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Duncan Hopwood

The power of words in property PR

October 17, 2016

Can having a way with words give property organisations the power to make big things happen, and what does physics have to do with public relations?

Scientists knew about black holes before they were called black holes but it wasn’t until the term was coined that the phenomenon captured the public imagination. A man known for his way with words, physicist John Wheeler is credited with inventing the label in 1967 (he also came up with ‘space time’), long enough ago for two generations of sci-fi authors and screenwriters to be in his debt.

property PR

Credits: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Physics and public relations are not as distant disciplines as one might think, as I wrote in my blog The Arecibo Effect: Seven PR Lessons from the Greatest Communication Never Made.

Dramatic words 

Compelling and descriptive labels can have a powerful effect in other sectors, even B2B. At a property industry breakfast, the London Chamber chief exec Colin Stanbridge reminds us of their register of derelict land in the capital, which they cleverly christened The Domesday Book of Brownfield Sites. That initiative was influential enough to make then London Mayor Boris Johnson set up the less-imaginatively-titled London Land Commission. It shows the power of words to make things happen.

Big, complex ideas need smart wordsmiths 

Fast forward to October 2016, and the Chamber is calling on the Mayor and government to encourage more SME developers to tackle London’s housing shortage. PRS is key to this. It also wants London to have a place at the table in EU talks to safeguard the capital’s ability to import international talent post the Leave vote, and has published a Brexit manifesto. Colin Stanbridge urges politicians to avoid obsessing about politically-fascinating EUU negotiations to the exclusion of all else and to remember to run the country and invest in infrastructure projects such as Crossrail. Any one of those points would be more powerful with a black hole-style key word or phrase.

What next for residential in London?

Don O’Sullivan, MD of Galliard, a sizeable developer mainly focused on London, tells us there is a 50 per cent under supply of homes in London and what is needed is more land released, which he  thinks developers would gear up to build on if it happened over five years or so.

He reckons the biggest obstacle to building homes in London is planning – 33 independent boroughs as nests of NIMBY-ism – followed by a tax on developers in the form of Section 106, land prices and political factors such as opposition to foreign investors. Angry about Brexit and the potential to make the skills crisis event worse, he thinks the vote will deter foreign investment while the exchange rate collapse makes materials more pricey.

Lateral thinking and partnership working

He thinks foreign investment restrictions won’t materialise in London while his firm’s response to land shortages has been to focus on converting offices to residential, which by taking office space out of circulation has unintentionally pumped up commercial rents.

A last word: The property world, as I constantly see at networking events like these, depends on its networks to get things done, and Don O’Sullivan’s firm is no different. It has no less than 100 joint venture partners.