PR Technique Community Relations: Doing community relations when you’re the new kid on the block

Relating to your community might be easy when you’ve been there a while. But what do you do when you’re a new arrival? Gloria Smith provides tips for doing community relations when you’ve just moved in America is on the move. Fueled by a growing economy, all kinds of businesses - chain stores, franchises, medical centers - are thriving, growing, stretching out and entering into new geographic territories. Being the new kid on the block can be a golden opportunity to show off who you are and what you stand for. But too many companies ignore such community relations or become involved in the community only as an afterthought.

Relating to your community might be easy when you’ve been there a while. But what do you do when you’re a new arrival? Gloria Smith provides tips for doing community relations when you’ve just moved in America is on the move. Fueled by a growing economy, all kinds of businesses - chain stores, franchises, medical centers - are thriving, growing, stretching out and entering into new geographic territories. Being the new kid on the block can be a golden opportunity to show off who you are and what you stand for. But too many companies ignore such community relations or become involved in the community only as an afterthought.

Relating to your community might be easy when you’ve been there a

while. But what do you do when you’re a new arrival? Gloria Smith

provides tips for doing community relations when you’ve just moved in

America is on the move. Fueled by a growing economy, all kinds of

businesses - chain stores, franchises, medical centers - are thriving,

growing, stretching out and entering into new geographic territories.

Being the new kid on the block can be a golden opportunity to show off

who you are and what you stand for. But too many companies ignore such

community relations or become involved in the community only as an

afterthought.



’Moving in is like taking a company public or introducing a new campaign

- you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression,’ says

Donna Lucas, CEO and president of NCG/Porter Novelli in Sacramento,

CA.



Using community relations to introduce yourself to your new neighbors is

more than just good manners - it’s good business as well. It can

favorably impact your customers, your employee morale, your brand image

and your bottom line. What’s more, it will help keep eyes focused on

your entrance.



Companies with an established reputation for good citizenship will have

an advantage in a new location. For example, Home Depot’s image as an

employer of choice goes far in attracting and retaining employees - an

important benefit in today’s tight labor market. Unfortunately, a bad

reputation will follow you as well.



As in any relationship, it pays to follow some ground rules, such as

assessing the community in advance. ’Identify key stakeholders - people

and organizations,’ says Mark A. Feldman, executive VP of cause branding

at Cone, a Boston-based communications firm. ’Go after them and win

their support. The relationships you build can be mutually

beneficial.’



Interested parties can help favorably influence the community and media

opinion makers. Employees, building trade members, local hospital

administrators - anyone with a vested interest in your presence can make

introductions for you and smooth your way in.



’Community relations is about building long-term, continuing

relationships,’ says Feldman.



One-time opening events with no follow through are like one-night

stands: they send a message that your commitment is superficial at best.

At the same time, groundbreaking and grand opening events should be

dramatic and consistent with marketing goals and objectives.



When Ace Hardware began construction on a support center in Alabama last

year, it was concerned enough about winning over the citizens of Loxley

(population 1,100) that it invited the entire town to participate in the

groundbreaking; about 800 people showed up wielding shovels. The company

also threw a picnic for everyone that day, during which it gave out Ace

T-shirts.



When Sovereign Bank New England - the third-largest in that section of

the country - pulled into Boston to take over 281 branches of what had

been Fleet Bank, very few people recognized the name. The company needed

to introduce itself in a way consistent with its market position as a

community bank. ’We wanted to reach as many people as possible by doing

something nobody else had done,’ comments Barbara Coleman, a director at

GMC O’Neil, the institution’s communications firm. So the bank partnered

with the transit system to give drive-time subway commuters a free ride

to and from work for one day, June 18th. The event brought Sovereign

some great media coverage - including mentions in the traffic news

throughout the day.



In fact, a big part of community relations is media relations.

Constantly being in the news reinforces a company’s reputation.



Carol Schumacher, spokesperson for Home Depot, says once a project gets

the go-ahead, all newsworthy announcements get a press release. ’PR

opportunities exist in many things - from groundbreaking to the addition

of new entrances, the appointment of a store manager and the arrival of

the ’hiring trailer,’’ she says.



Home Depot’s policy of hiring 80% of its employees from the local

community creates inroads to the media, Schumacher points out. For a

store’s grand opening, the company’s corporate community relations

department works with the store to select a nonprofit partner that will

benefit from activities.



After the store is opened, community relations - such as philanthropy

and volunteerism - are ongoing and are conducted at the local manager’s

discretion.



Christie Heimert, PR manager for ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s, says

community relations tactics may vary, but backing them up is generally

the same. Her department sends out press releases for everything from

lease signings to grand opening events (all new stores give out free

cones on opening day). After the opening, community relations are

conducted by franchisees and managers.



If you don’t have a strong image before you come to town, don’t despair

- you’ll have a great opportunity to build one during the move, says

Brad Googins, director of the Center for Community Relations at Boston

College School of Management. Find volunteer projects with

not-for-profits that are mutually beneficial. For example, when Home

Depot partners with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, employees

receive off-the-job training as well as a good feeling of helping

others. Googins believes that ’checkbook philanthropy’ - writing checks

to nonprofits from afar - is a waste of money.



Like any good community relations activity, if you’re doing the right

thing for the right reasons when you arrive, the community should

welcome you with open arms.





DOS AND DON’TS



DO



1 Begin planning early to avoid being reactive rather than

proactive.



2 Remember that what you do in one place will affect what you do in

another. Your reputation proceeds you.



3 Research the players. Become acquainted with influential people who

will support your arrival.



4 Back your activities with a constant stream of press releases. You

won’t get a second chance to make the right impression.





DON’T



1 Make statements about your company that aren’t true. In this

information age, you’ll be found out.



2 Create one-time events and promotions. Don’t try to make a big splash

without testing the waters.



3 Waste your money making one-time donations - it must be a long-term

commitment.



4 Plan grass-roots activities that have nothing to do with your business

goals. Make them ongoing and meaningful.



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