From a theoretical point of view, community relations are a type of PR. I would say these kinds of relations are the purest type, because here, any intermediaries are eliminated. Information is transmitted by the sender directly to a community, which may be reached both through media and using other forms of communication. I find this PR area one of the most interesting, though, I must admit, due to a lack of strong communities in Lithuania it has been rather poorly developed so far.
The process of community relations has two participating sides – a company and a community, and they should be equal. I am saying “should”, because in reality, the possibilities and options afforded to companies usually outweigh those of communities. For instance, a company comes to a community: if the community is strong, it is able to formulate certain conditions and requirements under which the company may start operating in the community’s environment. However, if the community is weak, then the possibilities of the company, which is able to hire lawyers, PR specialists and other professionals, outweighs those of the community, which, in such a case, does not have time to formulate its wishes and needs. What is the end result for the weak community then? Not knowing how to present its demands, the community usually stages a certain action or a small protest, at that point alarmed businessmen give money to the community chairman and thus everything goes beautifully quiet, let’s say, “everyone remains satisfied.”
Why are communities weak in Lithuania? Because, during the Soviet times, communities were destroyed here. And once you keep on destroying something over such a long time, you will succeed in total or nearly total destruction. For instance, in the Scandinavian countries, naturally-formed communities are very strong, they are active, and they are reckoned with. While in Lithuania they, so far, are either very formal, or amateur, and are only able to make noise. Today, communities here are usually angry, enraged, dissatisfied and feel deceived, and investors, at the same time, either quietly mutter, or choose direct confrontation – a dialogue between these two sides is hardly possible. With this it mind, it is obvious, and practically impossible for these sides, led by anger, to achieve an adequate result or agreement. An angry person will never decide rightly, because he or she is not led by reason, but by negative emotions. Therefore, I believe that it is very important to consider how communities in Lithuania should be enhanced. After all, it would be fascinating, some day, to receive an assignment to do a piece of work for a community, not only for a commercial company.
I believe that this could be done, first of all, by the very communities, because a true community is the one that is established by itself. And there are quite a number of such examples: often, groups become established on the basis of a place of residence, let’s say, quite active communities are establishing themselves in various towns. They often begin with the establishment of playgrounds, try to receive funding for various needs in various ways and little by little develop their activities. However, being at a nascent stage, communities often do not know how to act. When a major investor comes to such communities, the communities become frightened and confused. Not being able to present their community demands in a professional manner or find common ground, they take up a position of contradicting the belief that they will thus achieve something. This is how a popular investor’s saying was born in Lithuania (and probably this holds true not only in Lithuania, but also in all the other states where communities were being destroyed over 50 years of Soviet rule): “If you want to invest in Lithuania, you need to have a lot of land and no neighbours.” Certainly, such a situation is hard to imagine, because each plot of land borders on something, therefore, avoiding neighbours is practically impossible. So an investor has two choices: either get into an open conflict with a community and choose legal proceedings, or try and find common ground and, somehow, come to an agreement. It is in the latter case that a community has the most opportunities to act.
A community would obtain the most gains if it started not with confrontation and fighting, but with speaking and discussion. With or without conflict, if an investor follows certain requirements without violating any rules, he or she will emerge in the environment of that community anyway. Moreover, every investor is not interested in conflicts. Thus, if a community showed a desire to discuss the situation, an investor would also quite easily reach this discussion stage. This way of interacting is also the most suitable because the possibilities and opportunities of communities are usually much smaller than those of investors – it is hard to imagine that a community would be surrounded by the same high-level professionals that companies have (lawyers, PR and marketing specialists, etc., which work in a professional manner, are well versed in the laws, etc.), therefore, the only way for a community to achieve best results is to engage in discussion.
In my opinion, when a community finds out that an investor is going to become established nearby, the community should go to the investor and say “We are your neighbours and we are willing to get along with you, however, we would also like to ensure that we have the rights that we are entitled to. Therefore, we need professionals to work for us – lawyers, PR specialists, etc.” And most importantly, the community should ask for financing for these services, that is, ask that the investor consider financial support for these services, and that the community could choose two people to represent it – a lawyer and a PR specialist. Quality work with the community would be possible only when fees are clearly agreed upon, a tender is arranged, and such professional specialists, receiving the foreseen remuneration for their work, are found.
I believe that a breakthrough is possible in Lithuania in the area of community relations only when a community takes the above-mentioned actions. If these actions are taken, an investor could be an equal partner with a community – both sides would be represented by professionals. Under such conditions, a community and an investor would enter into a dialogue and a real battle using figures, facts, and opinions, as well as a professional discussion would ensue. If the aforementioned happenings occur, I have no doubt that they would be useful to both sides – an investor would find out what it does wrong and when, and could quickly change actions, while a community could get maximum benefits for itself from an investor, as a future neighbour, and properly get along with the investor as well.
Overall, and regrettably, I must admit that in Lithuania communities are not ready for such thinking. They do not believe yet that such manner of communication is possible and try to achieve everything only by shouting loudly and angrily. Therefore, I would like to wish communities to grow stronger and think in a broader and more open fashion and, I believe, there will definitely come a time when we receive clients from communities, not only from businesses or other entities.