The purpose of this paper is to ground and expand the examination and appreciation of community relations, and to foster additional theorizing.

Our continuing review of CSR literature and best practices leads us to two basic conclusions. First, although the scholarly literature and best practices commentary often treat CSR as a singular concept with universal meaning, the reality is that it is a complex quilt cut from different fabrics. Even a casual reading, often prompted by the sort of theme featured in research and commentary, suggests that even though an article or book might use one “definition,” the next will use a different one. And, for that reason, we must be cautious about conclusions we draw and advice that is generated.

As such, one fabric might be that of a company which brands itself as engaged in doing good by supporting a specific non-profit activity. It messages that engagement to associate the theme of the activity with that its marketing/branding efforts and strategic polishing of its image/reputation. The assumption is that customers like to do business with companies that support the communities where they operate. Second, another fabric might be that of an organization, primarily a business, which raises its operating standards to address complaints and help solve some issue, such as the reduction of environmental impact. This effort might be relatively voluntary, the result of activist pressure or the outcome of litigation or regulation. It might be reluctantly reactive or genuinely proactive.

As another topic for discussion, we believe it might be different in practice whether a company is focusing on CSR as a marketing theme or one more specific to community relations. That observation suggests that marketing and community relations are not inherently separate in purpose, but working with angry near residents is different that supporting a feel-good non-profit associated with some marketing theme.

In the first sense, framed in a community relations context, a grocery chain might work to brand itself in a favorable light with women by supporting breast cancer fundraisers or by contributing school supplies. That kind of CSR positioning differs from a grocery chain locally purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables to help the local economy and sell fresher produce. Similarly, the range of versions of CSR efforts must be broad and deep enough to include oilfield technology services and drilling company operations that aspire to CSR standards relevant to health, safety, and environmental quality.

By attaching CSR to discussions of strategic community relations, for instance, we aspire to help advance this discussion. Community relations is an excellent context in which to examine CSR because it is a point of engagement where companies (but also NGO’s and government agencies) in particular work to demonstrate that they are good neighbors and deserve specific kinds of community support. Such efforts can have reputational value, but not narrowly for reputation purposes. Effective CSR efforts coupled to community relations can have many positive outcomes well beyond marketing impact. In fact, it may well be that near neighbors do not constitute much of the market of some industrial concern. Our discussion features three kinds of “good neighbors.”

One basic view of CSR is that an organization must do nothing that harms profits. Another is that by doing good it can increase profits. Somewhere in this mix, we have the organization that works for higher CSR standards which actually might either lower profits or dividends, but in doing so generate social capital that has other payoffs. Thus, if a study, using the wrong version of CSR, concludes that it does not add to profit, that study might be flawed methodologically or used as reasoning against a commitment to CSR.

To that point, for instance, we point to oil field services. Higher environmental impact CSR standards may add cost to projects designed to discover and produce oil and gas. And, it might not add to the marketing capability of either the oil field services company or the client, which might be a petrochemical giant. Since the general public does not buy from the oil field services company, that market is insensitive to CSR as marketing appeal. But it is potentially quite alert to the environmental performance of an oil and gas giant and quick to criticize environmental damage which invariably is attributed to cost cutting, putting profit before the environment. As it aspires to higher CSR performance, that kind of company cannot gain market by advertising: “We produce needed oil and gas with minimal, but acceptable, environmental impact.”

That knowledge can impress environmental activists and government agencies, but simply does not drive market share. First, it is assumed to be the minimal standard performance norm, not something that is distinguishing or differentiating. Second, it costs more to be environmentally conscious. That cost is passed to investors and consumers. And, the real marketplace impact might not be based on positive outcomes, but the absence of negative ones: Lawsuits and fines over environmental “irresponsibility”. Thus, discussion of CSR is complex, and we believe that one size of CSR and marketplace performance does not necessarily fit all. Thus, we suggest contexts/public relations functions and a CSR taxonomy to the rescue.

