Duncan Hopwood

Tell your story or someone else will do it for you

June 14, 2016

Like nature, the media abhors a vacuum.

 

The Guardian’s Nils Pratley sympathises with Sir Philip Green’s grumblings about the unrestrained conduct of MPs grilling him over the collapse of BHS, but he also feels Sir Philip could have waged a smarter PR campaign in the wake of the department store’s downfall. Pratley says the retail tycoon should have moved quickly to give his version of events, but instead his claim to have sold BHS to a credible buyer has slowly been eroded by other witnesses.

 

Few individuals in business or the public sector face the same kind of media and political scrutiny. Nor do they neatly fit into a vogue theme stereotype (in this case ‘fat cat boss’), but that doesn’t mean they can afford to ignore the media (including social media).

 

If you do not build and manage your reputation in the media and online, someone else will likely do it for you.

 

Organisations in the property and regeneration sector – private and public – frequently get into scrapes by proposing schemes without properly planning for the PR scenarios that will unfold when they go public.

 

This means that the news reaches affected communities as a surprise, and the shockwaves can quickly turn into an organised opposition campaign. I have heard tales of this happening, even when the planned development was overwhelmingly a good thing for the local area.

 

In one London borough, social housing residents were to be relocated before being rehoused in brand new homes in the same place that far exceeded the specifications of their existing flats and houses. There was a furore but as soon as they understood what was really happening, it died away. The communications campaign that eventually solved the problem should have been done ahead of time. It would have avoided the unpleasantness that manifested itself after residents tried to work out what was happening without the full knowledge they needed. In the absence of facts, they filled in the gaps with conjecture and misinformation, and the whole sorry story unfolded.

 

It is important to properly manage stakeholder engagement and prepare the ground before conducting a genuine public consultation, rather than a box-ticking exercise. Ensure the media are professionally briefed to that they are fully informed with the thinking behind any development.

 

Doing this well can not only avert a potential crisis but also smooth the path through planning consent as well as commercial and broader PR success as new developments and urban neighbourhoods integrate successfully with the wider community.