What Is A Community Advisory Council?

Posted by AmandaKeeney on February 21, 2013

Your mother was right. I know mine was. Growing up in a tiny town, my family and my mother reminded me of the importance of connections.

This lesson, the importance of honoring relationships, was painfully obvious as I grew up in a town so small (you’ve likely heard the joke) that when you went home, closed the blinds, shut the door and sneezed – you were asked the next day about your cold.

It was in that place that my mom, Betty Lou, would often remind me of how connected we really are. “Everyone has at least 200 people in their circle of influence,” she would say. Offend Mrs. Lindsey at the grocery store, and her friends at the Methodist Church, the local druggist, etc., would soon hear about it, and so would my mother, my grandmother, and on and on. A major misstep and you could easily risk alienation from the entire town.

My mother’s lesson rings true then and now. And, I believe, it serves to reinforce the important role a community advisory committee (CAC) can play in your company’s public relations strategy. Think about the importance of relationships and your company’s brand. Every touch point is an opportunity for your company to shine, inspire and exceed expectations.

During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to manage a CAC that included nearly 40 influencers from two states. I’ve seen the power of this organization as our CAC served to better connect a unionized manufacturer with its key constituents and thought leaders. This group met monthly, and meetings featured plant tours, business roundtables with plant and company leaders and routine question-and-answer forums.

Once established, this group evolved from accidental business contacts to committed advocates for the business. They provided third-party endorsements for workforce training grants, and were periodically activated to help lobby against harmful state and federal legislation.


What does a CAC do?

Your CAC can help you have a deeper connection to what’s important in your community, advise you of potential issues, react to potential changes or new product launches, and serve as strong ambassadors for your company and your brand. Each member can speak with authority to the 200-plus people who are in their personal/professional networks.


Who can serve on your CAC?

Membership should be strategic, but don’t narrow your list to overlook potentially important members. Include anyone you have identified as a key stakeholder, including both supporters and detractors. Think of those people who have important influence in your community or industry. Consider educators, lawmakers, religious or environmental leaders, neighboring businesses and nearby residents.

Once you’ve developed your list of potential CAC members, review it against a scan of important news journals or industry publications to see if there are other key thought leaders for your brand.


Make it special

After you’ve finalized your list, the invitation should come with much fanfare. Communications about the initial event should be authored from your more senior leaders and be customized to why you want their expertise and participation. Follow up with a personal phone call and answer any additional questions about time commitment. Inviting them to join you as a key thinker will require a commitment of their time. And, just as they are willing to offer you the gift of theirs, reciprocate by ensuring that each meeting is worth their effort.


Make the meetings worthwhile

Use visits from senior business leaders as an opportunity to keep the CAC aware of industry trends and challenges. Find ways to for this group to be as knowledgeable about your company as you are.

And you never know, your mother or mine and their circle of influence, might just respond best to members from your community advisory council.

Has your company used a CAC, or what were the benefits? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.