How's Your Community Relations Program?

Do well by doing good. It’s more than a saying, it’s an accepted truth in business and in life. And, the way to deliver in business is via a thoughtful, active community relations program. If you want thrive versus simply survive, you’ve got to be a good neighbor.
Most large businesses and corporations have committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs -- many of the leading public companies (think Exxon Mobile, IBM, AT&T, Coca-Cola) have mastered the art of community relations, ie. CSR, for decades. They have formed foundations and created multiple streams of social good programs that have a powerful impact on select audiences around the world. It’s more than good PR; shareholders expect these companies give back, do it extremely well and provide thorough documentation.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs who have no idea where to start can look to these international leaders for ideas and inspiration and, in particular, documenting progress. However, when we advise our smaller clients on community relations, we ask two simple questions:

  1. What are the personal social impact passions of the founder/leaders?
  2. What segments of the community does your business directly impact and where would you like to see market growth? 

Your community relations program must connect to your business values, excite your employees and serve your business audience.

For example, our small PR firm works with a range of consumer organizations, mostly based in Austin. We are primarily made up of young women (I’m young on the inside). The industries we serve are travel and tourism, hospitality, health and wellness, and non-profit. Because we work with non-profits pro bono and at discounted rates, community relations is built into our business model. Therefore, we attempt to keep the non-profit work focused in categories that reflect our industry expertise.

We encourage the team to bring new ideas to the table, whether it’s group volunteering at a special event or individual participation in a longer-term program.  Our account manager, Emily Ergas, has been involved with the VICTORY tutorial program for the past two years; I have served on the board of Kids in a New Groove for the past two years and oversee its marketing committee.  We all love the benefits and often life-changing aspects of travel, not to mention serve the travel industry, so taking a leadership role with Travel+SocialGood’s Austin hub was a no-brainer.

Our client, Hilton Austin, commits time and treasure to 10 local charities each year in order to spread their support widely with a primary focus on children and education.  This focus reflects their interest in a healthy and educated community which in turn could lead to great employees and prospective hotel clients. Another NONC client, Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, has planted its flag in support of dog welfare in Austin. The owners are passionate about dogs and they know Austin is a dog-loving city. With its dog run and monthly Mega-Mutt Mondays, Banger’s is well-established as one of the city’s most dog-friendly businesses.
As with any marketing campaign, evaluate your community relations program regularly to ensure it’s delivering its business objectives and remains internally fulfilling.  Frequency of evaluations can vary widely based on the size of your business and level of your community engagement (events, board membership, donations of services, products, time, etc).
One simple and highly recommended way for businesses of all sizes to make a local impact is via the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Austin Gives program. It’s free for any local business to join who donates 1% or more of their pre-tax earnings to philanthropy. Austin Gives will then publicly recognize these participants through traditional media, social media, on its website, and an annual community celebration.
Have questions about kick starting a community relations program or making a shift in your current program? Drop me a line,

O'Notes - PR Tip #2

Be a news junkie!

To put it bluntly, if you’re in media relations, which comprises a majority of the work we do at Newton O’Neill Communications, it’s imperative that you stay on top of the news.  More importantly, you need to be familiar with the stories/content your media contacts cover. 

There’s an ever-expanding world of news and information out there, so before your head explodes, know that I’m referring to the news in the industry(ies) in which your client exists. That, and it’s highly recommended to keep up with your local news unless your media relations is focused in a totally different market(s).

That said, I always advise a diverse source of news, bloggers and social media sources. Relying too heavily on a select few sources will bite you every time, and you’re doing your clients no favor. It’s also important to mix the consumption of local, national, industry and pop culture news. PR folks need to be informed and creative.  Taking a news trend in one category and applying it to your client’s work in a separate category can lead to a brilliant idea for a bylined article, community event, new product/service or special promotion. 

Regardless, keeping up with the news of the day is no easy feat so it helps tremendously if you LIKE the industry you’re promoting.

Below are a few ideas to streamline your news absorption. Disclaimer: I haven’t tried them all. 


·      Subscribe to newsletters of the top publications or bloggers in the industry you’re covering

·      Set up RSS feeds from top news sites.

·      Set up subscription with keywords to a news aggregator of choice such as Reddit or Digg

·      Social media feeds and searching by hashtags

·      Set Google alerts for keywords related to your client and client’s industry


Thanks for reading this week's O'Notes! Follow us on social to be updated on our weekly series. - NONC Team

O'Notes - Women in Travel Summit 2017

I attended the Women in Travel Summit 2017 (WITS) for the first time approximately two weeks ago, and even though I was hit by a tsunami of work as soon as I returned to Austin, the memories and learnings ring clearly and joyfully. That’s saying something for a gal whose short-term memory is less than reliable; probably due to taking on more than I should every day (except Sundays – the good Lord takes priority along with brunch, family and anything to rejuvenate).

