Like the classic Swiss Army Knife, public relations (PR) has the capacity to meet many different needs. Unfold this tool, and you’re pitching strategic story ideas to the media. Unfold another tool, and you’re driving new business through sophisticated thought leadership campaigns. Unfold yet another tool, and you’re sending transparent messages to your employees that build trust and organizational pride. Before long, PR becomes one of the few tools you’ll always want by your side.
Among PR’s most powerful functions is boosting an organization’s relationship with the community. This tool accomplishes more than simple self-promotion. Instead, these activities form the foundation for how certain groups perceive an organization. And as with any other PR endeavor, community relations campaigns should work to accomplish targeted goals.
What is Community Relations
In short, community relations are the tangible ways an organization impacts its community. These efforts could include just about anything but often take the form of nonprofit partnerships, event sponsorships, employee or customer charitable drives, or even cash donations. Organizations undertake these initiatives for various reasons, most often because giving back is just the right thing to do. However, many organizations don’t utilize these activities to their fullest potential.
Beyond the good these activities contribute to the community, PR professionals can use community relations campaigns in several important ways. First, community initiatives are fantastic opportunities to generate media attention. These activities also provide excellent fodder for content marketing campaigns. Even more importantly, community relations humanize organizations and create a positive backing if something unfavorable happens or if bad news is on the horizon. In many ways, an organization can benefit from these efforts just as much as the community does.
Benefits of Community Relations Campaigns
If you’re a responsible company, likely, you’re already doing some kind of community outreach. Unfortunately (and understandably), it’s often difficult to recognize the cool stuff you’re doing while you’re doing it. Experienced PR professionals offer an outside perspective that will uncover the exciting and impactful stories in your everyday activities. Once they’ve discovered something remarkable, they can use that information in ways that return tangible benefits to the organization.
The Press Loves Feel-Good Stories
Community relations efforts are very effective ways to generate media coverage. In a world beset by bad news, it’s no surprise that stories of people helping people are attractive to media members. When your organization begins earning this kind of media attention, it generates a host of collateral benefits. Not only can you leverage press coverage on social media, but it also adds to your organization’s positive reputation with its customers, partners and employees. After all, your organization’s culture is built on what it does. Bringing more attention to those positive actions will help promote your culture internally and share it more broadly with the people who can’t experience it firsthand.
These Efforts Help Humanize a Company
It’s easy for an organization to exist as little more than a product or building in some barren office park. In reality, though, even the largest transnational corporation comprises thousands of individual people with their own thoughts, feelings and values. Community relations initiatives help humanize what otherwise might be a faceless organization. By choosing their opportunities carefully, organizations can telegraph their values, what issues their leaders and employees care about and the methods they believe will be most impactful for change. PR professionals can harness these moments to tell the larger stories about what matters to an organization while connecting on a deeper level with the public along the way.
Community Relations Helps Build a Reservoir of Goodwill
Perhaps most importantly, sustained community relations efforts help build a reservoir of goodwill that organizations can tap into during times of trouble. We live in the real world, and mistakes do happen. While the public can easily see through artificial spin, transparency is still highly valued. If an organization errs and is authentically apologetic in the aftermath, its past good deeds can help mitigate the fallout.
Other times, an organization might anticipate that bad news may be coming soon. In this case, proactive community relations efforts can also help lessen the damage done to an organization’s public image, so long as they aren’t acting unethically.
These Campaigns Don’t Always Have to Be Public
Of course, not every organization wants to publicize its community relations activities. However, PR professionals can still help develop the stories behind these efforts and create collateral that the media or potential customers, partners or employees might discover on their own at some point down the road.
Even if the press isn’t directly involved, and these activities are only promoted on a company’s website or social media channels, they still serve the primary goal of boosting the organization’s reputation with the public.
It’s Hard to Brag About Yourself
It’s difficult to talk about the remarkable things we’re doing without feeling silly or self-conscious. It’s also tremendously challenging to think strategically about how community relations can benefit your organization beyond merely feeling good about contributing. That’s when an outside perspective becomes so valuable. PR professionals can find the amazing things you’re doing every day and share those activities effectively with the people who want to hear about them.
In the same way that media relations, thought leadership campaigns and employee communications are tools you employ to reach specific audiences, community relations is your tool to share all the ways you’re trying to impact the world beyond your business. Under a unified public relations strategy, it’s one more way to ensure you’re speaking clearly to the people that matter most.