Community relations are not negotiable. In fact, DoDI 5410.19 states that "community relations programs be established and those command relationships are delineated throughout the Department of Defense for conducting community relations activities and programs. Well-planned community relations programs help earn public support and understanding of operations, missions and requirements of the military services."
A public affairs practitioner is the liaison between the base and the community. Service members and the community will look to PAOs for factual base information, evidence of environmental stewardship, guidelines for community involvement and opportunities to support days of national significance. Encourage service members to participate in community, church, athletic and social activities, and encourage community members to share opportunities to collaborate with the base.
Community relations efforts targets audiences on and off base. Become familiar with the different types of information these audiences seek and the places they turn to for it to have a successful community relations program.
Internal audiences include:
- Active duty service members, reservists and retirees
- Government service and contract employees
- Family members
- ROTC members
- Military auxiliary organizations
While the internal audience better understands the military and its missions, they may not always have access to current or upcoming activities and programs.
External audiences include:
- The local public – This audience is made up of neighbors, fellow American citizens, taxpayers and voters. Target publics need to be engaged to meet specific objectives. One quarter, the most important may be Congressional members because the base needs funding for a program; another quarter, it could be the media to help push an important notification to a broader audience.
- Members of committees involved in Armed Forces matters - This includes Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, ship reunion groups, etc.
- The media –This audience includes local, national and international media representatives. If stationed overseas, include host nation media.
- Community leaders - Includes elected or appointed officials in the community who vote on issues that may affect the community relations climate, such as mayors and city council members.
- Opinion leaders – Includes community leaders who, though not elected or appointed, still have the power to shape public opinion. They gather a following based on their perspective on a single issue or a group of related issues. Examples of this audience are school board members, civic organization leaders and religious leaders.
- Influential people - This audience focuses on the business side of things. Think CEOs, chambers of commerce and associations. Including a few of these members in an Honorary Commanders program provides the base with additional avenues for partnership, shared resources and strategic value.
The best way to reach an audience is by engaging with the public face-to-face in social activities and planned community events. This requires deliberate planning and knowing who in the community to engage with in order to secure an invitation to the important conversations. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind.
Paying attention to the moving parts of community relations and avoiding common pitfalls will help strengthen the bonds between military and community members.