How much effort should a business put into community relations?

109,206 brats: In 1983, a Madison grocer, Metcalfe Markets, held a brat cookout consisting of Tom and Margaret Metcalfe, three chairs and a Weber grill.  In 2022, the “World’s Largest Brat Fest” now runs all Memorial Day weekend, sold 109,206 brats.  Metcalfe’s Markets now has four large, successful stores.

“Community relations” is much broader than “public relations.”  Organizations have four communities who provide invaluable ideas, opportunities, recruits and goodwill.  It takes three years and executive leadership to build momentum.

Definitions and Best Practices:  ( Public relations)

3 Big Ideas

  • Organizations should build community spirit with their customers, competitors and neighbors.
  • All the activities should rally employees around your mission, how your work has social value.
  • Community-building should be meaningful, voluntary and fun.  Participation is the metric.


  • Susan Dineen
  • Bob DeVita
  • Bill Mitchell
  • Bryon Johnson
  • Derrick Van Mell

Discussion Questions

  1. Why should “quiet” businesses spend any time on community relations?
  2. Should businesses build their own community or just tag along?
  3. Should community activities be required?  (No, that’s no fun.)

The Customer Community

  • Being active in one’s industry association isn’t nearly as rich as creating one’s own forum.
  • Having rich camaraderie with customers guarantees more and better business for years.
  • Yes, it’s a lot of work and there’s some risk, so start simply and learn.
  • No, don’t invite customers who compete fiercely with each other.

 The Competitor Community

  • Friendly competitors can help each other by taking work that’s not your thing, sharing insights on customers and candidates, and sharing overstocked inventory.
  • Competitors can also be buyers or merger or project/JV partners.
  • No, don’t share a lot of information with your fiercest, most direct competitors.  Duh.

 The Community Community  (Remember the 109,206 brats?)

  • Community appreciation is the best kind of employee appreciation.
  • Clarify “community.”  Is it neighbors, spouses and kids, local business owners, the press?
  • Your activity should showcase your skills and mission.
  • There are lots of activities:  job fairs, student tours, public projects
  • Start with a core group of enthusiasts.  Have fun.  Take pictures and video.
  • Don’t expect people with small kids or Covid concerns to show up.
  • There’s still lots of good reasons to have a company picnic!

The Online Community

  • Social media management is well-known best practice. See The Index: 4.3.2 Social media
  • A social media effort—and it iseffort—reinforces the other communities.
  • Recruits get most of their ideas about your organization on their smart phones.

A Clever Way to Get Started:  Get your proud message clear by asking customers for “stories of ordinary benefit,” of how your product or service makes their lives—and the world—a better place.

If your first attempt generates buzz, that buzz will grow participation.  You don’t need to get every single employee involved to make every single employee be proud of what you do.