PR TECHNIQUE COMMUNITY RELATIONS: Ten ways to build stronger community ties. Community relations has become much more than just donating to the local food bank. Gloria Smith enumerates how to go about doing it

When community relations is done correctly, it becomes a social investment with big returns for the company and the community alike.

When community relations is done correctly, it becomes a social investment with big returns for the company and the community alike.

When community relations is done correctly, it becomes a social

investment with big returns for the company and the community alike.

Community relations can also be an insurance plan, serving a company

well in the event of a crisis. In addition, volunteer opportunities give

the corporation a chance to develop employees’ leadership and teamwork

abilities as well as other skills they may not have a chance to gain on

the job.

How can companies put muscle into their community relations


Here, experts in the field suggest 10 ways to build stronger ties in the

areas where you do business or where you’re looking to educate the


1 Do the right thing

Get involved in something the community really needs. Find out what

interests management and employees through surveys. Since companies are

partially looking for training opportunities for their employees,

nonprofits should develop meaningful programs, ones that go beyond

stuffing envelopes for an annual drive.

2 Choosing partners

Pick the right partners, advises Scot Marken, president of Miami-based

community relations consultant Coalescence. Building relationships

starts with answering the quintessential marketing question: What is in

it for me? Generally companies benefit by bolstering their image,

improving vendor relations and gaining in recruitment and retention of

employees, which in turn boost the bottom line. Not-for-profits stand to

garner media exposure, leadership and technological and financial


3 Reach out beyond trade groups

Donna Lucas, president of land-use specialist Nelson Communications

Group in Sacramento, encourages companies to work on issues that affect

infrastructures, such as the local school board. This can keep companies

in touch with government officials and other decision-makers.

4 Do your homework

Mutual gain begins with mutual respect. Businesses should study

community organizations just as nonprofits should go to meetings having

read materials like the corporation’s annual report, suggests Steve

Turnbo, CEO of Tulsa, OK-based Schnake, Turnbo & Brookey Associates.

5 Throw away the cookie cutters

Peter Webb, president of Peter Webb Inc. of Englewood, CO - who

developed a traveling song-and-dance show to promote a state seat belt

law - stresses that community relations should be created with original

tactics. Brainstorm to get to something beyond the expected, then

field-test. Listen to the community, and give it something it will


6 Get everyone involved

Having a CEO sit on a not-for-profit board isn’t enough - get a group of

volunteers together. Steve Wilson, president of Wilson Group

Communications in Columbus, OH, recently helped a plant in South

Carolina improve its community standing by having workers promote state

tourism. Crews of volunteers handed out donuts at the state line. They

also put up historical billboards and markers.

7 Consider outsourcing

Outsourcing community involvement may sound like a contradiction but a

consultant can bring a company up to speed quickly, says Mary Ann Pires,

president of the Pires Group, Chappaqua, NY, who represents many public

utilities. A consultant can help with research, strategic planning and

advice, but the commitment must be companywide and include the top


8 Keep it rolling

Make community relations ongoing. The most costly and least effective

community relations programs are episodic, says Pires. When companies

suddenly show up in the community with their own agendas, they have a

difficult time succeeding. Not-for-profit groups that make occasional

requests for donations won’t earn as much as those who cultivate


9 Don’t forget the branches

Firmly rooted community relations should extend beyond corporate

headquarters to the outer branches; ’branch’ towns are in special need

of community relations because they may not have sufficient support for

services. Turnbo points with pride to the fact that contributions and

support for the United Way in Tulsa are greater than in Oklahoma City,

where more headquarters are found. ’Corporations come across like

carpetbaggers when they make only small donations to branch locations

and don’t get involved in local politics,’ he adds.

10 Have a plan

Shareholders are holding businesses more accountable for their

contributions and their community activities, says Linda Gornitsky,

president of LBG Associates, a community relations consulting firm in

Stamford, CT. Community relations should be part of the company’s

business plan and be in line with the nonprofit’s mission statement.

Make objectives and expectations clear - put them in writing. Assign a

realistic budget. Monitor the activities and evaluate them in the



Minneapolis has some big things to celebrate this holiday season - crime

is down and the city has an exemplary example of collaboration between

the public and private sectors.

The peace on the streets is due in great part to a huge community

relations effort spearheaded by hi-tech company Honeywell. The program

began three years ago when The New York Times dubbed the corporation’s

hometown ’Murderopolis.’ The city’s image was tarnished and many

Honeywell employees didn’t feel safe driving to work or walking to the

building. Something had to be done.

Michael R. Bonsignore, chairman and CEO, rounded up a posse of local

business partners and, together with community and governmental groups,

they started the HEALS (Hope, Education and Law & Safety) coalition,

which developed changes that made the city safer, such as later

dismissal time for public schools and extended hours for recreation in

city parks. It also introduced legislation that made dollars 1 million

in state funds available for technology improvements so law-enforcement

agencies could coordinate their efforts.

The initiative was about an investment of time, talent and technological

know-how, maintains Pat Hoven, VP of social responsibility at


Melissa Young, PR director, agrees: ’If we just made yearly donations to

charity groups, they would not solve problems and they’d also probably

send the wrong message - they would look superficial, like a Band-Aid on

a serious wound.’

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