OK, the jury is in. Community outreach has now been deemed one of the most powerful ways to brand and promote your program and your services. Developing relationships with organizations in your community will not only help create customer affinity but gets people to start promoting your business for you!
But the secret is not that you do outreach, but HOW you do it.
I’ve learned many lessons over the years in my marketing career, but one of the fundamental truths I’ve experienced is that you need to do outreach with the community on their terms.
Whoa, this is different you say. Why not just invite community leaders to your place, send out a nicely designed invite, and do a show-and-tell. Give them a tour, invite your executives to present and…Voila…Community outreach accomplished.
NOT! This is outreach strictly on your company’s terms. Here is a better approach:
Step 1: Create your list of organizations or communities you want to target
Step 2: Set up a personal one-on-one meeting with a leader in these organizations or communities
Step 3: Listen and ASK THEM, “what is the preferred way to connect with their members and customers, as they serve as the entry point to reach these individuals and families.
Step 4: Be prepared for a very different approach. This may include:
- Being a part of one of their forums, by utilizing their local meeting venues and forums. Don’t expect people to come to you.
- Using community leaders as facilitators–or let them make the introductions. Their endorsement is critical.
- Ensuring presentations are made by staff who are members of the community or with ties to it. Not necessarily your leadership team.
- Practicing cultural competency. Understand the values of the community and honor them. For example, with Latino communities, don’t be Anglo time driven, rather serve food first, allow people to socialize and when there is a lull, begin the meeting.
- Being showcased not in a forum, but via a word-of-mouth referral by leaders.
- Creating mini-articles for their community publications, and then being open to placing an ad, usually at a nominal amount.
- Following up with leaders one-on-one throughout the year. Don’t forget them after you do your initial outreach engagement. Otherwise you won’t be considered sincere.
- Supporting their local causes and fundraising events. Your presence and participation shows you are committed–not just throwing money at them.
- Including your own family in community activities. This humanizes the company and puts a face on it.
Outreach is all about branding and extending your own community to others, who may look and act differently with contrasting values and styles. These organizations and individuals can be powerful advocates and evangelists and create word of mouth goodwill….if you show respect and meet them where they are, on their terms.
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