Relationships matter

It’s who you know!‚Äč

The art of successful communications is talking to the right people at the right time in a way that suits them and get your message across. This will encourage them to understand where you’re coming from engage in any activities or events and assist with any behaviour change, such as increasing recycling, keeping your mobile phone out of sight or site or signing up to a training course or apprenticeship.

The Lambeth champions tent at the Lambeth country show hosted a range of community groups, including green community champions, men’s groups, an up cycling organisation as well as a Council presence. These groups were brought together for a common cause too engage the public and get people involved in their interests and encourage volunteering. By offering an opportunity to have a stall at the event, we were able to establish a relationship with these groups which we can nurture and develop over time and will be mutually beneficial.

Key players

First of all you need to establish who are the key players – this could be those that are in favour or against what you are trying to do. The best way to do this is through a stakeholder mapping exercise. Some of this can be done at your desk, but the best way is to go out and talk to people and tap into their contacts. This applies within your organisation and externally, and includes statutory organisations, the voluntary sector, local communities, interest and church groups and everyone else that shapes a local area.

Some organisations such as the Police service will often favour a hierarchical and formal approach to communications, whereas small community groups would often prefer a chat over a coffee or a visit to their office. At London Action Trust, a crime reduction charity we used the more formal approach of establishing a panel to oversee a capacity building project for crime reduction voluntary organisations. The panel had representation from different types of organisations representing a variety of stakeholders. To complement this, we held more informal networking events, training sessions and individual meetings. This was complemented by regular email and print communications.

Nurturing

Once you know who these people and organisations are, you need to look after them. A one-off mailshot or event will not suffice. Find out how people like to be communicated to you, what they’re interested in and go from there. Communication should be tailored and as personal as possible in order to have the maximum impact and take people with you. Think of it as developing a relationship and having an ongoing conversation.

If you treat people well and keep them informed they may change their opinion and others could go on to act as advocates for your cause.

The Lambeth Living housing communications project aimed to tackle historical reputational issues faced by the organisation. Overarching messages were communicated using core digital and print channels. Key stakeholders were identified, and we had individual conversations with them alongside wider workshops and focus groups to debunk myths and update tenants and leaseholders on positive developments and opportunities. Over the period of a year we were able to influence the tenant satisfaction rating positively from 51% to 60%.

Who should do the talking?

For key stakeholders and more senior individuals within organisations, it often makes sense to have a relationship manager from the organisation. This could be the lead politician, a director or project lead. People like to have a named contact you will understand where they’re coming from and their interests.

The right tools for the job

To do this properly a spreadsheet will not be enough. You will need a customer relationship management database, which records interests, contact and activity which is tailored for your needs is what. The data would need to be updated regularly and accessible to those in touch with your stakeholders.

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