A common mistake I see being made by real estate professionals embarking on controversial development projects is adopting a “hands off” approach to dealing with the press. The truth is that when it comes to real estate development, chances are good that at some point the press is going to cover it, and not participating in that coverage isn’t going to make it go away.
Knowing when your development plans could become public and having a communications strategy prepared in advance is a critical first step in helping to ensure that the key messages you want to communicate about your project make their way into press coverage.
Consider the following tips:
- Know your audiences: who influences them, and who they influence. Understanding who the key constituents are and the dynamic that exists among them are paramount to creating messaging that speaks directly to these groups and individuals in a way that resonates with what’s most important to them.
- Anticipate the community “hot button” issues and prepare your position. Real estate is a local business, so it’s important to know what the community’s key issues are and how your development project relates to those issues.
- Establish a protocol for handling media inquiries. Know who will serve as spokesperson for the project and make sure that person receives media training, including the preparation of talking point responses to likely questions.
- Identify key media contacts and do your homework. If a reporter has a history of being critical of development or has written about your project before, be aware of that before you speak to him or her.
- Identify key supporters in the community. Third-party endorsements are one of the most powerful and effective tools to lend credibility to your position and build the perception of support for your project.
- Be responsive. If a reporter calls you, call them back, even if you can’t accommodate their specific request. Reporters are typically fair to sources who make themselves available and who facilitate timely coverage.
- Keep “benefits” at the forefront. No matter what questions a reporter asks, always bring the conversation back to the key project benefits.
I’ve seen real estate projects die on the vine due in part to poor media management. A tightly controlled, proactive media strategy can increase your chances of generating positive press coverage of your project, and mitigate the potential for negative coverage.