WITS is the creation of Wanderful, a global network for women travelers.  This was year four of the Summit and from what I gathered, it’s getting stronger every year. This year’s event took place in Milwaukee, a city I knew for its beer, Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley – two TV shows that many at the conference may have heard of in passing.  Like many, I often decide if I’ll attend a conference based on location. Frankly, I wasn’t very intrigued at first. But, what a fun discovery!  A blog for another day, but hats off to you, MKE

One of the main reasons I wanted to attend was to learn more about players in the sustainable travel industry.  This included support of the executive director of Travel+SocialGood (TSG), Kelley Louise, who was moderating a panel on the boom in impact travel.  One of my passion, volunteer projects is leading the Austin hub of TSG, so I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kelley regularly. Check out one of our upcoming programs!

WITS had a number of sponsors who provide impact travel opportunities to a wide range of audiences.  Greenheart Travel, Spark Ventures, Purposeful Nomad, Unearth the World and Vayando were all on hand to tell their stories and excite conference-goers about trips that combine adventure and leisure with giving back.  Travel, when done right, provides transformative experiences at some level. These organizations ensure the traveler will participate in unforgettable experiences, whether volunteering with an elephant conservation organization in Sri Lanka, or learning to cultivate an organic cocoa farm in the cloud forest of Ecuador.  

Taking in the wonderful world of WITS. Photo: Jason Seagle

Taking in the wonderful world of WITS. Photo: Jason Seagle

The range of experiences and destinations are vast and incredibly exciting for today’s traveler. Many of these programs are connected to education or used for group teambuilding efforts, so there are applications well beyond the leisure traveler. Had any of my previous jobs taken me on a team-building or appreciation trip like this, I might have stayed with the company forever! All involve personal growth and the opportunity to make a positive impact within the community you visit.  Talk about a win-win!

I spent a few minutes on the phone with Stephanie Denzer, the marketing manager for Chicago-based Spark Ventures.  Formed 10 years ago by three friends who experienced a life-changing trip to Zambia, the organization was created to help strengthen and sustain NGOs that help children living in extreme poverty. Over the years, Spark begain providing impact travel trips to share the transformative experience of cultural immersion and volunteering with others. More than 500 people have traveled with Spark thus far to serve -- and enjoy some fun and relaxation -- in either Nicaragua or Zambia.  Check out their website for some impressive statistics on what a powerful program they’ve created.  Photos from Nicaragua & Zambia courtesy Spark Ventures. 

Stephanie, who has been with Spark more than five years, has seen a growing interest in travel that's culturally sensitive and immersive. These trips are sought out by people of all ages, from millennials to late-career professionals and families. Spark takes groups of eight to 22 people on impact tours in partnership with local organizations such as Hope Ministries in Ndala or Las Tias in Nicaragua. Reading to children, preparing and serving meals, visiting a coffee roasting facility, working on a farm, taking a safari and seeing other natural wonders are all part of their week-plus adventures.  Spark also ensures the powerful connections formed during the trip continue well after the traveler-volunteer returns home.   

Unearth the World was promoting its Wanderful 10-day group trip to Zambia and Botswana in late August.  This organization, founded by a married couple who were inspired by their around-the-world experience, also curates travel programs that combine service work, cultural immersion and pure fun.  Special pricing for members of Wanderful makes this an amazing opportunity and avenue to learn about a part of the world that can’t be matched by reading, virtual reality, or a top-notch documentary.  

What I find so exciting is that, with these extensive provider options -- and there are certainly more that were not involved at WITS -- there is practically no obstacle for anyone, from single gal to high school student or family of five, to embark on a journey of a lifetime. And, do it repeatedly! Sure, money and time can be major roadbumps, but some of these groups also offer support with fundraising for your social impact trip.

What an exciting time to travel! There’s always room for the pure getaway-and-pamper yourself travel experience, but for my money, these sustainable travel adventures are the best way to make a lasting difference not only in the communities you visit, but in yourself. You can rest when you get home or at a spa getaway.

Kudos to Wanderful for pulling together a highly diverse group of women (and the ocassional man) to a great midwestern city with education and connections that will inspire for years to come.  Perhaps I'll see you at the next WITS in Quebec City next May!