Strategies for Effective Community Relations: A Case Study on Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER


Research shows that more companies are beginning to recognize the importance of having a good corporate reputation. As one of the world’s most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola has long recognized the value and importance of corporate reputation and giving back to their consumers. With a CSR focus on women, water and well-being, in 2013 the company launched EKOCENTER – a mobile community kiosk ran by a local woman entrepreneur that provides safe water, solar power and Internet access.

Not only did I get to hear the story behind EKOCENTER when I attended the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta last month, but I also made it the focus of my final paper for my Public Relations Theory course at Newhouse.

In many ways, Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER initiative, which is geared mostly towards developing nations, perfectly relates to my paper’s topic – Strategies for Effective Community Relations and Practicing Corporate Social Responsibility. Anyone who knows me well knows about my passion for community relations. Working on this paper gave me the opportunity to develop trends based on research and actionable steps for any organization who’s looking to use community relations as a way to improve their overall reputation.

Here are the three main trends I’ve found that make organizations successful at community relations:

  1. Personification storytelling – What always makes stories so appealing to us are the characters behind them. The same is true for organizations who want to communicate how their community relations efforts make an impact on the people they serve. In telling the story of EKOCENTER, Coca-Cola does a great job of strategically communicating the initiative’s value while capturing the moments of all the people behind the kiosks’ success through videos and photo blogs.
  2. Proper alignment with core focus – You would expect NFL teams to sponsor the Play60 initiative because athletes are great for promoting physically active lifestyles to kids. On the opposite end, Starbuck’s “Race Together” campaign fell short in part because it didn’t make business sense for a coffee shop company to encourage its customers to talk about matters of racial justice. The point is, it helps when companies do things for the community that relate back to their core purpose. Coca-Cola realizes this, as EKOCENTER uniquely ties back to each of its three main CSR focuses.
  3. Correlating positive CSR with profits – While it’s widely known that most companies do benefit from having a good corporate reputation, no company earns it overnight; whether good or bad. That’s why it’s important for organizations to establish a solid foundation for their CSR efforts so that in time it pays off in brand equity and an improved financial bottom line. While it remains to be seen if Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTERs have made a significant contribution to Coca-Cola’s profits, it does make sense for the company on a practical level to use the kiosks to sell their beverages.

If implemented effectively, positive community relations can lead to significant benefits for an organization, among them being improved brand equity which can lead to increased profits. Even without these motivations, it’s good for organizations to demonstrate care towards their community publics. While a positive relationship with publics is beneficial, having a negative or nonexistent relationship can also impact an organization just as much.

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