In the era of ‘Build back better’, property developers shouldn’t ignore strategic communications

The property industry has a backdrop of built-in reputational challenges from sustainability, construction and affordability not to mention the underlying issue of how we address the housing crisis. Lately, the media narrative has been dominated by stories on new build service charges often described as “nonsensical & inexplicable” and who pays and is ultimately accountable for recladding buildings following the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in 2017. Community vs development stories particularly in the planning stages are a constant feature in the press and can lead to distrust and tarnished reputations if a developer is seen to be acting unscrupulously.

With huge demand for more homes to be built, the marketplace is crowded and fiercely competitive. Developers face a tricky job of creating engaging messages and materials to attract buyers for their impressive schemes, demonstrating how they will benefit the community while facing off criticism and resistance from external sources including pressure groups, the media and politicians.

Developments take time to come to fruition – often five to ten years in the making and can be hugely complex. With the planning process giving greater opportunities for consultation and power to communities to decide the future of their cities, towns and villages, the success of a planning application can fail or succeed depending on how the developer has understood the local landscape, communicated and engaged effectively with decision makers and influencers.

Businesses are propelled by trust and the property industry must think deeply about how it comes across to its stakeholders. Most property developers communicate via paid advertising, a glossy prospectus and periodic press release.  While these have a place in getting the word out about a development and in achieving those all-important sales, they’re not enough.

Whether you are bringing a scheme to market; looking to secure planning; raising your profile or generating development traffic, investing in strategic communications is essential to tell a positive story about the creation of a new place, manage multiple stakeholders with sensitivity and deal with unpredictable events. A strategic communications plan can help raise awareness to buyers/ investors, shape your profile, manage your reputation and ultimately support revenue growth and development success.

A good strategy goes beyond periodic press releases and creating a few posts. Key ingredients include a strong narrative, well-crafted key messages and a stakeholder engagement programme.

The best time to implement a strategic communications plan is from project conception. Before work gets underway, mapping the key stakeholders to consult and outlining local issues, risks and opportunities is imperative for property developers.

Drafting and communicating tailored, clear and accurate messaging which imparts all the essential development information with details about how it will benefit/affect the local community should then follow. Communities will want to know information such as whether the development will bring jobs to the area, how transportation will be affected, what the aesthetics of the architecture will be like etc.

Introducing a concept early on ensures control of the message. By alerting key stakeholders of the overall idea, initial design and scope of a project, this will allow people to make an informed decision regarding the new development. If a developer stays quiet and tight lipped about the plans, the public can quickly jump to conclusions, misinformation can spread and give rise to scepticism and negative sentiment.

Whether consultation events, meetings and forums take place (virtually or face to face) and involve either elaborate presentations, exhibition boards, a public consultation website or something a bit more a low-key, whatever the approach the developer chooses, the important thing is to establish a two-way dialogue where people genuinely feel involved in the decision-making process. Stakeholders will only lend their support if they feel the proposals are in the best interests of the community and they can share their ideas.

Engaging and educating through a well-placed story can also shift perceptions and increase the odds of success.

Media relations can help to disseminate news on your project schedule but also respond to issues like delays, considerable design changes or community opposition. Being transparent, clear and responsive will pay dividends for the whole lifeline of a development project.

A strong media relations plan should incorporate news beyond an initial announcement. Distributing a mix of timely project updates, positioning the development team and individuals as industry leaders, pitching story ideas on emerging trends and commentating on market changes can ensure your project stays top-of-mind throughout the development process. Case studies are also a powerful method of showing your development credentials. Knowing which milestones deserve a press release and media outreach – and which are best saved for a stakeholder letter or digital channel update – is also essential.

Consistency and engagement are important. Producing unique content can build authority in the market, exemplify your development values and give the public a reason to stay in touch throughout the long development process.

No developer wants huge opposition to a project which can lead to a protracted planning process, increased costs, delays and reputation issues that affect not only the development value but also that of the corporate brand. To compete in today’s marketplace, a robust strategic communications strategy can cut through the noise, drive interest, shift perceptions and increase the odds of success.

Speak to our property PR specialists today to find out how we can support you and your development project.

Get in touch with the team