Public relations and networking

Support for your initiative is crucial. There is only one way of ensuring that: ongoing, proactive work and investing  in your public relations.

An important issue is building a ‘culture of partnership’.  This is a culture where everyone (other agencies, law enforcement agencies, community members, policymakers) is recognised as being in a collaboration, seeking similar goals and outcomes.  Such collaborations should shared, open communication to new ideas, insight and new partnerships.

Most importantly, when working in a sensitive area like the drugs field, with discussions, controversy, different policy priorities and budget cuts around the corner, prepare to demonstrate that your work works and use all your resources and information to do this.

Examples of ways to connect with other actors and agencies are:

  • Building referral networks
  • Advocacy and community activism
  • Public services
  • Community service
  • Governmental agencies

Each of the above will now be discussed.


Building referral networks
People who use drugs are likely to seek assistance with a range of issues, some of them being out of scope of the mission of agency running the peer initiative. 

These include:

  • Housing programmes
  • Food pantries
  • HAV and HBV vaccination
  • Sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing
  • HIV/AIDS and HCV testing and health services
  • General health referrals (clinics, hospitals, etc)
  • Legal assistance
  • Faith-based services and organisations

Thus, the mutual benefits of working together should be emphasised when building relationships with other agencies/organisations.


Advocacy and community activism
Agencies can be valuable players in community affairs through involvement in advocacy and activism around policies.  Services can amplify the voice of the community or even help them to get organised.  Some organisations encourage workers to participate in advocacy events by allowing them to take days off work for the purpose.


Community service
A service can and should be a resource for the entire community.  An agency can create joint ownership by indirectly showing their value to the wider community by:

  • reaching out to city workers and departments, as well as residents, business owners and law enforcement as a resource for, for instance, syringe clean-up and disposal.
  • providing small-scale targeted education and training on topics surrounding drug use and effective health policies.
  • identifying themselves as a resource to the community and making themselves and their services available to respond to emergencies or concerns (HIV testing, referrals for drug treatment, etc.)

 

Working with public services
Productive collaboration and communication with health and social services can be vital to the continuation of an agency’s work.  If they see the benefit of an initiative, you won have won an ally.  Collaborations with local hospitals and municipalities enhance the credibility to your service when meeting with community members and law enforcement workers.

 

Government partnerships
Building partnerships with government officials and offices is a great way to regularly promote the project’s results and impact, and to aim for its sustainability.  From time to time, request meetings to show what you do and promote your work, but don’t overdo it.  Realise the many financial demands, funding limitations and bureaucratic constraints that governments face.  Government representatives are not mail boxes where you can simply drop your request for funding.  See the contact as a work in progress and keep on investing in these relationships.  Having an ongoing relationship can create interest and concern among government workers who may keep supporting the continuation of your work.


Other partnerships
Build relations with individuals and agencies that are not directly connected to your daily work, but who might support you or might be influential, such as:

  • researchers
  • reporters
  • lawyers
  • religious leaders
  • politicians (preferably from diverse parties)
  • human rights initiatives
  • law enforcement and justice agencies


Strategies
when networking and trying to convince others that your work is valuable include:

  • Make it personal, build a relationship.
  • Make co-operation beneficial for BOTH of you:  stress the win-win and mutual benefits.
  • Be creative and flexible in your argumentation.  Don’t hammer, or repeat arguments, as that can be counter-productive.
  • Try to look at your situation from the other’s point of view
  • Find a common interest - an area where both parties will benefit.
  • Make your initiative beneficial for the other:  are you able to DO something for them?
  • Identify concrete, realistic, obtainable areas  of collaboration.
  • Continue to work on the relationship year-round, not just when you need something.

 

 

 

Social Marketing

A crucial issue in sustaining your initiative is to convince others that your work is of specific interest to them:

  • Sell your programme. Show people that it works and that it is vital. Make it a continuous process, not just a one-off activity.
  • Tailor your message. Look at different actors, think what aspect of your programme may be of importance to them and tailor your information towards their needs.
  • Be open and proactive. Let people know what you are doing, inform them and involve them.

Build a ‘culture of partnership’ see: Public relations and networking

 

 

Use monitoring and evaluation information

Information obtained from your monitoring and evaluation can be used to tell others what your project is doing and achieving. (See chapter 'Prepare')
Recipients of this information can include:

  • current and potential funders
  • the project’s workers
  • potential peer supporters
  • service users
  • other relevant colleagues and agencies
  • those living in the areas where the project operates
  • the wider public through newspapers, TV, radio and the internet.

The details you publicise from your monitoring and evaluation information depends on the target audience.   Some will only want ‘headline’ results, others will want personal stories such as ‘a day in the life of a peer support worker/service user’, others will want to know how they can help, still others will want a detailed report of your project’s activities, and so on.  Don’t forget that pictures are an extremely effective way to communicate a message.

How you publicise your monitoring and evaluation information depends on the target audience.  For instance, funders probably want a detailed annual report, whereas a newspaper may want only the basic facts and figures, in a press release.  Other methods of publicising your project include a regular newsletter, internal memos for staff, and updates on social networking websites such as Facebook.