Did you know that “community” and “communications” came from the Latin word, “communitas”, which means “shared”? The origin of this word indicates what community relations is – the practice of communicating with the community to establish and maintain relationships – but not just any old relationship – mutually beneficial relationships.
Sounds complicated doesn’t it? Well, that’s why communications became a multi-million dollar industry and a highly sought after, not to mention specialised, profession. But put simply, community relations is about being a good corporate citizen… or is it?
An example of good corporate community relations is one bank in the United States of America. They:
- Print Braille bank statement for their visually-impaired customers.
- Provide grounds, free of charge, for the weekend farmers markets.
- Engage with ethics experts to fine tune bank policies that adhere to community standards.
- Provide their staff with leave to volunteer for charities and community work.
- Have a sustainability policy which includes tree planting and printing everything from booklet printing to business card printing on recycled materials.
In all of these initiatives, the California Bankers’ Association has put itself in the community and ask themselves… “What would we want?” All of these initiatives have been developed, not for the financial success of the company, but for the good of the community. And in the long run, this will be a win for the company in the reputation stakes – not only will it improve your position in the marketplace, but it will also help you to establish closer working relationships with your clients.
At the heart of all good community relations campaigns is three things –
1. Dialogue – it is vital to establish two-way communication platforms between you and your clients
2. Integrity – this means being what you say you are. This is extremely important if you want your community relations campaigns to have maximum cut-through. Overpromising can be disastrous for companies.
3. Credibility – you need to be believable to be believed so don’t oversell or overdo it.
Before you begin thinking about how you can strengthen your company’s community relations it is important to get your house in order. This means working through any issues you have internally whether they be with employees, or making improvements to customer service or policies – whatever they are, it is vitally important that your house is in order. If an organisation is managed poorly or if it doesn’t already have good relationships with its employees, then chances are it has sub-standard products and services.
Any efforts that you put into developing community relations will be wasted unless the company already is rock solid and has an enviable culture – one that can stand public scrutiny. So remember, good community relations starts at home – it should come naturally to your organisation through its culture. If it doesn’t, you should really turn your attention internally to figure out why. You don’t want to waste all of your effort if you are going to be shot down by local media or community spokespeople.