Community Relations: Definition and Variations on a Theme

First, we briefly discuss community relations. Writing for the Encyclopedia of Public Relations, Neff (2005) defined it as “largely a public relations responsibility focusing on the management of potential and existing communication interactive networks of organizations and publics for the benefit of both groups” (p. 174). This definition blends two key themes salient in the public relations literature. It features networks, infrastructures, which can imply one-way and two-way communication. Another theme is the mutual benefit (MBR) (hence the logic of connecting community relations and CSR) that the organization receives by having good “community relations” and operations that mutually benefit the community where operations occur. The key, however, is not to assume all benefits are the same.

The term “community” is used in two major ways: as a “locality – people grouped by geographic location” and as a “nongeographic community of interest – people with a common interest” (Grunig & Hunt, 1984, p. 266). These authors believe that the second definition of community actually refers to a public that arises spontaneously on a common problem or interest, regardless of geographic location. They pointed out that nearly all community relations programs are designed for the first type of community. Therefore, they defined community relations as “specialized public relations programs to facilitate communication between an organization and publics in its geographic locality” (p. 267).

Idioms unique or important to each era often are used to define and discuss community relations, such as peacemaker, dealing with community tensions, or accommodating to diversity.’s ( definition emphasized MBR and CSR themes:

Community relations refers to the various methods companies use to establish and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with the communities in which they operate. The underlying principal of community relations is that when a company accepts its civic responsibility and takes an active interest in the well-being of its community, then it gains a number of long-term benefits in terms of community support, loyalty, and good will. (accessed August 17, 2009).

Boston College created a Center for Corporate Citizenship ( to conduct research and use those findings (including organizational testimony) to establish a white paper rationale for the mutual benefits of community citizenship, positive engagement that brings reciprocated endorsement. This program sees community citizenship as a management tool that connects with related tools such as employee volunteer programs. It champions businesses that are locally owned and/or operated, and hire locally and perform community service that demonstrates a desire to build community as a foundation for relationships. Worth noting, this Center is located in the Carroll School of Management.

In this sense, community relations is strategic implementation of objectives to create, maintain, enhance, and repair relationships with stakeholders and stakeseekers whose interests can be aligned with those of the organization. As well as structure and function, community relations entails the co-creation of socially constructed reality—the meaning building aspect of public relations. If such only implements the organization’s view of the work, the situation is likely to be less enduring than if it is mutual and co-created.

Thus, the quality of the infrastructures and the dialogue that occurs in them can produce a shared view, aligned interests, or a fractured relationship and divergent views and conflicting interests. Those options as outcomes and challenges seem to get us to the heart of effective and ethical community relations. In this sense, one standard theme of community relations is to plan and act on the assumption that each day what the organization does and says should be designed to justify its being welcomed as a neighbor: Act and communicate in ways that don’t take the relationship for granted but seek to understand this requirement, renew it continually, and enhance it through all that is said and done. Seek to have stakeholders and stakeseekers in the community willing to embrace and wish the organization well as a member of the community.

While acknowledging traditional themes relevant to community relationships, Heath and Coombs (2006) not only featured relational quality and mutual benefit, (and thus philanthropy, including corporate sponsorship) but also emphasized the goals that

center on doing what is necessary to improve and strengthen the community. Risk communication, for instance, is one aspect of community relationships. People who live and work in proximity to sources of danger, such as chemical companies or nuclear generation plants, want to know how safe they are and what to do in the event of an emergency. (p. 29)

Here explicitly is the confluence of CSR, community risk, relationship development, and aligned interests. It is a centerpiece to solving the puzzle of crisis management, prevention, mitigation, and response. Demonstrating this point with the Texas Eastern Transmission Company Edison, New Jersey pipeline crisis, Heath and Coombs noted that CSR was central to its crisis response plan: Helping to restore the community, even though the company was not culpable for the explosion. And, in their response to one community’s safety concern, the company enlisted credible commentary about the company’s character from the head of the Gulf Coast United Way in Houston. Being known as a good citizen benefits marketing, hiring, expeditious operations, as well as crisis response.

