I don’t like the term “public relations” because of the negative responses it triggers in the minds of many. It’s become associated with Spin Doctors, slick event or product promoters and others more involved with competitive positioning, diversion, and general hype and hoopla, more than with credible reputation management. In other words practitioners who may grudgingly accept that while it may not be possible to polish a turd, it can be rolled in glitter quite successfully.
I think that the world of corporate communication sometimes needs a bunch of “PR” tactics in its arsenal but that it is a bigger game. A game central to an organisation’s vision and values and helping to express those in a way that resonates strongly with that organisation’s stakeholders. It’s the reputation management game, one of protection and enhancement. Big picture, big thinking. How that game is played depends on an organisation’s needs and its resources. Yet there are tools that corporate communicators don’t often use.
In an organisational context, corporate communication, like its PR toolbox, is also a part of a bigger game. That game is community engagement. In this context “community” means groups external to an organisation, be they customers, ratepayers, service users, or folk affected by or interested in what a particular organisation is up to.
Corporate communication is a key part of the engagement game, as it manages the channels that get an organisation’s information out to external people. While it may engage with externals who are significant “opinion formers”, like journalists, business leaders, and market researchers, that’s often as far as any external connection goes.
Community engagement covers a spectrum from informing at one end to active partnership or empowerment at the other. It also presumes that enlightened organisations do not act until they have engaged meaningfully. Organisations committed to engagement believe that involving citizens in what they do enhances their performance and lets them deliver better products and services. Government agencies particularly should embrace this, as community engagement should be what happens routinely in a democracy. Regrettably that highway is littered with carnage from citizens who believe they weren’t asked about things or not listened to. Such road kill is avoidable. Outcomes can be much better with strategic thinking and canny implementation of an engagement plan.
An often quoted phrase from the movie Field of Dreams is “Build it and they will come.” A better version of this that simply expresses much of what engagement practice is about is “Build it with them and they’re already there.” That second quote comes from The Power of Co-Creation by Venkat Ramaswamy and Francis Gouillart.
Engagementworks Limited has skilled people who can help organisations come to terms with their community engagement needs and train people to develop engagement strategies. We can also provide consultancy services to help with immediate or upcoming community engagement needs. Please get in touch to learn about ways we can help.