As we can see in this edition of South East Business, the construction industry is important to the region’s economy. There are some fantastic companies, but too often before a spade can be put in the ground, there’s the need to navigate the court of public opinion, and that requires good communication from the start.
As with any marketing campaign, the key to success is getting the messaging right, understanding the audience you are actively seeking to reach, and having everything in place before going public.
The reputation of the companies involved
can be a deal maker or breaker. A positive one, based upon delivering on your promises, doing the right thing and showing concern for the environment and community, is invaluable.
A negative one and you’ll struggle to move perceptions, regardless of how good the project is.
The route to development success starts at the planning system, and that has always been challenging, but many landowners and developers are now recognising the value of communicating early with the local community.
Engaging with politicians, community groups and local residents is key to many large planning applications. However, before that can be undertaken, there’s a need to put in some major preparation. You’ll need to answer some key questions. What are you proposing and where? Why is it important to the local community? What’s it going to achieve? When could it happen?
‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ is never truer. If you haven’t considered all possible scenarios, positive and negative, before going public, then you’re likely to fall at the first hurdle of public opposition. In today’s digitally connected world, opposition can appear almost instantaneous and soon catch hold.
Being able to respond quickly and professionally is vital. Briefing key stakeholders ahead of any opposition, and stating your case early, is the preferred option, as no politician likes to find out about a project from an already irate resident.
Any engagement with the local community requires consistent communications, whether online, at public exhibitions, with the media and during the briefing of local stakeholders. Inconsistencies only generate questions and can often lose trust.
Once a project has navigated planning and a construction company appointed, the next opportunity is to promote reaching key milestones, such as groundbreaking, topping-out, handover and occupation. Each one provides a photo opportunity for the stakeholders who backed you, so invite them. The key for the construction industry is demonstrating it has the skills to deliver what the developer and landowners had promised during the planning process.
With planning, it’s much more than just the buildings – it’s the legally-binding financial contributions made to secure approval, and too often they get overlooked when communicating to the public. With the climate emergency, developers should be demonstrating their initiatives to improve biodiversity and reduce carbon during the construction process and afterwards. All that builds positive reputations and means you’re better placed for the next big project.