Grunig and Hunt (1984) emphasized the interdependence of organizations and community and differentiated “expressive” (i.e., promoting organizations and showing goodwill) and “instrumental” (truly improving the community) community relations activities.

This brief reflection on community relations suggests the centering theme that it is a key part of the engagement of organizations (business, non-profit—including activists, and government) with local citizens, residents, organizations, and consumers. Again connecting the theme to risk management, Heath (1995) noted the virtue of community advisory committees and other communication opportunities in communities where substantial, but manageable, risks exist.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Based on the previous section, we move to further conceptualize and connect community relations and CSR by offering a taxonomy of three kinds of neighbors. Before launching into this discussion, however, we caution against assuming that all three types might be required of a fully functioning CSR program and note that even the least engaged may suffice depending on different community conditions and challenges.

Nice Neighbor

This type of CSR results in favorable opinions when people think of the organization. People think well of the organization because it has a positive presence in the community. It is nice to have it in the community.

One community relations type is so basic to relationship management that it is relevant to job titles on behalf of government agencies with local offices and activist/NGO/non-profits. For instance, we find Federal Emergency Management officials engaged in preventive and emergency response at the local level. And, NGOs often have local operatives. By this paradigm, national organizations—including businesses—have specific community relations roll outs in communities where the organization operates. These kinds of units/structures/functions often are more one-way than two-way. In this situation, you might have community relations programs that can even be implemented by local managers who are supplied with the communication tools to accomplish the efforts. In this configuration we find companies, such as retail specialists who help sponsor community activities such as fund-raisers and even community awareness efforts, such as hurricane preparedness.

These sorts of community relations are often used to build marketing communication relationships through reputation and good will strategies. Thus, we have discount stores providing school supplies to schools and school districts for needy children. Such organizations participate in events as well as sponsor them. A company, for instance, may have employees volunteer to help with a livestock show (fairs, funder-raiser walks and other similar events—including clean ups). They might buy teenagers’ livestock. They might sponsor a larger good will campaign, as Wrangler western wear ( sponsored a Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign through local rodeos and livestock shows. This was a goodwill fundraiser where local participants were acknowledged for raising funds to fight breast cancer.

The point of being a nice neighbor is to work to demonstrate that you add value to the community by participation and contribution. You put a face on the organization. For instance, a state agency might put out a sign at new road construction that announces: “Your tax dollars at work. $4,000,000 for road improvements.” A manufacturing and distribution plant facility might announce the number of hours worked safely, the phone number of the local emergency planning committee, remind the public to drive safely since schools are opening for the fall semester, or announce a fund raiser (or similar event). Signage and notices in the local paper might remind people that the Lion’s Club meets on Tuesday at noon (and periodically raises money and gathers eye glasses for the “less fortunate.” And the list goes on.

This kind of community relations relies heavily on identification (Burke, 1969). That characterization is not inherently unethical or dysfunctional since the purpose is to be a sort of town crier bringing good news and good will engagement to the community. Such CSR programs often tout the taxes the company pays into the community, the volunteer hours and other service strategies the company employees engage in to generate goodwill, and the number of employees it employs. It may provide company facilities for community activities (such as playgrounds, golf courses, fishing and camping facilities, or meeting rooms). Utility companies, for instance, may have large cooling ponds of which a portion is set aside for recreation. (By the way, that kind of facility can also reduce the likelihood that children and even adults will trespass and use the facility without authorization, and supervision). Such violations are best prevented or reduced by proaction, that truly leads to “community relations.”

Large companies, and even government agencies, sponsor activities such as fund raisers. Either might sponsor with others a “walk for health.” A co-sponsor would likely be a non-profit, such as Humane Society, one of the several major breast cancer non-profits, and such. Large retail outlets might discount and raise funds to fight hunger (a typical activity for food chains and even mom and pop operations) or recover from a disaster (such as hardware stores/chains helping to raise money and elicit volunteers to help recover, or to participate in Habitat for Humanity). County and state highway departments are willing to foot the bill for a sign announcing that a section of road has been adopted by some group willing to pick up litter. Groups of local merchants, the local school district, a regional university, and a state agency might co-sponsor a clean the beaches, or rivers, or parks, or something day.

