Monday, September 01, 2008

A new direction for Action Strategies

Well, it has been a while since I've published an entry in this blog but there has been a reason. I've taken this time to seriously evaluate how I as a Public Relations and Lobbying consultant can make a difference in advancing the profession. With that, I have given serious thoughts to where in my mind, the value of Action Strategies' services lie in public relations and government relations. I came to an important conclusion.

Reviewing our case studies and the comments we have received from those clients who have been our biggest fans, it became clear that there is a definite need for a combined communications and government relations agency that specializes in the association and non-profit sector. As a sector that arguably calls upon GR and PR strategies more than any other sector (government or private sector), I was amazed to learn of the challenges they face. Interestingly enough, there seem to be few who specialize in non-profits or truly understand the complexities they face.

In fact, in my estimation I do not believe there are any Canadian firms (although I welcome being corrected on this!) that serve exclusively the non-profit and association market. There are undoubtedly many who service them. However, in all instances, they approach the situation as a PR or Government Relations generalist - serving all sectors with a sprinkle of non-profits to fill in the mix.

My feeling however is that non-profits and associations have indeed particular aspects that do require a specialist as opposed to a generalist. While private sector PR serves the valuable role of maintaining a corporate image and assisting marketing efforts, non-profit directors and executives face a series of challenges:

-With the pressing demands of running an organization, how does an Executive Director keep their organization's members and supporters engaged and informed of the good work that's happening? If they are unsuccessful in communicating this, how long will it be before they run the risk of a disconnect?

-In terms of lobbying, associations face the challenge of building consensus and ensuring their message is inline with their members' concerns all the while ensuring that government understands that their association is indeed the voice of a given industry.

-Many non-profits run fundraising initiatives. How effective though can a fundraising campaign be if the community is unaware of the organization or of the problem the non-profit is aiming to resolve?

-Unlike the private sector, most non-profit and association executives must contend with a Board of Directors (most often from across the country and/ or from varying backgrounds and diverging interests). These board members are volunteers and as such, need to be communicated with in a means that will motivate and engage. Not to mention, many associations face the challenge of recruiting board members.

While these are just a sampling of the issues at hand, they were enough to inspire me to demonstrate how effective and specialized GR and PR for non-profits are so required in Canada. With the experience I've gained with organizations such as the Canadian Hydropower Association, the Canadian Construction Association, the Canadian paralympic Committee and many others, I believe there are some clear solutions that can be provided to the non-profit sector. The nuances each of these have faced along with the many other associations I have helped have in my mind made it very clear that the non-profit world is different than other sectors.

What are your thoughts?
Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

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