Beyond the media release: communications in property development
Property developers should look beyond the buyer when planning communications, writes Carina Tan-Van Baren.
What is the most important form of communication for a property developer?
The answer to most would seem obvious: paid advertising, and hopefully some media coverage — anything that will promote your development and generate sales.
There’s no question sales are important, particularly when it comes to getting a project across the line and out of the ground. But in getting to the point of having a product to sell, there are a number of other key considerations that need to be taken into account.
You need to ensure your project is progressing in the most cost-effective way, with minimal delay and with maximum support from the community, regulators, investors and other stakeholders.
You need to talk to people who will never buy or live in your product – but who could be instrumental in its success or failure.
In other words, a media release or two and some advertising aren’t going to cut it. What you need is a carefully-considered communications strategy and, importantly, an early start.
The best communications strategy is developed before you first break ground, before you apply for planning approvals and before you commission your concept plans.
In some circumstances, it may be useful to obtain communications support before you even make an offer to purchase.
For example, if you’re a foreign land buyer, there are likely to be political and community sensitivities to be addressed before the sale can be concluded and the normal development approval processes commenced.
Timing and context are critical.
When embarking on a development project, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is this an unusual project for this area? Does it fit easily into the local government’s approved land use categories and is it consistent with neighbouring land uses?
Anything that affects local amenity can generate community resistance or protest. If the development is unusual, or inconsistent with surrounding land uses you should get on the front foot and engage with government and community stakeholders as early as possible.
If your development doesn’t fit neatly into a pre-approved box or broader planning policy, local government decision makers may not be inclined to support it. In some instances, a discretionary power may be exercised in your favour by the State or Federal governments, but they will be loathe to act without good reason.
It’s important to engage with relevant decision makers early to identify and address any concerns they may have and to make sure they have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve and the benefits it will deliver to their constituents.
Researching community attitudes and consulting community stakeholders before finalising your plans is not only a sign of good faith, but also helps to identify issues that might be managed or avoided before they result in:
- lengthy and publicly damaging protests or disputes;
- costly delays in the approvals process; or
- the refusal of necessary planning approvals or imposition of financially or technically onerous conditions on approvals.
It’s also useful to keep stakeholders updated on the progress of the development and what you are doing to address any concerns they might have, especially if the works will involve significant disruption to their businesses or lifestyle.
2. Are there any potential environmental or Aboriginal heritage issues?
Environmental and Aboriginal heritage issues are particularly sensitive and must be managed carefully, with appropriately targeted consultation coordinated with navigation of government approval processes.
Again, early identification of such issues and, if necessary, engagement and consultation with the relevant stakeholder groups puts you in a better position to avoid such issues – or at the very least, minimise any negative impact on your development and/or reputation.
3. Do I need investor support for this project?
In addition to details of the development and investment offering, potential investors will consider your:
- Reputation: Are you known and respected in your sector of the market? How are your developments perceived in terms of price, design and quality? Who else has invested in your projects?
- Record: How have your previous developments performed in terms of sales and returns on investment? Have any struggled and, if so, why?
- Personnel: Who are your directors? What are their qualifications and records in developments of this type? Do they add to your credentials?
In a competitive market, a glossy prospectus is not enough.
To be an attractive investment vehicle, you must tell a strong and consistent story about your operations and success through your website, social media and ongoing interactions with industry and community stakeholders and decision makers. If you wish to be positioned as a market leader, this will include building your profile through ongoing media engagement and participation in industry and public forums.
A critical aspect of reputation management that is often overlooked and under-planned is managing the communications response to a serious problem such as a site accident, inability to pay contractors, missing a critical deadline (particularly for Government-related projects) or post-sales issues related to building structure or design.
If something goes wrong, failure to communicate properly to all stakeholders in the right way and at the right time could cause significant damage to your reputation, and have ongoing consequences when potential investors learn about it during their due diligence.
Media coverage and paid advertising will always have a place in getting the word out about your development and in achieving those all-important sales. But on their own, they’re not enough.
Carina Tan-Van Baren is a health and aged care specialist at Cannings Purple, with more than 25 years’ experience in issues and reputation management, stakeholder engagement, the property sector and strategy development. She also worked as a commercial solicitor, specialising in property law. Contact Carina.