This nice neighbor works to be helpful, but rarely engages in controversy. The outcome can be community benefit, but also the organization can benefit by having higher employee satisfaction/productivity because it is a good place to work. Since we so often see public relations as only engaged in dispute and working with angry stakeholder publics we can forget the value of being a nice neighbor simply for the benefits that accrue to both the organization and the members of the community touched by the “kindness.” However, we must also realize that the responsibility of community relations can (and often does) go beyond sponsoring a little league team, and only the most ignorant company (unreflective management) believes that little league sponsorship is sufficient payment for unethical employment practices or toxic emissions into the air.

Good (generous) Neighbor

This kind of neighbor is “nice,” but with a fuller checking account. Strategic philanthropy is a typical corporate option. And, it is not without controversy. For instance, Milton Friedman (1970) reasoned that money spent on philanthropy and unnecessarily on any “feel good” project was economically unethical. The purpose of companies is to make a profit and reward shareholders. It is not intended to be a generous citizen who spends shareholder dollars, for instance, to fight poverty, to help special needs citizens, or offer scholarships (unless the latter brings the alumni back to be productive employees).

In contrast is the kind of company or other organization that spends money on philanthropy either merely for reputation or to create the sort of community lifestyle that attracts the best and brightest employees and generates the applause of neighbors. Generations of businesses sponsored an array of cultural events (museums, opera, symphony, concert series, theatre) with a variety of motives in mind and often with little more than executive ego gratification as an outcome. Such generosity is likely to benefit some citizens, such as symphony patrons, and anger others, such lower income people who still can’t afford or don’t appreciate the symphony (thus suggesting that the sponsorship might best be devoted to helping the symphony to reach out to needy and talented children and members of the community who are not traditional symphony goers). Aha, so strategic philanthropy is not easy and can be counter productive and dysfunctional.

Hall (2006) addressed the connection between strategic philanthropy and relationship building. She discovered that community members who know about company philanthropy exhibit a stronger positive relationship with the company than those who do not know about the giving. Of additional importance, those who know about the philanthropy exhibit more of a communal relationship than an exchange relationship with the sponsoring organization. But, we emphasize, that what community members know about the philanthropy is evaluated by their expectations: How they think it helps the community, not merely by the act of giving itself.

Good neighbors quickly learn that community relations works best when the organization embraces many sponsorships and does not seem to be self-serving. Sponsorships may need to be linked with the larger effort to be reflective and responsive. Thus, members of the petrochemical industry, operating along a body of water harmed by their and other organizations may sponsor a “bay day.” It is likely to be best when it allows for issues discussion on environmental quality rather than being limited to hot dogs and softball in a park near the body of water.

Strategic philanthropy may be the price of operation, not as Friedman argued its destruction. As multinational companies operate abroad, and this is not a new phenomenon nor merely international, they are often expected to provide community services. For instance, oil and gas companies have always been the engine in the garden, raising environmental questions with their operations and creating profits that may not be reasonably shared. The same is true for manufacturing, extraction in general, railroads, shipping, air transport, and all kinds of businesses that materially reshape communities where they operate. Reshape can be a code word for enhance, or destroy. United Fruit company became notorious for bringing roads to parts of South and Central America, but they only seemed to go where the company needed them to haul produce to market. Sponsorship and corporation colonialism are often co-conspirators for damaged relationships and dysfunctional CSR.

A case in point is the peril of what is known as the “oil curse.” As oil/gas exploration occurs in countries, production companies may build roads, which are abandoned once not needed for industrial operations. Jobs and living conditions are likely to be good, until the company (or industry) moves operations. Such companies operating in countries with struggling economies and dysfunctional governments are necessarily entering waters full of piranhas. In a country, such as Angola, operating companies are licensed to operate by paying various amounts of their generated revenue to the state and local governments. These can be fortunes. Corruption keeps the money from benefiting the people. NGO’s and local persons, such as doctors, request expenditures from the companies for “a medical facility.” Once that commitment is made, endless requests follow: Nurses, more doctors, better facilities, better medical materials and equipment, and such. One day the company(ies) leave, and all that was good becomes a wreck. See a case study of Exxon’s efforts (Ball, 2006).

