Building Community Support for a New Venture, October 2003

High expectations must be met by organizations introducing new services, products or ideas to a community. Leadership often expects the venture to result in a virtual “Hallelujah” chorus while TV news crews compete for exclusives.

As a professional communicator, you must manage and meet the expectation of a successful introduction. You also must be ready to deal with the potential of misunderstanding, skepticism and parochialism along the way from the community and the media.

Valek & Co. professionals share lessons learned first-hand about building community support:

Define your communities.  Most people think of a residential village or neighborhood when referring to a community. However, you will find smaller, influential communities within each larger community. Getting a read on these influencers early on is important, as they can significantly help or hinder the larger effort.

Be open, not stealthy.  If you suspect opposition from an influential community, tell them your intentions and start discussions early on.  Don’t think they won’t notice what you’re doing.  They will. If you don’t engage them, they will become a more formidable opponent. The school district in my area lost a tax referendum trying to play the stealth game. In its second try six months later, the district established a healthy dialogue with opponents – and won by a landslide.

Test your messages.  Before enlisting large sums of money into communication materials, you need to make sure your messages resonate within the target community. This becomes more important in direct relation to how specifically your community is defined. For example, messages to women or men only need to be tested to avoid misunderstandings or misperceptions. It’s even more important to test messages to women or men of a specific racial or ethnic group.

Use snail mail.  While sending e-mails or creating a flashy Web site may be trendier, nothing says “community” better than Mr. Postman or Ms. Postwoman delivering a succinct and compelling message to a home. We have experienced outstanding results through direct mail when offering a program or opportunity of value. Often, the biggest challenge here is convincing the client or organization to take the necessary steps to add value to the offer. Free offers, special tours, group networking luncheons and other incentives exponentially increase your chances of success.

Deliver news instead of fluff.  The media thrives on conflict and controversy. If you want coverage for your venture, give them real news, interesting visuals and interesting sources. Put your client or organization in the middle of an interesting issue. Tell the media how you’re going to solve a problem no one else can solve. Don’t expect them to cover contrived events or run your ribbon-cutting photo. If your venture naturally draws conflict and controversy of a negative nature, be ready with good answers to the tough questions.

@ Valek & Company 2016