It has been argued that companies and industries must take seriously the call to make a case for legitimacy to every stakeholder in the area in which they operate. If an industry, or member thereof, does not provide understanding about what it offers, then it cannot rightly complain about the negative view the public may cast upon it. However, if instead the time is taken to educate about the positives and the benefits, the likelihood of negative attention and circulating misconceptions can be seriously mitigated, if not altogether avoided.
So, how does an industry “get serious” with its public outreach strategies?
For starters, more emphasis is needed on encouraging employees and supporters to be vocal about their position with relation to a company or industry and arming them with the knowledge and tools necessary to fight misconceptions. From a communications perspective, if industry representatives are not in attendance at public hearings and functions, then there is no one there to monitor and control the messaging. Even worse— if the industry is only slightly present, then little is being done to combat the opposition’s case or in recruiting supporters of the industry.
Strategies of communication and public outreach require time, focus, and, most obviously but not necessarily practiced, strategy. Often times, those within an industry develop a tendency to simply “trust the process,” especially in such cases as public comment periods and hearings, rather than making an impactful public show of support for the industry in a place where the opposition is strong and organized.
But what is this “trusted process” if it does not include effective community outreach, sharing of factual information, and advocating for industry ambassadors?
The idea of trusting the process takes many forms, but can generally be thought of as a series of checking boxes on the path for approval and completion for projects of all scopes. These projects frequently include a public comment period or public hearing to gather input from the community. Some companies just see these requirements as steps that need to be completed, rather than fully utilizing the opportunities these requirements can yield. They are the perfect vehicles for demonstrating the support of the local community, as well as other stakeholders.
In reality, every project plan should include a strategy for rallying and engaging community supporters, such as property owners, elected officials, and persons in related industries who work alongside it or in support of a complementary industry. In general, people aren’t likely to come out to support a project unless directly asked to do so.
Another reason the manner in which a company communicates about its projects matters has to do with the change in the way we as a society talk to one another and share information. The Internet, social media, cell phones, email, and other technologies have made it incredibly easy to share information – whether factually correct or not – across a large audience. If companies do not provide information about a project, people will look to other sources, which may not be accurate. Even the media gets it wrong on occasion, and that can have a lot to do with the voices that are present at public meetings sharing incorrect information about the industry. It is imperative for companies to find ways to use these platforms to inform their supporters and to encourage them to provide testimony as to why they believe in a project, company, or industry at large.
Companies and their operatives must stop hiding behind the idea that the process will see itself through. More effort should be put into real conversations with people that are both current advocates and also potential supporters. Once a company within an industry realizes its ability to catalyze and lead those conversations, it will have the ability to amplify its supporter’s voices alongside its own. That is how advocates are made and how the light shed on the industry can be intensified. That is how a company builds its own trusted process.