Think of some of your favorite companies and brands – how do they give back to the different communities they serve? For example, does your local Chipotle celebrate “Teacher Appreciation Day” with buy one get one deals? Maybe you have brought canned goods to a large organization’s headquarters or picked a family off a tree during the holiday season. These are examples of community relations. However, when many organizations are asked how they participate in community relations, they give blank stares or misguided answers. That is because many people do not have a firm understanding of what community relations is, or the positive impacts it can have on business.

Community relations is defined as the relationship that a company/organization has with the people who live in the area in which it operates. This is also typically aligned with an organization’s social responsibility efforts. The major benefit to the organization for practicing community relations is that it increases the organization’s visibility within the community. But, there are a lot of other reasons why organizations should practice community relations, too.

Community relations can help recruit and retain a stellar workforce. Today’s college graduates and Millennials alike are inherently different and one major differentiating factor is their desire to work for and with socially responsible companies. It is estimated that three out of four Millennials would take a pay cut to work for companies that practice social responsibility, including community relations. Engaging in activities that give back to the communities that businesses serve also help improve culture in the workplace and bring employees together to help achieve shared goals.

Community relations gives businesses the opportunity to build mutually beneficial relationships. The excellence theory of public relations argues that business efforts are most successful when communication is symmetrical, and two-way. This means that businesses succeed when they share information with stakeholders, but also when they listen to stakeholders and engage with them. Two-way communication leads to building mutually beneficial relationships and is the biggest way to build brand loyalty. When organizations engage in community relations, they are presenting opportunities for two-way communication and simultaneously building mutually beneficial relationships within the community. It is a win-win for both the community and the organization.

Finally, community relations can set your business apart from the competition. When consumers have a choice in supporting one business over another, their decision comes down to more than just product quality and/or price. Factors such as ethical practices, environmental responsibility, and community relations influence consumer behavior. Consumers are willing to spend slightly more money for a product if they know a portion of the profit is being donated. Similarly, consumers are more likely to support businesses that they feel like also support them, which is the root of community relations.

Community relations should be practiced by all businesses because of the many benefits it brings. Small efforts can make a big difference and businesses can reap the rewards exponentially over time. If community relations is not currently a part of your business’ marketing or public relations plan, it’s time to get started.

By: Stephanie Smith, Partner