Many organizations overlook community relations as a viable marketing strategy – after all, it demands a good deal of time, resources, and manpower, and doesn’t always bring in an immediate return. In the long run, however, getting involved in the community can be a huge profit to your reputation.
Regular participation improves brand awareness, displays social responsibility, and opens up a host of new business opportunities – all crucial for a successful local marketing strategy.
Here are a few ideas to help build a strong community relations program, or even just to enhance the one you have.
Volunteer. Personal involvement doesn’t just get your name out there; it also sets your brand apart by demonstrating your unique values and vision – the real “heart” of your business. Not sure where to start? Do some research to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Online directories like Serve.gov, Volunteer.gov, Volunteer Match, and Volunteer Maine can help you locate events and organizations that align well with your own business goals. Remember, too, that volunteering takes many forms. You can:
- Host community gatherings, even if you’re not directly involved with the event.
- Make your office a collection point for money or goods.
- Share your professional or advisory skills– you can even do this via phone or Skype.
- Become a mentor to support those with less experience (for instance, teaching young children to read).
- Volunteer as a group, rather than an individual (a good way to engage your employees).
- Serve on a board or committee.
The options are wide and varied. Whatever your industry or interests, volunteering helps establish your business as a reliable community resource – which means faces are more likely to look in your direction when a need arises.
Partner with others. When limited personnel, time, or resources prove a challenge, teaming up with other local organizations can better distribute the workload and help everyone reach their goals. Plus, it expands the reach of your project to benefit more people – and, of course, increases brand awareness. A large or significant event attracts media attention, which makes partnership a great way to share your story and help the public recognize your brand as a community influence.
Join local business affiliations like chambers of commerce or industry guilds. These groups offer wonderful networking opportunities, and a chance to meet other people with the same interests and needs. Don’t forget, though: to really reap the benefits, you need to stay actively involved. Make a point to attend meetings in person and stay abreast of current news, events, and issues. Get to know the other members of the group. Don’t be afraid to share your expertise when asked, or to step forward when they need something. The more proactive and congenial your relationships with other community figures, the more productive those relationships will be.
Become an active community sponsor. Sponsorship takes the idea of contribution one step further by making your business a benefactor rather than a passive donor. When you back a sports team, found a scholarship, or fund concerts and events, you’re advertising as well as creating goodwill. And remember, sponsorship doesn’t always have to be cash. Offering in-kind gifts or supplies will get your name out there just as effectively as writing a check. It’s also an opportunity for prospects to see or sample your product. If cash donations are still your preferred route, try using them as an incentive to encourage other public support, such as matching funds or donating a certain amount for every product you sell.
Encourage your employees to get involved. Nothing illustrates commitment like an entire organization that cares about the community. What’s more, group activity can form stronger connections between your brand, your staff, and your customers – and it’s an attractive prospect for new employees. Take advantage of it! Make it easy for your employees to be a part of your community outreach.
- If you’re passionate about a cause, others will be too. Ask your more enthusiastic employees to help organize, manage, or staff an event.
- Alternately, you can organize everything yourself and then ask for volunteers. Most people have busy lives, and they’ll be more willing to donate their time if they know exactly when and where it’s needed.
- Host food or gift drives that invite everyone in your office to participate, along with their families.
- Offer friendly contests or other incentives, such as a prize for the most money raised to promote a cause that your business supports.
Community support gives your employees a chance to make a personal difference in the community, and to feel like a valuable part of your team. Their participation not only boosts morale, but reinforces the idea that you care about more than just your business.
Set up a community relations calendar. No matter how or where you contribute to your community, it’s important to stay involved on a regular basis. Get together with your employees, affiliates, and partners to plan out an activity schedule. Start by choosing one major milestone each year, be it a specific event (a little league baseball tournament), a cause (a humane society book sale), or a season (Thanksgiving), and then add smaller quarterly or even monthly activities around that. Always bear in mind, however, that different organizations have different needs and expectations. Be sure you’ve got a good understanding of who’s involved and what resources you can realistically invest before you commit yourself to any endeavor.
Strong community relations can be intensely rewarding, both personally and professionally – and in the long run, it can also pay off financially as more people come to recognize your brand as supportive, dedicated, and trustworthy. Don’t overlook a great marketing opportunity! Get out there and show your community the value of your brand.