The Public Relations Strategist

Creating Collaboration: We Can Accomplish More When We Work Together

January 15, 2013

I have always been one of those people who think we should leave things a little better than we found them. I believe this is why I went into health-care communications, or at least that is what my mother will tell you.

The key for me has always been collaboration. (Embarrassing fact: On my high school field hockey team, I earned the award for “Best Sportsmanship-Like Conduct.”) People can do more when they work together.

As a PR practitioner of nearly 20 years, I’m pleased that I continue to see organizations — corporate, government and nonprofits — seeking collaborative opportunities. There’s an understanding in the profession today that we can only get so far by going it alone.

What I find equally exciting is that the process of collaboration is evolving and becoming more sophisticated — from identifying the right opportunities to measuring an initiative’s success. Yesterday’s approach just won’t work. In years past, a quick round of research on the Internet was all you would do to select a third-party partner and start reaching out to potential matches. Back then, just saying you were working with a nonprofit was enough to garner industry awards.

Today, for a collaboration to even be considered, there’s an in-depth level of due diligence required — yes, actual research! — on both sides. And further, for an initiative to be considered “successful,” the program must align with the business objectives of both parties.

Gone are the days of seeking a flash-in-the-pan quick win (corporate side) or quick funding with no mission match (nonprofit side).

But change isn’t always easy. The landscape has developed dramatically during the past few years. Funding has slowed down from individuals, corporations and foundations. There are many more nonprofit organizations today, creating a cluttered market that can be difficult for businesses and consumers to navigate. And although nonprofits are acting more like corporations, Corporate America is demanding even more quantitative return on investment.

Nonprofit organizations are also more selective; they won’t create a partnership with just any organization if it doesn’t make sense for them (i.e., match with their mission and drive their business goals).

To me, this is great news for all of us. It means that as PR professionals, we’re seeing a growing interest in creating sustainable, meaningful change that improves lives and helps business to thrive. Also, there’s a growing acceptance of the need for upfront due diligence to guide decision processes that create a strong recommendation you can defend to the C-suite.

Below are a few thoughts to consider when developing your advocacy strategy:

Understand the value of advocacy relations

Understanding the value of advocacy relations may seem simple, but frankly, we spend a good deal of time helping clients sell-in the idea — beyond the PR and marketing function, it tends to still live in the realm of “a nice thing to do” versus a solid business strategy. But keep in mind that movements start because people make them happen.

Collaboration often sparks great opportunity, and a shared vision pulls energy from multiple origins into combined and parallel efforts. As Margaret Mead once said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

On a more tangible front, advocacy relations offers both corporations and nonprofit organizations a number of benefits, including the following:

  • Provides insights into target audience attitudes and behaviors
  • Creates a halo effect for communications
  • Bolsters leadership positioning
  • Extends reach through additional communication channels
  • Creates ability to influence from various directions (legislations, newsletters, conferences, websites, work groups, bylines, etc.)

Connect goals to the big picture

Advocacy relations is powerful in its own right, but I believe in building on big-picture thinking. How does advocacy relations strengthen all of your communication goals?

A challenge: Think about how your partnership goals could support overall business, employee, cause marketing and social responsibility work.

When you tie advocacy relations efforts to larger organizational goals, you bring greater power to your work and allow for stronger brand recognition and relevancy. This can help establish additional rationale for the C-suite.

Start the process

Start by having a clear understanding of your goals. I know it sounds like an obvious thing to say, but it’s true. Frankly, the hard upfront thinking doesn’t happen enough. For example, if you don’t know whether you are trying to neutralize a conversation or create a partnership before you start the research, you are less likely to ask the right questions or seek the specific information that will help you determine how to proceed.

In the end, this will mean your audit was a waste. Once you’ve identified your goals, you can begin outlining what you want to audit. Below are a few of the categories GCI Health considers in order to determine reach, influence and openness to collaboration:

  • Existing relationships: Assess what organizations they have worked with in the past. Would you consider previous initiatives successful? Why or why not?
  • Media coverage: Evaluate the organization’s engagement with the media. Is it positive or negative? Are they talking about issues you want to connect to? Are they quoted often? By whom? What is the caliber of the media?
  • Digital audit: We all know digital media plays a role in reaching people and influencing behavior, so don’t neglect this aspect. Conduct the same type of audit you would if it were traditional media.
  • Communication assets: What assets does the organization have to help reach the target? Do the channels have lots of members/followers? Are they updated frequently? Do they include mentions of corporate partners or campaigns?
  • Leadership influence: Who is the leadership team? Are they talking to the media, Congress, leading coalitions or workgroups? What is their role, and how can their approach bring strength to your goals?

In my time at GCI Health, we have driven the need for conducting the necessary research to align goals with groups and to really dig into the nuances of what organizations offer. We are using the audit process not only to identify the right partners for disease awareness but also to identify potential allies and detractors to support clients’ issues-management strategies.

Our philosophy: It’s a big world, and fortunately there’s lots of opportunity to make it a better place. Go figure out how.

Kim Sammons
Kim Sammons has nearly 20 years of experience with particular expertise in advocacy relations, internal communications and branding. She has worked for agency, corporate and nonprofit organizations.


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