Community Engagement

Any CSR advocate will acknowledge the fine line between a sales, marketing, or PR event and a community engagement event.  Yes,  at times, they overlap.  Yet they can also be completely opposite, pending the event’s goals and how it was promoted.

So, who cares?  What’s the point?
Well, companies with a corporate responsibility policy care.  And the point needs to be understood, especially among their stakeholders.

Case it point.  Last Saturday I organized a community engagement event (a free Paper Shred) for a real estate company.  During it I got into a heated conversation with an agent who was selling their services during the event.  I asked the agent not to sell and instantly heard a mouthful of disdain.

With hindsight I realize the agent simply did not understand the event’s goals, and any attempted explanation hit a cold wall.

So, this post is to talk about creating a successful community engagement event and to develop cohesive love for the goal, hopefully.

Let’s review the Paper Shred’s goals.  First it was to reduce identity theft and paper in landfills.  Two tasks that matched the broker’s giving spirit.  Then it was to engage with homeowners in the community.  The event needed many forms of communication and team work to make it successful, i.e.,

  1. Marketing: design and print door hangers, website landing page, flyers, and banners.
  2. Public Relations:  having a local newspaper write about the event.
  3. Selling: The company and agents tell homeowners about the event when farming,  distributing door hangers, posting details on social media, or advertising in the local media.
  4. Team building:  Seasoned agents mentor new agents by farming and distributing door hangers together.
  5. Logistics: secure a reputable mobile shred vehicle, obtain municipality and landlord approval, and get volunteers to help direct event traffic, talk with participants, unload paper from vehicles, trash the cardboard boxes etc.

This event was promoted as a free community event.  But because we utilized sales and marketing to promote the Paper Shred I’m guessing that gave the agent the green light to sell services,  Hence these two scenarios ignited the argument:

1. The agent sees a homeowner carrying their door hanger and said, That’s my door hanger, and I’m an agent that farms your neighborhood, and you can call me anytime.  That is a one sided conversation, about the agent, who is clearly selling a service.

2. We gathered participant’s contact information by asking if they want to know about future shred events.  (note: The question implied we’d only use their contact information to talk about future shed events.)  Most participants gave their information, yet expressed concern that it would be sold or used to solicit them.  So we eased their concern and said we’ll only contact them with future community engagement events. If we contact that person to sell our product or services, we lied.

I completely understand the agent’s point of view.  I agree, having the participant’s contact information would be a welcome reward.  After all, they sold the event by distributing 500+ door hangers and spent money on a newspaper advertisement. Here’s the good news: Their sales worked.  People in their farm area showed up.

On the flip side, the Brokerage has to be true to their word otherwise it would be branded as one with questionable integrity.

Here’s the community engagement take away:
Have a clear understanding of its goals and its message. Make sure those elements are clearly communicated to all participating stakeholders.  Then promote it.  Sell it.  Market it.  Gain PR for it.  Enjoy the event by engaging with and learning about your community.  Ask people about their life.  Thank them for participating.  Ask what they’ll do with their paper-free space.  Ask what the paper meant to them.

Rule #1:  The event should showcase the participants and the subject matter that brought you together.  Talk about anything but your business, unless they bring it up.

Those questions, along with a few friendly moments, will strengthen a corporate brand as one that cares and as one with values.

Values, give that a fighting chance.
Always tri.  Never stop.