Kathleen O’Dell, Community Relations Director for the Springfield Greene County Library, paid a visit to our class the other day to cover the topic of community relations. It was a very interesting presentation over the subject because the libraries main audience are their patrons who are members of the community, therefore making community relations a crucial focus to drive traffic to the libraries of Springfield Greene County. A community relations specialist is defined by PRSA as, “Community relations specialists are responsible for developing and implementing community outreach programs including social & community awareness incentives. They work with the organization to create programs that promote the organization’s image in a positive and community-oriented way. Community relations specialists set up internal events, fairs and other community events to incorporate the organization into the community.” Kathleen O’Dell does all of this and maybe more for the libraries of Springfield and Greene County.
Kathleen started out in the world as an eager journalist interested in covering stories of all kinds. This background gave her an interesting view point when she finally entered the PR world due to her history in dealing with other community relations specialists and knowing what the media was looking for when dealing with these professionals. Kathleen has been at her current position for six years now and is a veteran in the community relations world. She handles everything from press releases, social media, all literature for promotions for the libraries as well as events, minor educational training sessions with library staff who do not have a background on how to handle PR or media type situations and raising money for the renewal of the Brentwood branch library. Kathleen has a large staff for a smaller organization, which she is grateful for as they help her to get messages out as well as design the artwork for campaigns.
Kathleen gave some advice to the class for when and if we ever have to put on our community relations hat that I found not only insightful but helpful as well. She said it is vital to your company or organization to always get staff involved, excited and educated on events, campaigns and promotions because they are your biggest brand ambassadors. If they are knowledgeable and interested in what is happening within the organization than your audience and customers will be as well. Monitoring administration and staff relations is also important because you never want to have them going rogue and creating their own signage or mixing the message you have carefully laid out in a community relations plan. Kathleen said she even had to create a “Wall of Shame” in her office for library fliers created without approval and posted in the libraries. However comical this may be, she said it seemed to have worked and scared the staff into letting her be in charge of the signage as it is her job.
Community Relations is a crucial part of being a PR practitioner because it is cultivating and fostering a relationship between your brand and the community. A positive image in the community will go a long way not only in support for your company or organization, but in bringing awareness to the causes your brand is representing. Besides all of the importance it has for your brand it just seems like a good, heartwarming time to create programs and events in the community that will directly benefit patrons of your company or organization. I would be interested in seeing what company or organization is thought of to have an outstanding community relations reputation.