The 4 Keys To Building Industry Outreach and Education for Community Stakeholders

Why national Infrastructure Week needs to lead localized public outreach program efforts

My colleague Adam Pope recently wrote about the energy industry’s challenge of overcoming fake news. In this era of forged facts that mobilize grassroots opposition, community outreach education is critically important to effectively engage local stakeholders.

This Infrastructure Week can help bring focus to elevating the conversation on the need for sound infrastructure across America. It can also be a step forward in advancing the conversation on a national level. While nationwide education helps raise awareness, energy companies must build trusted relationships with people who are directly impacted by their projects at the community level.

One critical mistake energy companies can make when planning community outreach is assuming all communities are the same.

A one-size-fits-all approach to community education can be quickly identified as inauthentic. Outreach must be specifically tailored to the unique makeup of the residents and stakeholders in the project area — from source preference to the type of information.  

The bottom line: Know your audience.

Bravo Group develops public outreach programs on behalf of our energy infrastructure clients to help educate impacted communities. Our first step is always focused on learning as much as we can about the people who will be impacted by the project — community stakeholders.

Here are four questions to help understand your stakeholders:

  1. Who are all potential audiences? Residents along the pipeline route will be a primary audience to work with, but who are the nontraditional groups that will be affected? These can range from township officials and small-business owners to school districts and emergency responders.
  2. How do they like to receive information? This can vary drastically by region. It can include a range of media, from direct mail to Facebook to town hall meetings. In today’s world of limitless media consumption choices, it’s essential we provide information to people where and when they want to receive it.
  3. Whom do they trust? Do community members consider their elected officials most trustworthy? Is there a local business or clergy leader who is seen as the “town elder”? Because companies are often viewed as the least credible, with only corporate interests in mind, it’s imperative to identify the trusted local leaders and develop a respectful and open working relationship. This focus will have positive outcomes on the project.
  4. What about the project might they find concerning or troublesome? What are the primary concerns of each stakeholder group? How can we address those concerns in our community outreach? Residents are likely to be interested in learning about safety precautions and protocols, while small-business owners will want to understand if the project will yield business impacts. We employ market research techniques to zero in on these discrete concerns, and we use that information to build our education programs.

From a community education standpoint, effectively moving a project to completion takes a significant investment in knowing and understanding the people who will be impacted. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t be effective, and energy companies that make the investment at the local level will find it a much more strategic method for building an effective stakeholder outreach program.

Chris Getman is co-lead of Bravo Group’s energy infrastructure practice, bringing nearly 20 years of experience in public relations, corporate and marketing communications and advocacy expertise to Bravo’s energy clients.