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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Marketing development to communities: taking a new point-of-view

What can real estate developers do to avoid negative media coverage and protests by community and environmental groups?

First and foremost understand the opposition’s point-of-view: they believe that real estate development projects are the community’s projects, not the developers’ projects. Without understanding this perspective, developers are highly likely to face delays, protests or have a project killed altogether.

This was one finding from a study, “This Land Is My Land…But Could Be our Land: Developing Influencer Relationships to Accelerate Developer Success,” that Northeastern University communications professor Walter Carl and I recently completed for the NAIOP Foundation. We interviewed 30 commercial real estate developers and representatives from environmental, community, government and Smart Growth organizations to learn what it takes for developers to build effective relationships with influencers.

We also uncovered the seven most common characteristics of effective relationships between developers and those influential people who can affect a development project, positively or negatively. Here are highlights, most of which apply to all businesses that must build effective working relationships with external constituencies.

1. Early engagement: for most influencers the most irritating practice of developers was not involving the community early enough in the project process.

2. Effective listening: people want their viewpoints to be acknowledged and respected, even if those viewpoints can’t be accommodated. They need to feel listened to.

3. Education & understanding: educating friends and potential foes pays off. The more knowledgeable people are, the more likely they are to have realistic expectations, engage in construction discussions, and brainstorm ways to work around sticky points.

4. Trust and credibility: trust is based on the principle that each person feels like the other person truly understands their point of view. To build trust, present the whole picture, candidly discussing drawbacks as well as benefits. And always deliver on promises.

5. Accommodation: Be flexible and willing to give up some control. Adopt the 3Rs: respond to criticisms, redesign if necessary, and reach accommodations. If you can’t accommodate all requests, explain why.

6. Adapting: Adapt your communication style to the other party to foster understanding. Avoid industry jargon. Adapt the professional skills of coalition builders and educators.

7. Transparency: Always communicate in an open, direct and honest way.

A final point to note: building relationships isn’t about asking for influencers’ approval, but creating understanding. Similarly, it’s not about getting 100% consensus, but determining whether people can live with the proposed project.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Communicating with the public about development projects takes more than constant and aggressive one-way communication. In the interest of getting their deals "done," developers often neglect the fine arts of listening and compromise. A thorough understanding of what the public needs from a development plan requires extensive research to identify who target audiences are and the issues that they need to be addressed in order to accept - and even embrace - the project.

9:30 AM  

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