Fullard Learning is a creator of specialist e-learning programmes for staff development. During a seven-year period, it grew from a very small company into an organisation employing over one hundred people with many blue chip clients. During this time, they relied on referrals and networking in order to gain business. With such rapid growth, they realise that a strong and carefully targeted PR campaign is required in order to sustain interest and create future growth opportunities. As a PR practitioner design a PR campaign for Fullard Learning.
by Andrew Mann
1 Community relations programmes have many definitions, cover varying objectives and are usually based on either a focused or scatter-gun approach. However, all professionally developed programmes have one thing in common – they are all designed to have a measurable impact on the overall perception of the company, by both its external and internal audiences – in other words, a measurable direct bottom line benefit.
2 This is achieved by utilizing the professional skills of a public relations expert who is capable of demonstrating the achievable benefits of the community relations discipline and can highlight the added value of such a programme to a company’s overall business objectives.
3 The need to link a company’s community programme to its overall business objectives is a fundamental assumption. However, this is not always the case. In the past, patronage (defined as a donation where the company gets no direct benefit) and the ‘Chairman’s wife syndrome’ greatly influenced a community relations programme. But, following the recent recessionary period, when company budgets were squeezed, most companies now aim to maximize community programmes by adding value to – in many cases – a reduced budget by examining all community expenditure and devising strategies focused on maximizing the benefits.
4 One consequence of this is that corporate philanthropic donations have decreased as marketing spend is concentrated on more proactive sponsorship activities.
5 A further trend is that companies are now realizing the advantages of involving their employees in deciding how the community should be supported and which activities will form the key focus areas. This creates opportunities for involvement personal development, pride in helping the local community and increased morale, as employees feel that their contribution is valued, by both the company and the community.
What is community relations?
My definition of community relations is ‘a series of mutually beneficial business partnerships with one or more stakeholders, which enhance the company’s reputation as a good corporate citizen’. Parterships can be either a local, regional, national or international basis, but, the majority of community relations programmes are usually focused on either where the company’s headquarters is located, or around one or more of its operational sites.
The stakeholders are represented by the company’s target audiences (customers, media, suppliers, employees, trade unions, politicians, local government representatives, community organizations, key opinion formers, shareholders, educationalists, environmentalists) and it is vital for the long-term future of your company that they receive the correct messages and understand the reasons for/consequences of your actions.
1 As companies develop more professional community programmes and communicate their policies to wider audiences, more and more shareholders are looking at the company’s reputation, especially from an ethical viewpoint. This trend is slowly influencing institutional shareholders, proving that a good corporate reputation for serving the community can have a beneficial impact on the share price.
2 Furthermore, educational development (‘from the cradle to the grave’) concepts are now being developed to encompass the whole community, since properly trained and developed workforce is seen as being crucial for any company’s future. A community relations programme can benefit this development in two ways. The first is by education based sponsorships which create awareness in local schools and/or are linked to the national curriculum, which helps establish a company as a desirable employer with resultant potential recruitment opportunities. Secondly, they can provide opportunities for employees to develop their skills by working with local schools on schemes such as mentoring, work shadowing or mock interviewing.
3 Likewise, serving the local community and the impact of its presence on local employment and economic regeneraton is a frequently used defence during a takeover. This can help to focus the support of the local media, MPs and other key opinion formers. It is crucial that target audiences are already aware of your existing work and are suitably briefed in order to quickly support your actions, based on knowledge and facts. If a story breaks in the local media, it is the first two hours which are the most important, when news editors are compiling background reports and interviews. If they ask the views of (say) local MP, they may be put in a position where they have to instantly respond. If you are regularly updating your local MP about your involvement in their constituency, they will be able to respond in a far more knowledgeable and supportive way.
4 A final reason is that a positive community involvement strategy is now being more widely acknowledged as a fundamental part of a business excellence programme. For instance, the influential European Foundation for Quality Management model has nine determinants for recognizing and assessing total quality management, one of which is the impact company has on society.
Methods used in a community relations programme
The methods are usually based on a combination of sponsorships, targeted donations, awards, hospitality, employee volunteering, use of facilities, seminars and involves links with areas such as the arts, sport, education, the environment, occupational health and safety, charities, youths, senior citizens, the disadvantaged, disability, heritage and numerous other categories.
Virtually anything can be sponsored provided that it is packaged in the correct way and the price asked for the sponsorship is realistic, when measured against other comparable sponsorships.
For example, a company’s sponsorship programme may be based on a wide-ranging involvement with sport, which can have added benefits of highlighting examples of teamwork, leadership and competitive excellence, and/or involves your employees.
Alternatively, a company could work in partnership with the local community to discourage crime and encourage crime prevention initiatives, especially among its employees. Many neighbourhood watch schemes produce a local newsletter and sponsorship of this could give your company the opportunity to show your employees that you are supporting a concept which helps both them and their families.