Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
May 13, 2009

Building Community Relationships

Amid the hype about social media, there’s one thing social media has changed, and that’s the tone and temperature of the entire process of building and maintaining community relationships. For many business, commercial, or other interests working to influence community attitudes and decision making, robust engagement by individuals from inside and outside communities should be forcing the rethinking of many old-fashioned techniques so many have taken for granted for so many years.

Where political connections were thought to matter significantly in the past, now they are only valuable to the politician if you can prove you can control the temperature of the opposition and the bullying, bloviating and bellyaching of an ever-growing number of virtual participants through social media.

Another artifact of the old days is having frequent private contacts with political and elected officials, and other decision makers, on pending and current matters with significant public impact. Increasingly, all encounters are watched, counted and reported by someone, forcing an ever more intense transparency; in fact, the transparency has all but stopped these meetings.

Communicators are notoriously weak and confused in the area of public responsiveness. So many clients — including operators, regulators and public affairs people — harbor such oldfashioned notions about their power in politics, their connections and a false sense of personal power. The focus and power of opponents, commentators and bloviators is consistently underestimated.

Another fiction that communicators need to overcome (held by those we work for) is that if we get our act together, public permission can be obtained in the first round. Today, if you really want something substantial from a community, you may have to propose it three, sometimes four or five times, and permit an extraordinary length of time, communication, modification and accommodation to occur to work your way toward ultimate permission. And even then, you’ll get less than you asked for, but hopefully more than you need to get the job you initially wanted to accomplish completed.

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, CCEP, chairman and president, The Lukaszewski Group Inc.By James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, CCEP, chairman and president, The Lukaszewski Group Inc., is one of public relations most frequently quoted and prolific authors/crisis communication management consultants. He helps prepare spokespersons for crucial public appearances and local and network news interviews including “20-20,” “60 Minutes,” “Dateline NBC,” “Nightline,” financial analyst meetings, and legislative and congressional testimony. Sign up for Jim’s free Executive Action e-newsletter at
Join Lukaszewski for his teleseminar, Building Community Relationships: Overcome Opposition and Gain Community Consent and his two-day seminar Advanced Crisis Communication: How to Think and Advise Management Strategically During Tough Situations and Crises two-day seminar on Thursday, February 11–Friday, February 12 in New York, NY!

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