When we elect people, we expect them to lead. More recently, we have elected people to leverage a larger platform to push agendas without any action. Next week, we will not only elect a new President, we will vote on a number of referendums ranging from:
gun control- health care - marijuana - minimum wage
Some of these issues were placed on the ballot with citizen petitions while others were placed there to legislative inaction.
There are not many elected officials who will publicly support a tax increase, yet we are all in favor of clean pipes to carry our water, safe bridges, and smooth streets. Rather than taking a pro-infrastructure position, legislators generally punt on the difficult issues and let the people decide.
If the government leverages PR, or “partnership relations,” it could work to help the people understand the WHY they are doing it, and HOW they expect to get it done.
So many important projects FAIL because the elected leaders or developers of a large infrastructure project FAIL at educating the stakeholders from the beginning, and we are left to gossip and make up things, without fully coming on board to support something.
By avoiding stakeholder engagement, developers, and government leaders risk:
- A misinformed public talking amongst themselves, without any real data.
- A misinformed public extending the conversation online and among neighbors.
- Anti-project groups forming over social media channels and on the streets, reaching beyond the parochial borders of the project.
- Reporters learning about the project from the anti-project groups and using their information since the developer or elected leaders have not taken a pro-active position.
- Government leaders inundated with questions and protests, that some, particularly at a council level, have no idea about the project to even have a position.
- The project is delayed or worse terminated before a shovel hits the ground, or in some instances, while a shell of the building sits idle for decades as a reminder of a bad PR strategy.
- Sound familiar. I can name and visit a number of those failed projects in Detroit alone that have been shelved. I have also been on the receiving end of speaking before an angry public, trying to listen and respond to their concerns, albeit for me, playing catch-up.
PR’s Role in Moving Projects Forward
It does not have to be that way. A well thought out strategy around public infrastructure projects and large-scale mixed-use projects keeps PR at its core. PR professionals know who to reach out to in the media, and the right team of PR professionals has the pulse of the public and can engage elected officials and community leaders on the development teams behalf, working to bring those who may oppose the project to the table. We have the ability to think clearly and think ahead of everyone else, to anticipate problems and identify opportunities.
With the right mix of PR professionals, we perform our own opposition research and fact finding, come up with the messages that resonate, and find the best way to position the project
We are inundated with mixed messages and miss-information during campaigns. If the media is not fact checking for us, the voters are working hard to decipher fact from fiction.
Developers and public officials should take note, that public engagement in large-scale mixed-use projects or projects involving critical infrastructure is vital to the success of any project. Any project begins with a vision. If that vision is not shared or shaped without public insight, then the project may fail or end up looking a lot different than originally thought of. PR or Public Relationships can help any project succeed. It will bring less fear, build trust and may actually motivate people to help advance your project, the way you want it.