You often hear people talk about what 'communities' want. MPs, high street companies, social media giants, everyone has an opinion. That opinion manifests itself in local culture, in how people market things to us. It's all become very generic and the chances are that you're going to see the same member of TOWIE selling you a toaster in Kent as you are in Inverness.
A new YouGov report commissioned by Havas PR has asked more than 2,000 people about their views on communities and corporations. The aim was to see if communities actually differ from these national stereotypes of what 'Joe Public' is deemed to be, and to see what people thought about companies' CSR efforts.
According to the research, people believe the thing a community needs most of all is a Post Office, with 48% of those people actually using it a minimum of three times a month. That's quite a statement given the closure of more than 2,000 branches over recent years, but perhaps it is a good sign for the new current accounts.
(According to the survey people also think the community needs newsagents and schools, but they're not too fussed about markets. Being a healthy lot we do of course also value the public house over recreational space. Jamie Oliver would be proud of us.)
When a report like this is published I am always keen to look for discrepancies about what people think and what marketing people think they think. There are some classic examples in this latest report. Take local newspapers for instance. None of the cool kids advertise with them anymore, they don't make money and journalists get the boot as fast as they start. Yet 67% of people across the UK read and trust their local newspapers, 64% trust local TV and radio. Nationally this falls to 54% who trust TV and only 35% who trust newspapers. In fact only 24% buy a national newspaper. You compare this to Facebook which apparently provides 22% of local news and you can see why the power of the national press is considerably less in local communities than it is at Westminster. Who said anything about a bubble...?
As for 'Who plays an important role in the community?' then policemen lead the way (70%), followed by shopkeepers (66%) and doctors (64%). Teachers, pub landlords and careers all get notable mentions. The MP, so often the master of the local universe, polled just 24% and Mayors just 13%.
Stats aside, what this says is that behind all the pomp and ceremony it's actually people working in the community providing services that hold the most local sway and influence.
So can private companies play a positive role in communities? Half of people polled believe a company can improve its national image through positive work locally, yet 37% think such work is just a stunt to receive good PR.
Trust is clearly an issue and fly by night gestures will fall on deaf ears as a result. For those willing to work with local people for the long-term then health, education, medicine, literacy and the environment are the main issues people would like support with.
Yet in this age of celebrity culture it seems that people don't want these people acting as representatives of private companies. In the survey, only 14% wished to hear from national celebrities, whereas 49% thought local employees were a company's best representative.
People are tired of being patronised by celebrities and would rather have tangible benefits for their communities. Interestingly, when asked how businesses should support communities, half of the people polled want businesses to share expertise and 61% wanted them to help disadvantaged people into the workplace.
This research shows that people do believe in communities and they know what they want from them. There's even a role for big businesses to play their part. If only people would cut the aggressive 'let's throw money at them' marketing, and actually listen.