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
’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,
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
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
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
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
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
1 Begin planning early to avoid being reactive rather than
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.
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
4 Plan grass-roots activities that have nothing to do with your business
goals. Make them ongoing and meaningful.