We counsel our clients every day to build relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders, but do we practice what we preach? When it comes to managing our own firms, public relations professionals can and should broaden their networks by building mutually beneficial relationships with organizations whose missions relate to our own passions and interests.
As a woman business owner, I am always looking for opportunities to merge my passion for women’s entrepreneurship with my professional expertise. Over time, I’ve become involved in several prestigious women’s business organizations: Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), Women Presidents’ Organization, International Women’s Forum, and Enterprising Women. I’ve contributed by serving in a leadership role, speaking and writing as a thought leader, and simply volunteering in support of an initiative or event.
It’s not just these organizations that have benefitted; I have, too! Just recently, I was given a chance to testify at a full Congressional hearing called by the U.S. House Committee on Small Business titled “Tales of Resilience: Small Business Survival in the Recession.” The invitation came through WIPP, which was asked by the committee to suggest a company that had succeeded despite the challenging economy of the past few years. I was deeply honored when the committee formally invited me to come to Capitol Hill to share our story of growth at Mitchell Communications Group – 445% in the past four years — and how we’ve done it.
By accepting the invitation, I had the opportunity to represent WIPP as a leading national nonpartisan organization advocating on behalf of nearly 1 million women-owned businesses and representing 64 business organizations. I could also bring positive recognition to our firm’s team members and clients as well as to our region, the public relations agency industry, women-owned businesses and small businesses nationwide.
My testimony included:
- An overview of our firm and clients;
- How we have achieved growth;
- Ways other companies can grow in spite of a still uncertain economy; and
- What Washington can do to help small businesses succeed.
Before and after the hearing, I met with congressional representatives and shared highlights of my testimony with them. Without exception, I received tremendous support for our firm, for our industry and for the important role the private sector plays in driving our economy forward. But perhaps the greatest benefit of testifying was the pride our firm’s employees and clients felt at having their story told while all eyes were watching.
Meaningful stakeholder relationships really work. Through my engagements with WIPP and other organizations over time, I’ve formed many new friendships, shared and learned best practices from business owners in other industries, and felt the satisfaction of making an impact on a cause I care about. My good friends Melissa Waggener Zorkin, Jen Prosek and Margery Kraus have also brought positive recognition to their firms by actively engaging with organizations that intersect with their passions as well as speaking and writing in the general business community.
How are your firm’s relationships with key stakeholders? Perhaps it’s time to assess the organizations you’re associated with, identifying ways to become more involved, contribute meaningful content that allows others to learn from your expertise, or simply put your passions to work in ways that can make a positive difference.
Here are four key steps to consider when broadening your professional/stakeholder network:
- Taken an interest inventory: Pick several ideas or causes that fit with your personal passions and interests.
- Identify potential partners: Identify organizations, such as professional associations and non-profits, which are active in these areas. Study their purpose, programs and membership/volunteer guidelines to understand their specific focus.
- Make a match: Contact the organization to express your interest and learn more about both short-term and long-term involvement opportunities. Could you see yourself associated with this group?
- Plan your time: Determine what you can really commit to and follow through on that commitment. Better to make a major impact on one or two organizations rather than be marginally involved with many.
As the best relationships in life demonstrate to us time and time again, no matter what you give, you always receive more in return.