Community relations plan can bring multiple benefits

Some businesses are so specific and sell to such a narrow industry market that conducting any community relations and outreach is just plain throwing away money. Conversely, some businesses rely heavily on the community for their success and community relations should be a no-brainer. Well, maybe...

In general, it's not good to be invisible in the community in which your business resides, even if you only sell to businesses on the other side of the planet. Also, I've seen local businesses so disingenuous in their community relations efforts that doing nothing would be better.

Community relations is not easily defined. But it is one of the most important and powerful marketing tools in existence. It is the relationship between your business and the community where it is located. There is no one right way to construct and implement a community relations plan.

First, I will give you the reasons to jump into the community relations pool. You will find that many of these reasons apply to all businesses, whether they do business in their community, or not.

1. Hedge your bets. So, something happens at your physical location a chemical spill, an accident involving workers, a hold-up, a scandal involving your finances... You get the picture. The audiences that are going to live through this with you are your community and the local media. You may get the benefit of the doubt if the community and media know of your business and its good works.

2. Employee recruitment. People like to work for community-involved businesses. They will even volunteer their own time to fulfill your outreach mission.

3. Employee retention. A good outreach program heightens your employees' interests in the business and gets them involved with other employees. Do you want employees who can't wait to get off work, or those who are engaged and motivated to come to work each day?

4. Setting an example. A great way to show employees what you and your management team are made of is by giving back. It sets a great example that others want to follow.

5. Earning respect. I think it is easier to earn the respect of your employees by going good works rather than being a fun boss and running the business well.

6. Getting the attention of the local market. The reinforcement of being in unexpected places with your clients and buyers is known to make a difference when it is time to make a choice between products and services.

7. Saving time and costs. Sometimes a good education outreach will save your business money. Instead of the phone ringing with questions, your buyers already have the information saving your staff time and money.

8. Paving the way. Do you need a special permit or approval on a new building? We have worked with companies trying to get big buildings and plants approved. The politicians who would either approve or deny the project, said, "Help us out here, no one knows anything about your business."

9. It's the right thing to do. According to recent studies, nearly three quarters of the U.S. population, particularly women, prefer to do business with socially responsible companies.

Good luck if you are thinking, "I'll put out a few press releases about how great our business is." Lots of businesses are already doing that. In a market like Reno, you might even get some coverage: an award won, someone named to a new board, etc. But a good community relations plan results in your business becoming tangible and memorable in the community. There is no one right tactic for every business, as well as there is no end-all plan.

There are many ways to get a plan started. Hire a communications agency, have a meeting with the management staff or conduct a workshop at your next strategic planning retreat. But, there are two steps I insist on. First of all, get your employees involved from rank and file to the CEO. And, your plan should reflect your company's core values.

Here are some ideas:

1. Develop educational programs for schools: school lectures and assemblies on your business topic, job shadowing, area-wide contests, develop school materials and teaching units, field trips, take always for kids, etc.

2. Adopt a school through Partners in Education.

3. Partner with non-profits. Find out what they need and help them achieve it. The needs are not always money.

4. Reach out. If you have an engaging story to tell, develop a speakers bureau where your staff can present to community organizations.

5. Consider events. Develop one that compliments your product or service health fairs for clinics or hospitals, reading marathons for an intellectual property company; and for any business, a neighborhood clean-up.

6. Community event participation and sponsorship: establish a budget and get your employees in selecting a few special events that they can participate in.

7. Give away information. Find information that is valuable to the community and give it away either digitally or printed at locations around town.

8. Support volunteerism. Establish a budget of time for long-standing employees to volunteer. Have them select the community organization. I usually ask them to present how this will be beneficial to their professional development and to the company.

9. Give away money and grants and get your employees involved. Establish a budget and selection criteria and ask for volunteers to select deserving organizations and causes.

10. Scholarships: support your industry's educational degrees and programs. This will get your business in front of future employees.

11. Invite the community in. You may have a business that neighbors, future employees, customers and activists would like to visit.

12. Corporate blogging: present an opportunity for the community to dialog with the CEO. There are many impressive businesses in the Truckee Meadows and I would love to pose a question to their CEOs.

13. Improve the community. Do you find you and your staff complaining about graffiti, trash, dirty benches, weeds, etc.? Pick something that is not getting done and do it with your staff. Complaining is counter-productive. Just do it!

Don't think you can just give away money to be effective. Again, make you and your company tangible by doing something meaningful and interactive.

Following are some steps to get you going: 1. Put a few tactics in place that are appropriate for your business. 2. Find a way to measure results, even if it is just employee morale. 3. Make your plan as unique as your business. 4. Start slow. 5. After you have your plan and you have some success, let the media and the community know.

Community relations has been proven to increase sales and customer loyalty, improve employee morale and dedication, interest the media, inspire others to get involved and it also impacts our community positively. After all, we all chose to live here.

Marlene Olsen is president of Olsen & Associates, a public relations agency in Reno. Contact her through


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment