Read the room: Why understanding community is priority one

Community relations is a broad term that encompasses every connection a business has to local stakeholders. From individual residents to peer businesses, community relations campaigns touch every corner using a variety of tactics. Such campaigns are usually important for new businesses coming into a community. You want to make a splash, to connect, to start to engrain your organization into the fabric of the neighborhood. But there is a step you must do before you start laying out your tactics: Read the room. 

Outsider syndrome is a real thing. 

It’s a classic movie trope. The new girl brings her old-school’s best treats to the popular girls at the new school only to be laughed out of the cafeteria. The football player tries to show off drills from his original team only to be pummeled by the oversized linebacker whom he didn’t see coming because of his own arrogance. If you enter a situation thinking you know what’s best and implement it with reckless abandon, you run the risk of categorizing yourself as an outsider immediately. Before you plant roots, take a significant amount of time to learn about the community you’re joining. What businesses do the residents frequent and what makes those businesses stand out? Is there a local charity that people rally around? What schools in the area could use support? No questions are too small in your quest to dig out your place in a new community. 

Ask and you shall receive. 

Don’t know what to do to help make a community like you? Have you tried asking? I recently heard a hospital outreach manager tell a story that perfectly exemplifies why you should. 

In the early 90s, his hospital opened a facility with primary and emergency medical services in a part of town that was hard hit by the crack epidemic. The goal was to provide localized care to members of the community who could walk to the facility. But after opening, they found that neighbors called ambulances to carry them from a few blocks away, or they didn’t come in at all. This drained the hospital’s resources and defeated the purpose of building the hospital in that community in the first place. What did the hospital do? Make an assumption –  crime from the nearby open-air drug market must be keeping people from feeling safe enough to walk to the hospital. They partnered with area police to heavily surveil the area, arrest people who were committing crimes and generally increase their presence. The result? Even fewer people came to the hospital. 

Nearing a breaking point, the hospital outreach manager went to a community meeting. He bluntly asked, what is it that you want from us as a partner? What would help you feel more connected to our hospital? The answer was simple – the residents unanimously agreed that there was a rat infestation in the neighborhood caused by unreliable trash pickup. The hospital immediately got to work, arranging neighborhood cleanups and trash removal days. The neighborhood became cleaner, vector-borne illnesses went down, residents were happier and visits to the hospital’s primary care clinic increased and emergency walk-ins started to uptick. 

The lesson here is that it is better (read: cheaper, simpler, faster) to ask what a community needs than to come in and think you can tell them what they need. Your product or service might be new and unfamiliar, but it’s likely that you can meet an immediate community need today while introducing them to your business tomorrow. 

Merge “you” and “them” to make “we.” 

This is where PR experts shine. A team of trained public relations professionals will help you conduct the research – from competitor analysis to surveys and focus groups – to understand community preferences and sentiment. Then, they can evaluate your business offerings to find where those two factors intersect. This is where your market-entry campaign lies, in the middle of the community’s needs and your organization’s strengths. We’d call it a match made in heaven, but it’s really a match made in whatever community you’re about to call home. 

When you make the effort to become part of a community, it leaves a lasting impression on your future consumers. So, if you’re ready to get started, we are too! Connect with us to start building your community relations plan.