Public affairs professionals with a solid reputation in the community and one who is familiar with the stakeholders and the issues important to them, can then help develop strategic and meaningful relationships, long before a high profile and often controversial project is announced. That professional can then create a community roadmap to help the project team navigate through the minefields of any project. They will help minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.
In working on projects ranging from 55-block mixed use development involving a new hockey arena to an 1,800 MW off shore wind farm in The Great Lakes, to a deep injection well near an airport and petroleum coke stored along the Detroit River, I know how important it is to engage key stakeholders early in the process of any high profile project that has the potential to impact a community. I have also experienced this as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary for the Mayor of Detroit and on other projects I have worked on.
Developers need to rethink how they approach high profile projects in the future and strategic communications, media relations, stakeholder engagement and public affairs should be a major part in every strategy moving forward.
A public affairs team brings people together to make good decisions, under difficult situations. They accomplish that by creating the path for people to move beyond their differences, join together, and discover a new way forward.
A path to move forward begins with a vision that each stakeholder can agree on. A vision keeps you focused and forces solutions. At each step of the way, they work to identify quick wins or mutual gains for each stakeholder. It helps build trust and gives everyone involved the opportunity to work on something together.
At each step information is shared to help all the stakeholders make informed decisions. If it is not something that can be agreed on, then it is important to find consensus where you can and where you can’t move on to the next issue and focus on those issues that can be agreed to. A public affairs professional is there to work very hard to help stakeholders separate the politics or emotions from the process, help the parties find a common ground, build trust and identify potential solutions to agree on and move forward with.
Conflict is inevitable with any high profile project. However, a carefully structured dialogue could offer a more effective and durable method to resolve conflicts and build consensus around controversial or often complex projects.