I had the opportunity to speak to communications students at Capilano University earlier this week. They are smart, engaged and are going to bring some great, new energy to the PR world. Connecting with students always inspires me, it makes me realize how fortunate I am to work in PR and it reminds me how valuable PR is to an organization.
There are many, many functions of PR. At the foundation, we help our clients to build positive relationships with their “publics.” (You can replace the word publics with the noun that works for you: stakeholders, audience, target market, employees, government, media, community—the list goes on and on.)
One of the questions that came up when I was speaking to the students was around engagement and the best way to approach it. That depends on the community and the organization’s objectives, but it brought home the fact that PR is about engagement and that you don’t engage by just putting up a Facebook page or opening a Twitter account.
At AHA, we have an in-depth process that we go through with a client when we are focused on engagement. You really need to understand your target market—who they are and how they want to connect with you. (Not how you want to connect with them!) There is a great deal of research involved, the defining best practices, understanding what the organization wants to communicate and discovering what the stakeholders want to hear from the organization. Being interesting, informative and, even, entertaining (which can scare some organizations) is important. You want to provide people with something that is of value to them. If you are just pushing out information, you will lose their interest.
We approach engagement as an evolving entity that needs consistent attention paid to it and that can—and should be—measured on a regular basis. Engagement is an art and a science, and it takes effort. You need constantly pay attention and review what is working and what isn’t. You need to authentically connect and ask stakeholders what they want. You also need to respond in a timely fashion to their requests, demands and feedback or they will go elsewhere.
To me, engagement is at the heart of what we do. There are a lot of great communications plans that don’t produce results because this one important step—engagement—didn’t get enough attention in the planning stage.