Community Relations Programs 101 (part 2)

by Pete Loscocco on 27 October 2016

Building and maintaining positive relationships with stakeholders in your community can be vital to your business. A simple, five-step process can help you establish a community relations program for your organization. If you already have a program in place, this process can reaffirm that it is targeted and meeting your organization’s needs.

1. Conduct an assessment

First, decide what comprises your community. The whole city? The neighborhood around your operations? Defining your community will help ensure you are concentrating your efforts where they will have the most impact.

Next, conduct an assessment. Your goal is to find out how people perceive your organization. You also need to identify the concerns and needs of your community. Get out, meet with people, ask questions and listen. For starters, consider talking to:

– Your own employees.

– Near neighbors.

– Key elected officials.

– The media (for example, the editor of your weekly community paper).

– School principals.

– Neighborhood church leaders.

– Managers of nearby businesses.

Tell them you’re updating your plans for community involvement and want their opinion. During your meetings, use open-ended questions that focus on both your operation and the community. Some examples:

– What do you think of our company? How do you think others view us?

– What are the main concerns or issues in our area?

– If we were to get involved in three things in the community, which ones?

– What do you believe would be the most important?

– Who else should we be talking to?

After each visit, write down who you met with and their comments.

2. Identify target audiences

Think about who you want to share information with as part of your outreach program. Your target audiences usually will include many of the people or groups you met with during your assessment.

Likely key audiences include:

– Near neighbors (residential and other businesses).

– Local civic association.

– Safety personnel and elected officials.

– Local media.

3. Develop key messages

Next, develop a few simple messages of how you’d like to be perceived.  These should tie back to the information you discovered during your assessment.  Some examples are:

– We are an active and positive contributor in our community.

– We operate safely and responsibly.

– We are responsive to local issues and concerns.

Limit your key messages to no more than two or three items. This will keep you focused, consistent, and concise.

4. Develop a written plan of activities 

Through your assessment, you’ve obtained the views of key members of your community, identified target audiences and developed key messages.  Now you need to develop a plan to reinforce and carry your messages to those key audiences. Start small – some of the best plans often contain only a few targeted activities and can fit on a single sheet of paper. Some things to consider when planning your activities:

– Address any problems with your company or operations mentioned during your assessments.

– Assess activities you already are doing. If they are of value, include them in your plan. If not, discontinue and target your efforts where they will count.

– Focus on actions that matter to the community.

– Remember your resources; don’t commit to more than your business and your people can handle.

– Look for ways to involve your people, not just your checkbook.

– Community outreach is ongoing, so spread your activities through the year.

– Changing perceptions takes time. Be patient and think long term.

5. Reassess, revise and repeat. 

After you conduct each activity, assess its effectiveness. For example, if you have an open house, don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors how they think it went or how it could be improved. Review your plan at least annually and revise it as new issues, concerns or opportunities arise. Adjust the plan accordingly and carry on.

Note: This 5-step process was originally developed to help chemical plants develop community relations programs. More than 200 locations around the world have successfully used this method.