The company is not scheduling regular meetings with elected officials and regulators? Community outreach initiatives have not been developed to build local support for the project? And finally, the media has not been briefed on the proposed development – and is not receiving regular updates when applicable?
If any of the three things mentioned above are happening right now, it might be time to part ways with your PR firm. If not, the project is probably doomed, along with your company’s brand and reputation.
As the agency of record for several clients in the energy, utility and real estate industries, we have identified three must haves – as outlined in the opening – when siting/zoning complex (and sometimes environmentally-sensitive) projects. Obviously there are additional items that must be addressed – such as potential opposition from citizen and environmental groups – but these three key areas are the backbone to any solid PR campaign for complex siting issues. Below are some issues to consider and dangers that await regarding a firm’s continued PR complacency.
Elected officials and regulators: As a group that holds the future of your project in their hands, this important target audience needs to be continually briefed regarding project timelines, infrastructure needs, environmental and community concerns, etc. If they are not on board, then a whole host of problems could arise, including permitting issues, project delays and cost overruns, additional ballot initiatives, and much more. This group is without doubt the most important target audience that a company has to satisfy. Without them, a project is dead in the water.
Community outreach: If little is done in the way of local outreach, it could be perceived that the company is not working to be a good neighbor and/or not trying to integrate itself into the local dynamic. Also, the lack of public availability is how misinformation spreads and this could potentially damage the credibility of the project. And with misinformation campaigns, a company can expect potential uprisings from local activists – and then opposition groups. Finally, the lack of local outreach – such as information fairs, sponsorship of local programs, etc. – could also be misinterpreted as a sign of hesitancy or lack of commitment.
Media relations: Developing and maintaining relationships with the applicable media is essential to keeping the masses informed about the project’s benefits and progress. Also, maintaining strong relationships with reporters covering your project is helpful to balance any potential negative coverage, which might be placed by the opposition. The more the media is briefed (as needed only), the more consistent the messaging will remain (to the public) throughout the project. However, there are certain instances where less is more with the press. For example, sticking to the main talking points and not speculating, limits any potential fallout from changes to the project – e.g. in case of new regulations or economic slowdowns.
As you can see, there are many pitfalls and issues to consider from not addressing these three main areas. Moreover, if a firm has not proactively planned to target these key issues, then hard times assuredly await any project – and a company’s plans for future projects.