Reflective/Responsive Neighbor

Many clues suggest that beyond the sort of feel good aspect of community relations (despite the perils of strategic philanthropy) the real significance of community relations began and has continued in tandem with the corporate interest in issues management, crisis management and communication, and risk management and communication.

Explicit interest in issues began in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though not explicitly using the word issues, Grunig and Hunt (1984) highlighted the importance of engaging in instrumental rather than expressive community participation as well as the criticality of engaging rather than avoiding controversial topics in community relations (p. 278). Crisis as a practitioner cottage industry and academic topic began with Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol case. Risk management and communication became intensely studied and practiced in the late 1980s. In all, the question that drove community relations became ever more clearly stated as how safe is safe and how fair is safe?

Noting changes in perception of role, practice, and outcome, Wilson (2001) saw constructive changes in how organizations, especially businesses, understood and undertook community relations to the end of developing communitarian relationships. As she noted:

Public relations counselors’ role will be to ensure that the organization recognizes and accepts its responsibility to its employees, customers, and neighbors to engage in cooperative action for the growth, benefit, and improvement of the community. Corporate participation in the community will be driven by the strategic pursuit of an improved quality of life for all community participants, not because it is financially profitable but rather because it is the morally responsible course. (pp. 524-525)

However much she overemphasized by implication the ability of practitioners to achieve this outcome, she nevertheless rightly placed the burden of responsibility and reflection on management, including public relations. She underscored the need for proaction, planning, and execution. Both the processes and outcomes are guided by the morality of mutual interest.

In 1997, Heath connected issues, crisis, and risk drawing on a decade of research and observation of CR in the petrochemical industry, nuclear waste remediation, and use of nuclear fuel to generate electricity (see also Heath, 1995, for a discussion of how industry responds to shifting grounds of community relations and corporate social responsibility—an important nexus for strategic issues management). Heath and Palenchar (2009) featured issues management as more of a management function than more narrowly a communication function, and therefore suggested that public relations/public affairs personnel engage with other members of senior management to shape, define, guide, and budget the organization to manage itself in troubled waters, including engagement with key stakeholders and stakeseekers.

In 2006, Lerbinger produced Corporate Public Affairs which also addressed the sociopolitical conditions that surround organizations, especially businesses, that can affect their operations. (Note that similar positioning is used to define public relations, which also can be seen as coupling with marketing communication.) Lerbinger viewed public affairs as an extension of public relations. (Note that public affairs at the corporate level often is a common departmental—structure and function—title, one that often serves as an umbrella for public relations and even marketing communication.) Lerbinger reasoned that public affairs is expected “to attain sufficient power to engage an organization to achieve preferred outcomes in the political arena and to forge and maintain a sociopolitical environment favorable to it” (p. 1).

The upshot of such overarching definitions is not trivial or academic. The point of this discussion is to give rationale for the guidance, definition, and engagement aspects of management and communication. In all, a trend has developed that argues that management needs to be responsive and reflective, considering not only its interests but how others interests are important to organizational and societal success.

Lerbinger (2006) did not include community relations in his index, but does suggest this important point of engagement through topics such as community advisory council and community involvement programs. Thus, one finds the following:

The private sector has applied the principles of public participation to community relations, often using the term community involvement. This approach is fostered because of the proximity of local interest groups to a specific organization. Business has learned that that it can gain greater freedom in finding ways to cut pollution by engaging in dialogue with government officials and environmental groups. (p. 54)

In this discussion, he noted the creation of community advisory panels (CAPs) through the initiative of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (now the American Chemistry Council) in the 1990s. For an in-depth history of these infrastructural risk communication and community organization trends see Palenchar (2009).

