. Similarly, diversity is stated as a core objective. Aside from gender ratios, no data is provided to support the drive toward a culture of diversity. The environmental section is more enlightening with comparative data 2006-2007 (great, context, at last) and good transparency as some of the numbers clearly show there is more work to be done (increase in GHG emissions etc).

Credibility:

How credible is the LexisNexis report? Well, I get the sense that this report stops just before the main course. This is a common issue with first reports. This one looks like a GRI C. Mainly policy and approach and very light on data and performance. I tend to think that this is due to the level of CR maturity at LexisNexis rather than an absence of intent. As well as the safety net of a mother company report. They do provide a fairly comprehensive overview of approach, and some progress, in some cases impressive progress. They report on a number of relevant and material issues. However, the lack of context, lack of external assurance, lack of reference to how CR is managed at LexisNexis, lack of contact data or request for feedback, and the lack of true transparency in many areas causes me to suspect that the sparkle of positive PR was driving this report, rather than a deep commitment to building trust through transparency. Not quite a marketing brochure, but not quite a fully transparent reflection of the LexisNexis reality.

Recommendations:

1. Include a fuller company and business profile to set the right context
2. Assure the report
3. Develop a structured approach to stakeholder engagement and report material issues
4. Take the plunge disclose data

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel, specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses.