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Trozzolo: Community engagement must be top of mind for brands

For brands, community engagement must be top of mind. It's a vital part of public relations and the strategic outreach plan, said Josh Brewster, vice president of public relations for Kansas City-based Trozzolo Communications Group. Not only does it create stronger relationships between brands and their consumers, it also attracts and retains talent, he said.

But for some companies, community engagement can seem "really cumbersome," he said. They fall into the trap of casting a wide net, believing they must be everywhere, he said. But fostering community engagement doesn't have to feel like a "giant beast."

Here are Brewster's tips:

Identify your communities

Brewster describes community engagement as "making an impact in the places your company and employees matter most."

A university community, for example, isn't solely comprised of students and faculty on campus. Its community also includes alumni, board members and mothers and fathers, he said.

Companies should identify communities and opportunities that fit inside their wheelhouse and ones that align with the company's principles. It's about finding the right fit.

"If you're an employer of high schoolers or college students, it may not make sense to focus on a fundraising event for senior living," he said. "But it does make sense to get involved with high schools and colleges with career prep," he said.

Don't get stuck in a rut — be open to to new opportunities for community engagement, Brewster said.

Those opportunities could range from charitable giving to strategic partnerships to neighborhood cleanups.

"It's about how to make an impact in your community," he said.

Another key is quality over quantity, he said.

Establish your purpose

"Why do these communities matter to your company? Where does your company fit in to your communities and how can you help?" Brewster said.

It starts by asking in your communities, he said. If your company wants to help a local school, ask the school what it's missing and how you can make a difference.

"Everyone is looking for help, and companies oftentimes are the ones to help most effectively because they have manpower," he said. "We all know that doing good is such an important part of a company's culture, and especially with the millennial culture, everyone's wanting to make a stronger difference in the community. Establishing your purpose is the best way to get that going."

Empower your employees

It's easy for a company to buy tickets or buy a table to support a charity event, but what's often overlooked is empowering your employees to be brand and community champions, he said.

Give them the resources and time off to volunteer, he said. Organizing group activities also is a plus.

"It's that human element that is really important when it comes to community engagement," Brewster said.

Employees are the company's heartbeat, he said.

"Employees are drawn to work-life balance. They're drawn to corporate social responsibility. They want to do good," Brewster said. "If a company makes it one of their key purposes to make an impact in the community, there is no doubt you will attract stronger and happier employees. Also, people want to work for companies that do good, so it will no doubt improve your company's awareness and your company's reputation. People want to work with companies that do good; it makes them feel good about their partnership, so it's a win-win for everybody."