The discussion of community relations as part of the excellence tradition also features key aspects of infrastructure. Rhee’s (2007) case study investigated Brookhaven National Laboratory’s release of strontium 90 and tritium into the environment, particularly water sources. After fighting complaints and lawsuits and battling scandal, the Lab capitulated and engaged in environmental clean up; those activities were reported and monitored through community advisory committees (CACs). Rhee observed that “BNL developed [a] CAC as a forum for it to interact with the community on a regular basis. During and after the crisis, the CAC meetings served to create relationships between the lab and the different community groups” (p. 105). This case features a reactionary use of CAC’s rather than something more proactive to engage with the community before risks become crisis and manifest themselves into issues (Heath, 1995; Heath & Palenchar, 2009).

For this sort of community relations to work, and mature into something that is mutually beneficial, it requires first that the organization’s management be committed to be reflective and responsive. It may, and often does, require continual definition, redefinition, deployment, and re-deployment of standards of corporate social responsibility. It becomes an excellent means for monitoring issues as they are discussed by participants. And, these infrastructures provide the basis for discussions of fact, value, and policy as a step toward collaborative decision making and alignment of interests (Heath & Palenchar, 2009). If operated properly they can foster mutual interests instead of breeding or exacerbating antagonism. The goal is to create and maintain processes of dialogue that achieve concurrence, shared knowledge and meaning, if not consensus.

Insights into ways to create useful community relations (sensitive to crises, issues, and risks) have increased over the years and continue to be refined. Rowan et al. (2009) noted the number of contexts in which community outreach was either required or engaged in voluntarily: Community Right to Know, guidelines for and from Centers for Disease Control, and state or federal licensing, such as that to design, build, and operate a nuclear generating facility or petrochemical facility; Waste (including nuclear waste) remediation often requires community input; Superfund Recovery guidelines specific community engagement. And the list goes on and on.

A generic occupational category has grown because of legislation, regulation, and company initiatives: Emergency management. Such individuals are part of a troika of community relations efforts: Senior management (at least at the site, such as plant or facility manager), emergency manager (with various discipline backgrounds such as environmental expert or plant/operations safety officer), and the communication specialist or team. In such settings, Rowan et al. offered guidelines for the education of logical emergency managers based on the CAUSE model for research, education and outreach: Confidence, Awareness, Understanding, Satisfaction (with proposed solutions), and Enactment, or moving from agreement to action. Work such as that by Rowan and her team is often accomplished through collaboration between companies, activist/NGO’s, and government officials such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

McComas, Arvai, and Besley (2009) centered their examination of risk communication on the public sphere to understand why public engagement on risk can succeed and fail. One of the difficulties with this sort of discourse is its dependence on technical, even highly technical, data and sophisticated analysis. Understanding, therefore, is one substantial challenge. Another is motivating stakeholders to participate. They can see such community relations events as marginalizing rather than engaging primarily because it is technical and sponsored by the organizations who have an interest in achieving support for their operations. Thus, community relations requires understandable analysis, often requiring independent third parties’ opinions, and various motivations: Rational, socio-economic, and relational. If the community is to be engaged, alternatives considering ends and means need to be discussed. This dialogic approach seems best as opposed to one where the sponsoring company “sells” its preferred alternative.

In these ways, community relations at the highest level of responsiveness and with reflection needs a communitarian to drive the discourse. As have others, Heath and Palenchar (2009) recommend that the character of the organization engaging in community relations is important; mutual empowerment is imperative. Thus, based on decades of research, they offer 14 guidelines, including these:

Accept the desire on the part of key publics to exert control over factors they worry affect them and other entities for which they have concern.

Collaborate with them to engage in information gathering, risk assessment, and risk control.

Recognize the value-laden personalized decision process they apply and frame the risk assessment accordingly. (pp. 342-343)

The process of being a responsive/reflective neighbor requires engagement, patience, and empowerment. The goal is a stronger community, not just a more profitable company. Part of this commitment requires constant refinement of health, safety, and environmental (HSE) policy, as well as transparent reporting of the objectives, standards, measures, and success in this regard.

Beyond “Social” in CSR

This brief overview which features metaphorically types of neighbors enacted through community relations sets the stage to help the reader appreciate the strategic logic of organizations that designate units and personnel with the specific mission of making contact, for various outcomes, with key local publics. With that in mind, this final section delves into the strategic logic of community relations with marketing communication, reputation building/maintenance, crisis management/communication, risk management/communication, and issues management purposes/objectives. This matrix of specialties fits within the organization’s mission and vision, and its larger philosophy of public relations (public affairs or corporate communication).

CSR strategically and ethically requires a very local connection if, for instance, the company commits to a high standard of environmental responsibility that requires budgeting and management policy from the executive level—from headquarters. But such commitment and policy, however management or community-centered, always rolls out at the local levels. This is true for petrochemical and refinery operations, for instance. In that industry public health and safety are real challenges and continual engagement is crucial. Local connections are vital to bring the organization, similar organization, community residents, local government, and NGOs into meaningful dialogue.

Events, often central to reputation management, occur at the local level. Community standards, public norms, local customs, and community dynamics are essential to successful CSR programs, which invariably link to savvy community relations programs. Lerbinger (2006) sees corporate social responsibility as an essential rather than peripheral aspect of community engagement. He offered The Pyramid of CSR as a set of guidelines for public affairs engagement:

  1. Perform basic economic function of producing goods and services for society, and, thereby, also provide jobs.
  2. Minimize the social costs imposed on society [by the organization’s operations].
  3. Help solve social problems.
  4. Make social investments to strengthen society’s infrastructure.
  5. Support public policies that are in the public interest. (p. 408)

In this discussion he cautioned that Friedman’s (1970) and others’ admonition against CSR is narrow, dysfunctional and counterproductive to profit optimization.

Even the most brief review of CSR literature suggests that it goes in many directions and makes different assumptions. Some discussants feature CSR as having marketing value; companies profit from CSR reputations (see for instance, Gildea, 1994-1995; Kotler & Lee, 2005). At minimum, this approach to CSR and CR would feature the company as being a nice neighbor.

Other discussants feature more of an ethical than pragmatic, profit orientated approach. They argue, for instance, that the organization needs to apply revenue to build a better community and even to help solve local problems. Here we have that range of strategic philanthropy from supporting cultural events to solving collective problems, which might extend to financial support (beyond taxes) for public schools and even for scholarships (see for instance, Ihlen, 2005; Sen, Bhattacharya, & Korschun, 2006).

Finally, we have the CSR challenge of the responsive/reflective neighbor (Mahon & McGowan, 1991; Rochlin, Witter, Monaghan, & Murray, 2005). Battles over the past 40 years in corporate America have revealed that activism, and even government policy (regulation, legislation, and litigation) result when the operating standards of companies fall short of community expectations. The standards of HSE, as noted above, result from concerns that business operations harm health, safety, and environmental quality. Organizations can attempt to disprove such concerns or prove that the organization meets the expected standards. So goes CR, but it may require changing policy (budgeting and management policy) to operate at a higher level so that the community standards are not offended and their expectations are met.


The purpose of this paper is to ground and expand the examination and appreciation of community relations, and to foster additional theorizing, research, and best practices. At minimum, it is useful to organizations seeking to know local opinions and expectations of what the company or other organization needs to think and do to be a nice neighbor. But it also presumes that more can be expected to build, maintain, and repair relationships between the organization and community where it operates. It needs to consider what is expected for it to be good, as well as responsive and reflective.

Community relations is not merely a communication activity but it begins with management policy and decision-making with the desire to be a constructive member of each community where it operates: local, regional, national, and global. For these reasons, public relations, through community relations and CSR efforts, has an excellent opportunity, but a daunting challenge, to make society more fully functioning (Heath, 2006; this article includes the following premise:

To help society to become more fully functioning, managements of organizations (for profit, nonprofit, and governmental) must demonstrate the characteristics that foster legitimacy, such as being reflective; being willing to consider and instrumentally advance others’ interests; being collaborative in decision making; being proactive and responsive to others’ communication and opinion needs; and working to meet or exceed the requirements of relationship management, including being a good corporate citizen. (p. 100)


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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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