Community engagement cements CSR
This week, we were involved with a community engagement event which has had a huge impact on ‘cementing’ a great relationship between the company and the local community.
Our client, one of the world’s leading cement producers, had in its archives over 28,000 images of quarrying in the local area dating between 1890 and 1940. Instead of keeping these locked away, it decided to showcase them to the local community and linked up with a local history organisation to put them on public display in the area for a month.
There was a fantastic opportunity for the company to build goodwill within the local community, as well as enhancing morale and motivation of staff and generating some really good local contacts and connections.
The event was attended by the local Mayor and Mayoress, local councillors and an MP, as well as over 50 people from the local community.
But let’s go back to why organisations bother to spend time, money and effort on engaging with the local community. Businesses have long since recognised how generating goodwill can make a huge difference to their business operations. Managed correctly it can help them recruit more easily from the local area, it can protect their licence to operate (for example, a quarry), it can encourage local people to buy from them and it can generate contacts that are invaluable to the smooth running of their organisations. Often these activities are bundled together under the umbrella of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Every year, some large organisations spend significant amounts of money on Corporate Social Responsibility. If this is not managed correctly, it can lead to a serious lack of impact and few tangible benefits. Let me give you an example. Imagine that you are a large organisation that has say a £20k CSR budget. You receive frequent letters throughout the year from numerous good causes. You don’t really have any guidelines on type of causes to support so decide each on its own merit, such as what tugs on the heartstrings most. This may mean you end up giving £50 here and £100 there to support a local student trying to get a photography business started or a dog’s home looking to build some new shelters. But this is where having a clearly defined strategy is essential.
Any company with a CSR budget really needs to have this aligned to a community engagement strategy.
Within the community engagement plan, you need to identify what the objectives are. The obvious ones will be that you are looking to build relationships with the local community, but it’s worth seeing if these objectives can be made tangible. For example, it may sound harsh, but one measure could be to attribute a value to the publicity that can be gained from donating to a specific cause. It is also essential that the cause aligns with your company’s core values. So, for instance, if the values are environmental sustainability, supporting education, promoting wildlife, helping older people….. whatever they are, these need to be established from the start.
This will give you very clear guidance on choosing causes to support that are most relevant and give you the most PR mileage!
It is far better to support a smaller number of causes with a larger lump sums, as there should be numerous opportunities to seek publicity throughout the year. You will be surprised how many times you will be able to use local press cuttings in presentations to influence industry associations, shareholders, planners or potential customers. Generating goodwill in the community is essential.
Hosting a community event is an excellent opportunity, not only to generate good publicity but also to build relationships. Like with the local history event we organise for our clients, this did not require a huge budget but visitors will be viewing the exhibition and achieving brand exposure for a month. They also linked the event to a charity, as visitors are being asked to place silent bids on the historic canvass images they would like to buy. It is expected this will raise several thousand pounds for a local hospice. But community events don’t need to be large, it could be something as simple as an open day where local people can register their interest and be given a tour around your plant.
Being open and honest about a business and giving the public a greater insight can be invaluable, especially when it comes to a time when you may be looking to secure planning permission to extend your site or change the use of some local land. By having a direct line of communication with the community, for example, through a community liaison committee, is essential. This means that any issues can be raised at the early stages and any fears addressed.
For further information or advice on planning and implementing Community Engagement/PR campaigns, contact our team on 01709 300130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.