Building positive relationships with the community can help your business recruit and retain talent, enhance your company’s reputation, and in times of crisis, protect your ability to recover and remain in business.
Good community relationships don’t just happen. They are built over time. A good community relations program is:
1. Local. Good programs actually start inside a company’s doors, with its own employees, extend into the neighborhood, then into the broader community. As you define your company’s “community,” think of it in terms of concentric circles, expanding out from your business.
2. Captured in a written plan. A written plan helps you document and define your goals, schedule and carry out planned activities, and assess your results. It enables you to easily update your program as you complete activities and as new opportunities emerge.
3. Tailored and targeted. Good plans are tailored to address local community priorities, issues and concerns. They also are targeted, both in their scope of activities and whom they are trying to reach. Generic or cookie-cutter plans and those with an overly broad focus have limited impact.
4. Ongoing. Community outreach is a continuing activity, not something that is done intermittently. Good programs consistently reach out to key audiences in the community through plan components throughout each year.
5. Based on responsible operations. No amount of community relations can compensate for a business that has frequent negative issues, operating problems, is poorly maintained or takes its neighbors for granted. A business with a poor history in the community can develop positive community relationships, but only by first upgrading and improving its own operations.
6. Employee driven. Most employees want to be involved in community relations activities. They can be your organization’s most powerful advocates. Good programs are developed, led and managed by a team of your people.
7. Supported by management. Management support is a critical component in a successful community relations program. From providing necessary resources to being personally involved in activities, your leadership’s visible and active support sets the tone.
If you already have a community relations program in place, great! Now might be a good time to reassess your plan, your activities, and their effectiveness in maintaining positive relationships with your key constituencies.
If you don’t have a planned program, you should strongly consider developing one as part of your company’s overall communications effort.
(This is the first of a series of articles on community relations and community outreach. Next: A simple five-step planning process to develop a community relations program.)