Author - Stephen Naylor, public affairs consultant.
Stephen joined the Active Profile team in January 2021. He supports us to identify the key decision makers and stakeholders our clients need to be talking to and works with us to develop strategies to excite them and engage with projects in their infancy or on the ground. With nearly 20 years’ experience in journalism, politics and communications, Stephen has worked closely with leaders at every level, from Westminster to town halls, and understands how to craft and deliver the right messages to reach the right people at the right time.
Making your voice heard in communities which haven’t heard you before
If you know an area inside out, you know the people to talk to and understand what they want to hear, so you can adapt your message to suit. If you don’t already have a presence on the ground though, it’s much harder. But the good news is that it’s not impossible, and there are some positive advantages to being a new voice on the block.
Ensure you have a plan
Being prepared and having a public affairs strategy will help you ensure that your voice is heard whether you’re a known or unknown quantity. Its aim is simple, but vital – building relationships, developing connections and influencing decisions. But how do you go about developing a plan for an area where your business or organisation doesn’t have a presence?
The key is understanding that the essentials are the same, but you need to put the time and effort in, and you can’t skimp on that investment.
Start by immersing yourself in what matters to the community. Research the key decision makers, look into what's important to them and identify how best to talk to them. Think about what you can offer them to remedy their pain points – what makes you different?
If you listen to them, they will listen to you
We should never forget, that with the right arguments, and by ticking the right boxes, every stakeholder will usually be willing to listen to an argument. If you are offering something for a community, they will listen. But if you ask for their views, you must be prepared to listen to them too.
Your arguments need to be strong, but your approach should be humble. Address any concerns you think they may have and take on board the concerns you haven’t thought of. Also never be afraid to highlight the positives and sell your story. Show you care about the area they care about and they will be much more willing to accept and understand what you say, even if they don’t always agree with everything you want to do.
Public affairs isn’t short-term though – strategies that involve parachuting into an area and then leaving will never work. You can’t demonstrate you understand communities unless you actually do understand them. Immerse yourself, learn, show you want to know more. And adapt – the best campaigns evolve, and your strategy needs to be fluid.
Share your track record
If you’re trying to expand into a community you don’t have a presence in, the likelihood is you do have a presence somewhere similar. Use this experience. Identify which campaigns, developments or projects most relate to the area you’re looking to engage with, show the impact it has delivered, but also highlight the challenges you faced and how they were overcome.
Above all, be nimble, chart progress, assess the impact of contacts and revise what happens next depending on the reception received. You’ll never be able to anticipate the result of every conversation or contact, so ensure continuous improvement rather than rigid adherence, so your voice is heard and listened to rather than heard and ignored.
For more information about how we can help with your public affairs strategy get in touch.