A PR Executive’s Guide to Successful Committee Engagement
By Jenny Werwa, PRSA NCC Member
Media Director, Invariant
Leading PR and communications for associations and non-profits is incredibly rewarding. Driving the mission. Elevating the profession. Promoting the cause. And, importantly, working alongside volunteer leadership to advance the organization’s vision, values, and goals. For PR and communications directors, this often means leading a PR, communications, or marketing committee.
The value of a high functioning PR/Communications Committee
A high-functioning PR committee can be an invaluable asset to the organization, the communications team who manage it, and the members who serve on it. With good leadership, the committee or working group will help members feel engaged and supported while providing an opportunity to contribute to the shared goals of the organization.
On the other hand, a low-performing committee is an exasperating chore for everyone involved.
The following guide will help you establish and lead a PR committee that:
- Positions the organization as a trusted counsel to members and chapter leads
- Facilitates peer learning and networking
- Generates enthusiasm for shared association goals, objectives, and messaging
Getting Started: Gather Information
Whether you are starting your committee from scratch or reinventing an existing working group, you need to understand two key points of view: the committee members’ POV and your boss’ POV.
- Take time to meet with your boss to discuss their goals and expectations for the committee. What does success look like? Is this intended to be a working committee that is completing assigned tasks and projects, or is it more of an oversight committee reviewing strategy and offering feedback? How often are they expected to meet?
- Talk to a handful of potential / current committee members. Learn about their day-to-day workload and how they see themselves participating in the group. Find out what they would like to learn from other members of the organization and get a sense of their capacity to support any committee initiatives.
- Survey the members. Use the feedback you learned to develop a survey of all the potential members of the committee. Determine what your members want to learn and contribute, and how engaged they want to be. Sample questions to pose to communications professionals:
- What are your roles and responsibilities?
- Do you work w/ a PR firm or outside consultant for your communications work?
- How often do you collaborate with other members on communications efforts?
- How frequently would you be willing to meet with a group of comms peers?
- What would you be interested in learning from your peers?
- What would you be willing to share with your peers?
- Are there particular tools or templates you would be willing to share?
- Are there particular tools or templates you would be interested in reviewing?
- What types of joint projects would you be interested in working on and contributing to? (e.g. Messaging Strategy, Media Relations Strategy, Social Media Strategy, Fact Sheets & Resources)
Putting it on Paper: Draft a Plan
Now that you’ve done your research, you are ready to formulate a plan for the committee to share with your boss for approval.
- Synthesize your learnings. Think about how you’ll balance the goals of the C-suite with what you heard from the members. Will you be able to achieve your boss’ objectives and keep the members engaged?
- Determine the structure. Committees and working groups can take different forms, especially in non-profit organizations where the bylaws may have a set of rules for committee governance. You may opt to make your committee an affinity group or working group that is less formal than an official committee.
- Identify the leaders and their roles. If the bylaws don’t have rules for how the committee is governed, you will need to define the leadership. Some organizations nominate members to lead committees, while in others, committees are staff-led. Consider the size of your committee and whether you will need a leadership subcommittee or subgroups. Research suggests that teams are most effective when they have specific goals and are around 5-6 people.
- Envision engagement. Member engagement goes beyond a regular cadence of meetings, which you’ll also need to determine. Think through whether this committee will meet in person during your organization’s conferences, events, or meetings. Also consider the engagement tools available to your members such as an online portal, listserv, or Slack channel.
- Define success. Based on the structure and objectives of your committee, you should create 5-7 KPIs that will help you measure success.
- Write and present the memo. You’ve thoroughly considered how to get your committee off the ground. Proofread your memo and send it over.
Going Live: Hit Send
With your boss on board and some excitement generated about the new / reinvented committee, it’s time to launch. Before you hit send on the first calendar invite, review this checklist.
- Build internal organizational support and internal committee support for the group. Tap a few members ahead of the first meeting to review your draft agenda and provide feedback. Ask them to actively participate on a few topics to ensure your first meeting is dynamic and engaging.
- Create a meeting schedule (telephonic and in-person). Whether it’s weekly or monthly Zooms plus a quarterly in-person meeting or a happy hour at the annual conference, be prepared to share your full calendar of meeting dates when you first launch the committee. This demonstrates your consideration for members’ time and helps them plan ahead.
- Prepare the online platform. All of the engagement tools you would like to make available to your committee members should be live by the first meeting. Consider sharing a training manual or leading a walkthrough of any tools that might be challenging to navigate.
- Draft an email inviting members to join. Generate excitement for the committee by drafting an invitation from your board president or executive director to committee members, encouraging them to serve on this important committee.
Sustaining the Group: Keep Them Interested
Maintaining a high level of enthusiasm is possible with clear expectations for committee members, regular reminders of short-term and long-term goals, and frequent “temperature checks.”
- Monitor attendance. Take roll call at every meeting and follow up with members who regularly miss them. Seek feedback on their absences. Is it a tough time of day to meet? Is the workload too intense? Would someone else from their office like to attend instead?
- Request feedback early and often. Continue surveying the members at least once a year and consult the informal leaders of your group to evaluate whether members continue to find value in the work of the committee.
- Create subgroups for discrete projects or initiatives. Not all of your committee members are content strategists or messaging experts, but some of them are. Make sure to break up big projects in ways that enable you to engage members on projects they enjoy. The whole organization benefits when talented team members participate.
- Keep focused and remain limber. Above all else, as the committee leader, it’s your job to be responsive to the needs of the organization and your members. Take a moment after every committee meeting to reflect on whether you are making the most of your members’ time, talent, and enthusiasm.
Engaged committee members are your best ambassadors. Nurture them and they will deliver.
Jenny Werwa is a Media Director at Invariant, an innovative, bipartisan government relations and communications firm providing strategic advice to companies, trade associations, non-profits, and individuals on how to make Washington work for them.