Tension between developers and opposition can stall or even stop a project completely. NIMBY stands for “Not In My Back Yard,” and Nimbys represent groups in communities who debate over nearby developments. Often, these particular groups dispute projects regardless of their nature and apparent benefits; the fact that a development might enter their community spurns Nimbys to action. This characteristic can be frustrating for developers and community members who support growth and see the many benefits a new project could bring.
Regardless of industry, a NIMBY problem is serious since it threatens to stall a project, cancel a project, or face defeat by the governing bodies overseeing the proposal. As a result, it is imperative that companies know how to understand, successfully communicate, and reinforce project benefits to Nimbys.
Playing defense doesn’t work – waiting for a problem to arise, and then addressing it doesn’t help subdue opposition to a project. Being proactive with the right message will cut off opposition from the day you announce.
Run a political style campaign. It often works for the opponents. A real grassroots campaign involves identifying supporters, opponents and undecided households in a jurisdiction, and reaching out to the supporters to assist with letter writing, hearing attendance, and being third party spokespeople. Different messages can be tailored to undecided households as well, to sway them.
There are also a number of rules a company can follow in running an effective campaign. For example, educate first, then you can identify. Don’t try to identify supporters of your project until after a fair amount of education. For one, you will have a lot more supporters if you disseminate facts for the project first, thus maximizing you’re spending. Identify supporters and code them into a database. Whether it is through direct mail, social media, radio, phone calls or e-mail, having lists of supporters or undecided residents lying around on paper doesn’t do your campaign any good. Also by getting your supporters into a database, you can then separate them by town, county and legislative district for effective grassroots lobbying.
Do not rely just on email. Believe it or not, a fair percentage of people are still not on the internet. Many of these are of the older demographic, who are often more pro-development than not. Running ads with a website to contact is great, but always throw a toll-free number in there for non-internet users to contact you.
Do not focus just on third party groups for support. Third party groups are critical for your efforts, but sometimes a few dozen “regular citizens” showing up to hearings and meetings can do your project a lot of good. Be transparent. The last thing you want is for your public affairs campaign to become a public relations nightmare. Just as projects have engineers, lawyers, scientists, etc., they also can have community relations specialists. Be open about your outreach. Additionally, campaigns should be designed based on several factors including the size of the population you are targeting, the level of opposition, and the length of the entitlement process.
I have seen more development projects spend money on experts and when the dust clears, supporters are not even identified properly in a database. It is critical this mistake isn’t made.
Don’t rely just on “grasstops” or third party supporters. Sometimes the governing bodies like to hear from their regular constituents as well. A proper combination of grassroots and grasstops is in order. Grassroots campaigns create a support group of members from the local community who support the project to assist in your efforts. The support group can actively promote your project through social networking. Proactive support groups are also a great source of volunteers and as they volunteer, they’ll feel more committed and supportive of your project.
Once Nimbys are understood, a company can nix the Nimbys, oppose the opposers, and ultimately dismiss the dismissals. Communicating successfully to Nimbys is essential, and it is advantageous to a company to start its ventures off right by anticipating NIMBY opposition. Experience shows that hiring a specialized firm will provide you with the necessary tools and tactics to lead you towards a victory for your project. