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Community Relations: Unleashing the Power of Corporate Citizenship

  • ID: 40927
  • Report
  • November 1998
  • 147 pages
  • American Productivity & Quality Center, APQC
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In the recent past community relations (CR) was viewed as an ancillary function designed to boost the morale of handfuls of employees and respond to the demands of social networks in which senior officers of the corporation participated. Today, the purpose of community relations is undergoing a significant evolutionary process. No longer viewed as the department of “balloons and T-shirts,” community relations is now being defined by businesses as a strategic function designed to provide returns to a “dual bottom line” for the company and society. The Boston College Center for Corporate Community Relations (Bccccr) suggests that today’s core goals of corporate success must include-in equal standing-the aspiration to become:
- the supplier/provider of choice,
- the employer of choice,
- the investment of choice, and
- the neighbor of choice.
Neighbor, in this context, is defined not only by proximity but also by relationship to those individuals, groups, or organizations that are “stakeholders” of the corporation, i.e., those publics that can affect or are affected by corporate operations. For businesses worldwide, the call to take a strategic approach to community relations represents a formidable challenge. Requirements include:
- overcoming skeptical attitudes within the corporation,
- defining the link between community involvement and business success through
conceptual reorientation,
- spanning the cultural boundary between the business and civil sectors, and
- planning to move from a reactive crisis-response organization to a proactive
opportunity- and value-creating operation.

Study Focus

Drawing from both the expertise of the Boston College Center for Corporate
Community Relations and community relations literature, we identified five key areas on which to focus our efforts. The five areas guided the design of the data collection instruments and were the base from which we drew our findings. A brief description of the five areas is provided below.

Situation Analysis

The first step in creating strategic community relations functions and programs is to gain a comprehensive understanding of a company’s current activities and how they are perceived by the public. The study examined how organizations performed a situation analysis to identify:
- the company’s reputation
- community needs, attitudes, awareness, expectations, and evaluation of community
involvement
- key community stakeholder groups and
- critical community issues that pose challenges or opportunities to the business.

Corporate Relations Strategy

It is important to tie community relations activities to corporate objectives.
We wanted to know how organizations create a strategy that drives community
relations activities to ensure that activities both help the community and support the company’s goals.

Organization

Community relations programs are typically fragmented-even at the local level.
This becomes apparent when looking at the activities of the corporation as a whole. We examined how organizations coordinated activities-a necessity to ensure that the corporation is most effectively using its scarce resources.

Process

Companies with successful community relations programs have processes in place to support day-to-day activities. This study investigated how companies create processes that ensure the smooth operation of the community relations function on an ongoing basis.

Measurement

Successful community relations programs have a positive impact on the bottom line. This study examined how companies are attempting to measure the tangible and intangible benefits of community relations programs.

Report Structure AND Study KEY Findings

This study began a process to document and assist community relations with the
transformation to a more strategic role in the corporation. It was designed to investigate how companies are planning and organizing their community relations functions to be more strategic. The report, therefore, follows a basic strategic planning design represented in Figure 1. The findings of this study provide indicators and examples of leading practices for the strategic management and organization of community relations. The ensuing sections of the report are divided into four of the components described in Figure 1:
- strategy,
- organization,
- process, and
- measurement.

In compiling quantitative and qualitative study data, findings and observations regarding “situation analysis” were difficult to disentangle from the remaining components. Since community relations professionals
are continually evaluating their company environment and community perceptions to identify expectations and company priorities, situational analysis
is fundamental to strategy formulations-which drive organizational infrastructures, daily processes, and ongoing measurement. Thus, pertinent observations and findings relating to situational analysis are incorporated
within the four sections set forth above. Overall, the findings of this study provide strong evidence that companies are managing their community relations operations in ever-more sophisticated ways with the intent of adding value for both the business and its communities.

Section 1: Strategy

1. Community relations possesses a diverse mix of roles-supporting departments,
addressing community needs, and contributing to the bottom line all factor into
the responsibilities of the CR function.

2. Successful organizations perceive community relations as a core competency that adds value to key business functions and operations such as developing corporate image/reputation and building critical relationships.

3. Leading organizations perform assessments of their CR relationships with a wide variety of business-related issues-the most important of which include receiving recognition, building corporate reputation, and formulating strategic corporate giving plans.

4. Participants tend to identify strategic priority areas for community involvement but have no common standard for the top CR priority areas. Priority formulation is based on a strategic process that relates to the characteristics, interests, and goals of each organization.

5. Study participants believe an important CR objective is to receive and build
external and internal recognition and awareness for the company’s community
involvement.

Section 2: Organization

6. There is no single “best-practice” structure for community relations. Companies vary in the ways they have organized CR.

7. Organizations are managing the CR function in an increasingly decentralized
manner. Partner organizations tend to maintain less formal control over CR from
headquarters than sponsors.

8. Partner organizations see universal advantages to having a flat, decentralized CR structure.

9. Community relations is becoming more integrated in actual business operations as company executives are recognizing its importance to the future of the company.

10. While CR traditionally has operated in isolation, organizations are making
headway in linking cross-functionally to a variety of departments within the
corporation.

11. Study respondents-particularly partner organizations-are managing CR
programs and functions in international locations.

Section 3: Process

12. Community relations professionals consider “community and company liaison”
and “corporate contributions” as the most important of their duties. This emphasis reflects participants’ dedication to creating corporate equity with communities and stakeholders.

13. Partners agree that implementing citizen advisory panels, meeting with communitybased service organizations, holding public hearings, and participating in community events are the four most successful community relationship-building tactics.

14. Partner organizations use awards and recognition programs, as well as matching employee charitable contribution programs, as key incentives to achieve superior community relations performance by employees within and outside the community relations function.

15. Attaining positive media coverage is the most successful awareness-building
tactic employed by best-practice organizations.

16. Best-practice organizations use formal processes when setting community relations goals and objectives.

17. Study participants-particularly partner organizations-are using more formal and sophisticated budgetary processes.

18. Study participants-particularly partner organizations-often use less formal
processes when allocating budgets to site locations and business lines.

Section 4: Measurement

19. Most organizations are making efforts to measure the impact of CR on the
business-especially with regard to corporate reputation. However, few are taking a systematic or comprehensive approach to this evaluation.

20. Surveys-of communities, customers, and employees-remain the most common
method for measuring the impact of CR activities on the business. However,
there is broad coverage among participants of measurement techniques and
methods.

21. While respondents are better at keeping contribution records than volunteerism records, there is room for improvement in both areas. It is important to note, however, that companies are devoting resources to thorough record keeping in these areas.

22. Participants place greater emphasis on measuring the business impact of CR than the community impact.

The following report sections will cover each of these key findings in detail.

Methodology

The consortium benchmarking methodology was developed in 1993 and serves as one of the premier methods for successful benchmarking in the world. It is a powerful tool for identifying best and innovative practices and for facilitating the actual transfer of these practices.

The data collection tools used to gather information are:
- Preliminary Questionnaire: quantitative questions, designed to collect objective and quantitative data
- Detailed Questionnaire: quantitative questions, designed to collect objective and quantitative data and
- Site Visit Discussion Guide: qualitative questions, designed to collect qualitative information about targeted aspects of community relations processes.

Five of the seven partners hosted half-day site visits, allowing sponsors to meet with key personnel and share their community relations strategies and practices. A group of consortium members attended each site visit to participate in the discussion and to experience different programs firsthand. Both partner companies and sponsors responded to the Preliminary and Detailed Questionnaires. Only five partner companies were asked to respond to the Site Visit Discussion Guide in its entirety.
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4 Sponsor and Partner Companies<BR><BR>A listing of the sponsor companies in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) companies that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancement in community relations.<BR><BR>6 Executive Summary<BR><BR>A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.<BR><BR>13 Key Findings<BR><BR>An in-depth look at the 22 key findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the partner companies.<BR><BR>133 Partner Company Profiles<BR><BR>Background information on the partner companies, as well as their innovative community relations practices.
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