Sensible organisations are careful to develop and sustain a good public image. They strive to become good neighbours, showing concern for the affairs of the community in which they operate. And if they don’t live up to community expectations, they will rightly be subjected to community criticism. Public support is therefore of the utmost importance. But many managers expect this support without taking positive steps to win it. Here are some principles essential for gaining a good public image…
1. Plan your program.
Planning is essential. In devising ways to win community support for your organisation, you must take into account information that the public has, wants, and needs about your organisation. Consider also such basic factors as your audience, program timing, techniques you will use, and potential media coverage.
2. Become a good neighbour.
Do your activities upset the local community in which you operate? If so, do something immediately about noise, fumes, smells, waste disposal, parking, visual pollution – things that can create antagonism locally. Or do your activities receive warm local acknowledgement – because you support local development, contibute to local community associations, donate to charities, support schools, sponsor student awards, offer assistance with local sport, art and youth activities? Think about the many ways in which you can keep your local community on side by becoming a good neighbour.
3. Know your community.
No effective program can be planned without a knowledge of the local community. What problems are of concern locally – lack of recreation facilities, youth unemployment, historic sites, pollution? What are your community’s main interests – sport, culture, gardens? Who are the political leaders? Who are the opinion leaders? What is the current economic situation (the spending power of a prosperous mining town would be greater than that of a declining pastoral town)? Are there any special emotional issues – resulting from a racial, religious, or industrial past? And so on. Only with such background information can your image-building efforts be directed into the correct channels.
4. Identify and assess all available avenues.
If you now know what it takes to be a good neighbour, and you know your community, then your organisation can now explore ways of demonstrating good citizenship and of developing the image of a good neighbour. List all possible options from which a balanced selection of program strategies can be made, for example:
- media relations: keeping journalists aware of company projects which impact favourably on the local community
- participation in community activities
- newsletters: for distribution to staff, clients, opinion leaders, libraries, local businesses
- speechmaking: addressing schools, clubs, and civic groups on activities of your organisation
- sponsorships: from financing the local pet show to purchasing a new bus for the local retirement village
- product donations: donating products or services as prizes in local raffles, at school fetes or for other community fundraising events
- open days: inviting the community to view your facilities, and featuring demonstrations, tours, exhibits.
Select your strategies in terms of the nature of your message and business, coverage required, cost, time, and your particular situation.
5. Foster two-way communication.
Image building goes beyond advertising and is built on planned, systematic two-way communication. The greater the two-way flow of information, the easier it is to find out how effectively your message is getting across to the community. Encourage and welcome expressions of opinion – good or bad; such views should be seen as opportunities for dialogue which can promote improved understanding and, possibly, even stronger local support for your organisation.
6. Remember the fundamentals.
The nature, content, and presentation of your message will vary with circumstances but there are basic principles which must be adhered to:
- Be honest. By all means accentuate the positive; but propaganda, dishonesty, and exaggeration are rarely forgiven.
- Be continuous. By repeating your message in a variety of ways, you will produce a stronger community response.
- Be comprehensive. All the important aspects of your organisation’s activity should be considered in planning an image-building program. No activity should be singled out for undue emphasis; nor should others be ignored or minimised.
- Keep it simple. Language, content and presentation of information should be adjusted to the intellectual and interest levels of your particular community audience. Beware of mumbo-jumbo and jargon. Make things clear and interesting.
- Present information rationally. Your information should be presented objectively, constructively, unemotionally, and without sensationalism. Such an approach is more likely to convince intelligent and reasonable people.
- Timing is important. Schedule your campaign for the greatest effect.
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