Community relations is one of those marketing strategies that isn't talked about much, even though I venture to say practically everyone ends up doing it at one time or another. Basically, community relations is when you and your business become involved in your community. For instance:
* Your business donates money to nonprofit organizations.
* You or your employees volunteer at a fundraising event.
* You or your employees volunteer for a nonprofit organization.
* You or your employees join a service club.
* You or your employees network and/or volunteer at industry association meetings or business functions (such as Chamber of Commerce events). Some people might consider this networking and not community relations, but I would argue networking falls under community relations. Regardless, you get the idea.
I'm going to go through the pros and cons of community relations in a moment, but first I want to encourage all of you to think about ways to not only add community relations to your marketing strategy but also to get better at leveraging those opportunities to grow your business. But first, let's go through the pros and cons.
* Builds credibility for you and your business.
* Builds personal relationships with customers.
* Works well with advertising similar to public relations, community relations is a "soft" sell approach that can make your customers more receptive to your advertising.
* Can be a stepping stone for PR.
* Creates goodwill (and good karma).
* Time community relations can consume a ton of it. All that volunteering can suck up a lot of working and/or leisure hours.
* Long wait to realize results like public relations, you implement a community relations plan for the long haul. And I do mean the long haul (even longer than PR).
* Difficult to track I'm talking mainly about the non-business networking activities here. You may never be able to trace sales to community relations. Actually, chances are you probably won't. You need to trust it's working on some cosmic level and let it go.
* No payoff at all this can happen if you find yourself donating time and/or money to charities that are wonderful causes but offer little advertising and/or promotional opportunities. Now, that doesn't mean I'm advocating only supporting high-visibility causes. On the contrary, there are many good reasons to have a community relations program in place. For one, the good feeling you get knowing you're supporting a worthy cause (not to mention all the good karma you build).
Basically, you can sum up the cons to this: spend lots of time or money for little/no return.
Not a good marketing strategy.
But, it doesn't have to be that way. You can and should find ways to increase your ROI (return on investment) for all the community relations activities you take part in. And one good way to do that is to leverage them into marketing strategies.
Creativity Exercise -- How to get a return on investment with community relations
Grab some sheets of paper and a pen (I like the fun gel pens myself) and get ready for some brainstorming.
First, list all the activities you're doing that are considered community relations. Write them all down.
Next, analyze those activities. What ROI are you currently getting from them? Do your customers know you donate time and/or money to those activities? Do you get sales because of your involvement? Are you building your brand and/or awareness of your business because of your donations?
Don't know? Well, then you probably aren't getting much return.
Next, I want you to brainstorm ways you can start leveraging those activities. Can you devote a section on your Web site to telling people about your involvement? Can you use your Web site to help raise money and/or volunteers for the causes you support? If there's an event involved, can you more aggressively market your services during it? (Set out flyers or brochures or have a really good elevator speech if you're able to introduce yourself.) Can you send out press releases? Can you have your logo added to the organization's marketing materials? Or have the organization link to your Web site?
Try and brainstorm 20 ways you can increase your ROI. Some will be silly, some will be completely impractical -- but that's okay. All you need are one or two gold nuggets to really jumpstart your marketing and make that investment in time and money really start to pay off.