The Power of Community in Public Relations
Published on February 26, 2023, at 1:57 p.m.
by Hailey Castillo.
Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Disney. From the red soda cans to yellow arches and mouse ears, each of these brands is recognizable, whether that be from popularity or profit. However, one thing they all have in common is giving back to the communities they serve.
In 2021, Coca-Cola provided over 430 grants that served over 130 countries and their community priorities. In 2019, McDonald’s U.S. customers donated over $27 million to the Ronald McDonald House Charities through restaurant-facilitated fundraisers. Since 1995, Disney Conservation has donated over $120 million to community organizations working to preserve wildlife.
Public relations is more than just branding. It is also creating mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its consumers and other key publics; it’s building a community and serving it.
Whatever the field — health care, sports or beauty — community engagement is essential to keeping target audiences engaged. For community engagement to be successful, businesses and brands must start the relationship-building from within their organizations, know how to communicate with their target publics, and engage directly with them to make positive community impacts.
Implementing internal communication strategies
Missy Acosta, vice president of brand strategy at Delta Dental Tennessee, believes that employee engagement is just as important as community engagement. The thing that sets Delta Dental apart from other dental insurance providers is that its employees are called Smile Ambassadors, she noted. “We know our customer service people love what they do, and when they’re happy at work, that’s going to flow through with how they answer calls and respond to complaints,” said Acosta.
Communication within a company or organization must be clear; the organization’s values provide a foundation for employee relations.
Similarly, Delaney Galbraith, community relations coordinator for the Worcester Railers, defined the Railers hockey team as a “community-first organization.” While Galbraith is the person responsible for doing the “feel-good things” for the Railers — including themed game nights, hospital visits and jersey auctions — a key factor for the Railers being a successful community organization is that all employees are community-oriented, no matter their title. They all agree and understand that community comes first, she said.
For DIME Beauty Co., a clean skincare company established in 2018, internal communication is imperative, according to DIME social media manager Georgia Junker. “My job is essentially affected by what everyone else does,” Junker said. “For example, if photos come back and they’re not the way I wanted them, then I have a problem on my end when it’s time to post on social media.”
Luckily for Junker, she has yet to face this problem and has been successful in communicating with both the graphic design and photo teams. “We work on a ‘visual vision’ together,” Junker said. “We communicate about how we want things to look, so when that’s said upfront, it’s easier for everyone to be on the same page.”
Since starting her position in November 2022, Junker has elevated DIME’s Instagram and increased engagement through implementing Reels by working with the video content team. According to Junker, as of February 2022, she has increased DIME’s Instagram followers by over 20,000, which demonstrates that building strong relationships internally helps create positive relationships and engagement externally.
Understanding the consumer public
After working in the PR industry for over 20 years, Acosta said that the one thing that has been consistent over time is that “you have to know your audience’s preferences and understand what medium your audience wants to be communicated to through.” PR practitioners should ask themselves, “What are the consumers’ wishes and desires? What will motivate them, and what are their purchasing behaviors?” Acosta put heavy emphasis on keeping up with trends and knowing that change is inevitable.
For DIME Beauty Co., the goal is for customers to see themselves when they are shopping. Including models of different races, sizes, ages and skin types has helped DIME build success in a beauty world that is known for lacking diversity.
With the Railers, Galbraith is not focused on selling a product. She is trying to build a sense of camaraderie within a low-income area.
“We care about having the fans at our [hockey] games and giving them something to cheer for,” Galbraith said. “We want to make them feel happy and proud of where they live.”
Galbraith’s community initiatives mainly target elementary and middle school-aged children in the Worcester and central Massachusetts area. Whether students attend Skate to Success or participate in Ticket to Read, they get to have an experience with the Railers.
“We support the students through programs and making our tickets affordable,” said Galbraith. “We need them and their support at games; we want to give back as much as possible.”
Engaging directly with the community
Community engagement is more than a strategic best practice for PR professionals, and it’s also worth more than favorable reputation building. Community engagement directly impacts the consumers and people a business serves — it builds a relationship between both parties.
To get followers more involved with DIME’s social media, Junker has elevated images of customers by posting before and after photos to share real-life results of using DIME’s products. She is also considering incorporating video testimonials of users’ skincare journeys in the company’s Instagram feed to make its content more compelling and relatable. One customer said that, when she went through chemotherapy, DIME was the only brand that did not irritate her skin, according to Junker. Stories like those are ones she wants to highlight to emphasize that DIME is more than a skincare brand — it’s a solution for those looking for clean, effective and affordable products, she said.
Working for the Railers, Galbraith has one mission, and it is to bring the team and the community together. Her priority is being in the moment when interacting with the community and doing her job whole-heartedly. “I want the whole entire atmosphere to feel special,” said Galbraith. “It’s the little things, like decorations and themes, on game days that push money for donations [for nonprofits].” From coordinating events at schools to planning events and fundraising, Galbraith helps spread the message that the Railers are there for their community.
Delta Dental is more than dental benefits, and it is demonstrated through the different events Acosta has been involved in over the years. Delta Dental has contracts with the Nashville Predators, the Memphis Grizzlies and Nashville Sounds. She said working with these teams is not transactional — it’s a partnership. While Delta Dental gets to have its logo on the LED ribbon at games, what’s more important is community involvement and having its brand name associated with these teams in different ways, Acosta said.
Delta Dental is the lead sponsor of the Filip Forsberg Hockey Clinic, which benefits Make a Wish. Each child who attends the clinic gets a jersey with the Delta Dental logo on the back and branded mouth guards. Delta Dental brings its mascot to the clinic to take photos with the children in attendance and other Predators team members, including Jeremy Lauzon, Tanner Jeannot and Alexandre Carrier. Acosta said that having the mascot standing next to those four NHL players “speaks volumes.”
Lastly, Delta Dental sponsors Mid-South Mission of Mercy, which is a two-day, pop-up dental clinic. This event is the most impactful because over 2,000 people get treated for free during one weekend, according to Acosta. While Delta Dental is “the nation’s leading provider of dental insurance,” events like this one are what incorporate the community into the brand. “When we restore smiles, we’re not just fixing teeth,” said Acosta. “We are restoring patients’ self-esteem and giving them pride in something; we’re giving them courage.”
Galbraith noted that there are several PR roles in sports organizations, and though “community” may not be in the job title, PR practitioners should always be aware of who they are affecting and know how to give back.
Similarly, Acosta stated, “You’re not necessarily going to get [philanthropic dollars] everywhere you go, but it’s important to use those philanthropic dollars as marketing dollars to reinvest in the communities you serve.”
No matter a company’s size, whether a big corporation like Coca-Cola, or a small organization like Delta Dental Tennessee, having a strong internal culture is necessary to build a positive external environment with the public it serves.