In the early stages of my career when I was working as communications director for a nonprofit, I was amazed at how quickly a national issue could become local.
National grassroots efforts steadily trickled down to local and state governments and organizations so I found myself buried in issues management. Every day, I scanned news outlets across the nation and throughout the state to see which issues may affect my daily operations, but more importantly, the operations of our members. Think federal and state funding!
After a few years in public relations, I’ve learned that to build support, staying on top of trends and issues is key, as is listening to your audiences – otherwise known as key publics.
“Effective communications means more than just managing issues through the media,” Media Miser said. “Companies and organizations must also be aware of their external publics – the people and groups outside of an organization’s sphere that affect, or are affected by, what that organization does. This is known as relationship management: the discipline of identifying key publics and establishing strategies for building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with them.”
Step 1: quote analysis. Chances are, your communications staff is monitoring media, but pay attention to quotes. Doing so will allow you to see what your stakeholders are thinking and saying about the trends and issues that could affect your organization. If you’re not on track, their words will tell you.
Also look for advocates and “badvocates.” By scanning for quotes and statements, you can assess who’s on your side – and who’s not. If the media heavily quote someone, he or she could be an opinion leader – and a media favorite – so it’s wise to determine whether your organization’s positions align with that person’s agenda.
As I mentioned before, keeping an eye on regional news will give your organization a taste of the key publics within that region, and could help your association strengthen its presence and capitalize on hot-button issues and trends. For example – knowledge. Is there something happening about which you can best educate that region?
And messaging. It’s so important. Whoever handles communications in your organization needs to develop consistent messaging. That said, staff can tailor those messages to a region or stakeholder’s concerns.
“If you want people to trust you and your organization, consistency is a must,” Media Miser said. “Trust is the first step in developing a relationship with opinion leaders and your key publics. The last thing you want is to communicate different messages regarding the same issue: Without consistency, you run the risk of looking insincere. This will inhibit your publics’ ability to trust you, and without trust it’s impossible to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship.”
It goes without saying that people appreciate transparency, so always, I mean ALWAYS, be honest. Your organization doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of a public relations quagmire.
In summary, pay attention to what media – and this includes bloggers and niche reporters – are writing about. Even if an issue doesn’t seem important to your industry, it could tangentially relate. Remember: Media are key to helping you build relationships.
Other questions to consider:
- Is there mutual trust between your organization and your key publics?
- Is there an equal exchange and benefit? Are you seeing a reaction to your relationship management efforts, or are they falling flat? Should you focus your efforts on different key publics who are more likely to reciprocate?
- Is your company committed to maintaining a relationship with your key publics? Are you continuing to nurture every relationship that you’ve developed?
- Are you satisfied with the relationship? Are your key publics satisfied? What can you do to improve these levels of satisfaction?