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Building PR Goodwill Through Community Equity

Facing a potentially damaging newspaper investigation, a Fortune 500 company fully expected to be forced to relocate one of its primary facilities. The story turned out to be just as bad as everybody had feared. But the outcome did not. The community rallied in support of the company, vilifying the newspaper in letters to the editor, public meetings, and canceled subscriptions. The facility is still in its original location today. So how did this company survive a public relations crisis that threatened to turn into something far more serious?

The company was so active in the community that it had friends all over town. Community leaders and elected officials rallied with employees, their friends, and their family in support of the company.

What this company did was kind of like investing for your child’s education: paying for it is much easier if you have planned ahead of time. The company had already done a lot of important public relations work simply by building community equity.

Regardless of the size of your organization, you should always be building community equity. It could mean more local business for you, higher employee retention, and easier recruiting. Or it could make it easier to weather a layoff, an environmental or safety incident, a lawsuit, or some other calamity that can affect any business of any size.

You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to build community equity. And it doesn’t take a lot of money. Here are some things you can do to help that will pay dividends in many ways without putting a crimp in your public relations budget:

— Encourage your employees to be active in the community. Let them take an extra hour here or there for volunteer efforts, or let them leave 30 minutes early to coach their child’s basketball team.

— Become a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, and other local community organizations. Go to the meetings. If you can, take a leadership role in some fashion.

— Sponsor a local charity and allow them to run a fundraising campaign among your employees, or do a food drive before the holidays. If you can, find something that is relevant to your business or especially important to your community.

— Let a local community organization or Boy/Girl Scout Troop use your facilities for meetings.

— Offer small matching grants to employees to support their community volunteer efforts. These match what the employee contributes (with a low ceiling to keep the costs down).

— Provide financial grants to the community organizations supported by your employees. If you have an employee who is active or a leader in community organizations or non-profits, let them make a donation in the company’s name. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but the employee will feel like a million bucks.

— Start a speakers bureau and offer your experts to clubs and schools.

— If your company is large enough, you could establish a local advisory board of community leaders. Invite them in to your facility on a regular basis, keep the advisory board abreast of what’s new at your company, and let them ask all the questions they like. Even your most vocal critic can become an ally this way.

Community relations activities are an important subset of wider public relations work because your employees–and possibly some of your customers and suppliers as well–are part of the community. Every positive action you take to make the your name known and respected builds community equity, subtly pushes your public relations agenda, and improves your relationship with employees and other key audiences.

This article, written by Neal Linkon, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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