Community relations needs to be a large part of any overall communication campaign, whether you’re working in politics, corporate PR, nonprofit or association communications.
If you’re going to be serious about community relations, you have to be involved in your community (online or offline) long before you actually need them. You’re working to build up community capital that you can cash in later when you need your community to back your proposal. If you’re a local civic leader, you can even beat back the threat of being fired with enough community support.
But like anything worth doing it takes time and hard work.
Community relations isn’t like a spigot – you can’t just turn it on and have goodwill come flooding out. It takes time – venturing out to meet with members of your community, and not just your immediate community, but across a geographical and demographic layer beyond your comfort zone. You have to go to their local summer BBQ’s, shaking hands and kissing babies, much like the best politicians.
You have to be involved in local governmental affairs. You can’t imagine the importance of good relations with local officials when you are trying to work on your university’s master plan, or building support for a Bond Campaign.
If you work at a school, college or university, your job is supposed to be easier. You should have departments dedicated to building bridges to communities. Parent Associations. Alumni Departments. PTAs for K-12. School Spirit Organizations. They are out there. You have to give them reasons to support you. Involving yourself with them matters.
How do you do this?
First – Don’t be Arrogant. You are the master of your own realm. But you’re not in your realm. you’re in theirs. Keep that in mind. There’s a saying in American Buddhism that applies here:
“I don’t exist to babysit your ego.”
Remember this when you want to meet with others. They need to be the center of your attention, not the other way around.
Second – This is Not a Sprint.
Building good relationships are like building good friendships. It takes time. You have to be involved for years as it develops. This is a long term strategy.
And don’t forget your government officials. Are you building relationships with them outside of the Legislature sessions? That’s where so much legislation takes form – subcommittee meetings, informal breakfasts, coffee klatches and other face-to-face meeting opportunities. It’s made harder when your organization has a history of bad actions in the community. My belief is for every year of bad relations, it will take two years of good actions to make up for it.
You can’t expect community support to magically materialize. Especially if your organization has a history of problems with the same communities you want to curry favor from.
Speaking of the audiences you want to curry favor with…
Third – Look at Your Audiences. There are many organizations out there. Are there hidden groups you can tap into? People who would be excited to be part of your conversation? People who are often overlooked?
Community relations has to play a central role in any communication strategy. Strong community ties help you when your organization is under fire, when you need people to advocate for your cause they can be among your most fervent supporters. When the community needs your organization, then you need to be there for them as well. As mentioned above, community relations is a two-way avenue, filled with one-on-one connections.