Is it really true that it is not what we know, it is who we know?  When I became the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to the Mayor, a client warned me, "Remember, people don't respect you in this role for who you are, they respond to you because of your title." He was right. I was the spokesperson not just for the Mayor but for the City and calls were returned immediately and action always resulted from those calls. But as a very public and senior government official I did not always know who was calling or why, so I approached each call cautiously, yet listened to see what needed to happen next. I also was accessible and responsive.
Back in the private sector, I built my practice and my reputation around relationships -- not necessarily the number of people I know, but around the quality I know them from. In the end, relationships are built around trust. In cultivating and foster relationships, it is important to create the infrastructure to support an external relations effort.  This includes:
  • Creating an agenda -- What is your goal for reaching out to certain people and what do you hope to gain or offer when you talk with them?
  • Set the organization's priorities - Based on your agenda, what is a priority and what issues can wait.
  • Who do you know? -- Based on those priorities who do we need to know and who should we get to know....Are they running for election? If so, you need to familiarize yourself with the political landscape as well.
  • Build the support -- Once you know what  you will talk about and to whom, you now need the supporting materials to help make your case. Therefore, you should develop the talking points and support materials to help you make your point.
  • Know the politics -- In engaging elected officials, it is important to become familiar with the legislative, political and regulatory landscape....become familiar with their agendas and create a constant contact system to remain top-of-mind program for board members to engage your key targets.
A company also should continue to develop an ongoing media relations and PR strategy that engages its' core market in ways that positions the organization as thought leaders in the industry, trend setters and a go to organization for fulfilling a void in the community. Therefore, approach a variety of media, such as your local daily, The Huffington Post (which also covers more local issues), industry/trade publications and other media, while creating a blog through their channels or your own, to talk about your core issues. Based on your agenda and who you need to meet with, I would then create a calendar of must attend events or organizations to become familiar with and dedicate the resources for attending and perhaps sponsoring a few of those events.
Depending on your priorities and goals and the immediacy of both, in 2012, I would spend my time creating the infrastructure in developing relationships, while getting engaged in specific areas where appropriate. I also suggest joining relevant organizations where you can take an active role to learn the ropes and eventually take the lead.  Then in 2013, you will be more comfortable and confident in a more active and involved engagement strategy and help further your organization's goals. In 2012, business will continue to be built around relationships and trust. So it is important that you start today in identifying those relationships you want to build.