Newton O'Neill Communications
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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, lisa@newtononeill.com