Knowing Your Stakeholders Is Essential (Craig Douglass On Consumers)

by Craig Douglass  on Monday, Mar. 3, 2014 12:00 am  

Craig Douglass

A stake is more than a share. And as consumers — all types of consumers —understand their stake in the products, services, issues and people they choose, the better equipped they will be to influence producers and providers.

Stakeholder is a vogue term describing all parties involved in a corporate, political or consumer relationship. In fact, stakeholder theory, pioneered in the 1980s by a University of Virginia Ph.D., explains that stakeholders, more than shareholders, are the multiple parties that impact or can be impacted by the operation of an enterprise, whether corporate, nonprofit or governmental. Those additional parties include consumers, clients or customers; employees and employee organizations; suppliers and vendors; financing interests; political groups, including voters; and regulators, to name a few.

No longer is the relationship between a consumer and a provider limited to a simple transaction. Smart organizations and their leaders understand the importance of building and maintaining a relationship with those to whom they intend to sell, whether it is a product, service, candidacy or issue. Value is the key to the successful relationship, not just the transaction.

In a corporate model, it is fairly easy to identify internal stakeholders (employees, managers and owners) and external ones (shareholders, customers, suppliers, government and creditors). But the stakeholders in a political context may not be as evident.

In 2009, the Arkansas General Assembly created the Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance in order to address the serious lack of adequate long-term financing of our state’s highways, roads, streets and the bridges that connect them. The formation of the committee included appointed members from the Legislature, as well as non-legislative members. It also included what was called a Stakeholders Task Force. The purpose of the stakeholders group was to ensure input into financing recommendations from entities affected by transportation infrastructure, or the lack of it. This included all manner of what could be described as road users. And that’s most of us.

The result of the Blue Ribbon study has so far manifested itself in two political issue campaigns, which were passed overwhelmingly by Arkansas voters: the re-issue in 2011 of bonds for interstate rehabilitation, and the passage of Issue No. 1 in 2012, a constitutional amendment to finance the continued construction of four-lane highways designed to connect the state.

The success of these referrals to Arkansas voters was due primarily to the recognition of and relationship with the Arkansas stakeholders who benefit from highway construction and maintenance, and the positive benefits that flow from effective and efficient surface transportation, including job creation, enhanced economic development, safety and a general improvement in the state’s overall economy. This includes important stakeholders in cities, towns and counties, as well as the business community, manufacturers and agricultural interests. Ultimately the relationship-building must result in the transaction of casting a vote at the polls. Voting, then, is directly akin to consumer choice, selection and purchase.

Public policy issues, in order to win support from those they intend to serve, must continue to nurture a positive relationship with stakeholder communities. Stakeholders, in turn, should be encouraged to reciprocate by supporting issues that directly impact their own personal or corporate well-being. That’s why casting a wide net of consumer-related communications identifying relevant stakeholders is so important to implementing public policy options like those recommended by such public bodies as the Blue Ribbon Committee.

Some of the Blue Ribbon recommendations have yet to be fully considered. But the information in the final report is still relevant and viable, and could be further used as the foundation for additional ideas, ideas that could benefit Arkansas stakeholders — in this case, the general citizenry.

Consumers encompass multiple iterations. Political consumers, in a wider context, are political stakeholders, including individual constituents, interest groups, communities and government. Knowing who they are and what they are, and the stake they have in successful outcomes, are the building blocks of effective state and local progress.

Craig Douglass is a Little Rock advertising agency owner and marketing and research consultant. He is president of Craig Douglass Communications Inc. Email him at Craig@CraigDouglass.com.

 

 

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