There are some powerful relationship realities between various community groups and organizations. Constituents are asking more questions; decisions are taking longer. Very small forces, sometimes individuals, can stop very big ideas and projects. People without credentials have enormous credibility. Corporations and institutions must prove their validity, honesty, and trustworthiness every day. Most public debate and discussion, on issues that matter, are focused more on embarrassment, humiliation, and blame shifting than on achieving beneficial progress.
In today’s environment of public suspicion, gaining and maintaining public consent to operate has become an on-going, top management concern for most businesses and large organizations. Community relationships are effectively maintained primarily through engagement with various publics and audiences within the community and your organization.
It is often stated that community relations are “public relations at the local level” or that it is “living right and telling about it.” It has also been explained as “having and keeping friends in the community.” These statements get to the heart of community relations, but they are oversimplified definitions when the vital mission of community relations is analyzed clearly.
Community relations is the function that evaluates public attitudes, identities the mission of an organization with the public interest and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance. Like public relations, community relations is something an organization has whether this fact is recognized or not. Unlike public relations, community relations is usually limited to the local area. Business organizations give attention to their community relations for good reason.
Like so many specific disciplines within the practice of public relations, the work done by community relations practitioners is extremely complex. And yet, if you leaf through the general public relations texts, you won’t find much discussion about “community relations.”
It’s probably because community relations activities emulate the work done by public relations practitioners on a regular basis (that is, carefully researched, targeted communications to achieve an organizational goal — community acceptance and support). Consequently, the authors probably didn’t think it necessary to break out community relations activities from the work that’s done every day.
None-the-less, community relations deserve some serious discussion. Basically, what good, effective community relations does is involve the people, businesses and organizations who live, work and operate in the surrounding community in company activities.
A company does not live in a vacuum. The citizens and groups that populate its geographic operating area are essential to its operation. The employees live in the community; they very likely grew up there. The company banks in the community. Municipal, county and state governments set the parameters by which the company can operate.