Community Relations: What Motivates Stakeholders?

By Price, Stuart V. | Communication World, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Community Relations: What Motivates Stakeholders?


Price, Stuart V., Communication World


STAKEHOLDERS - persons who involve themselves with activities at a public or private business because of personal or professional interest

Coordinating a full community relations campaign involves planning how to interact with stakeholders who have different ideas, different personal interests and different incentives.

To stay competitive, most businesses - including public companies, private firms and government agencies - mesh community relations activities into their daily routines. Whether the business involves generating electricity, manufacturing pharmaceuticals, cleaning up hazardous waste, or any number of other activities, identifying the need for community affairs programs and reaching out to community stakeholders is vital to succeed. Acknowledging what motivates people to become business stakeholders and distinguishing influential stakeholders are two strategies that can help turn routine community relations campaigns into outstanding ones.

Typically considered a soft business function, community relations departments often do not get as great a lion's share of corporate budgets as higher-profile departments. But in a litigious society, a controversial project can be significantly delayed or even halted in court because of inattentive or poorly executed community outreach. Many projects involving major, sensitive operations are routinely realigned because of litigation that started with community disapproval.

For example, witness the Shoreham nuclear power plant siting effort on Long Island, N.Y. The Long Island Lighting Company - famous for having one of the highest utility rates in the U.S. - invested billions of dollars and almost completed construction of a nuclear generating station just east of New York City. This station never became active to generate power, though, because the state decided that persons on Long Island could not safely evacuate the island in the event of a nuclear emergency. Long Island Lighting was directed to dismantle their newly constructed station.

In 1997, a proposed merger between Long Island Lighting and another local utility again has raised community alarm. At this point, community leaders are concerned that the financial burden of decontaminating and deconstructing the Shoreham plant will be farmed out to customers previously considered outside the Long Island Lighting client base. This controversy may have to be settled in court. Earlier community awareness and preparedness could have saved the company, ratepayers and local governments considerable construction and deconstruction costs. Two Strategies to Highlight Community Relations Outreach Campaigns:

1) Determine what motivates active stakeholders 2) Identify especially distinguished stakeholders and meet their special needs

Stakeholder Motivation

Business leaders need to know what motivates active stakeholders if they are to craft their most effective outreach programs. As we all know, most people who conduct routine business with a company (passive stakeholders) do not take the time to participate in community affairs. All of the customers of an electric utility, for example, will not go out of their way to contact a community affairs office to learn more about the service or comment on regulatory issues.

Active stakeholders, on the other hand, are the ones who visit information centers, attend public meetings, make phone calls, write letters, speak with news media and otherwise participate in business affairs that were once considered off-limits to the public at large. Coordinating a full community relations campaign involves planning how to interact with stakeholders who have different ideas, different personal interests, and different incentives.

At one time, business stakeholders simply included persons who had immediate standing in local projects. Today, individual empowerment rights embrace almost anyone who shows interest in a project. Some of the staunchest resistance for a waste disposal project, for instance, may come from an environmental group based in another locale that might not even have a local chapter. …

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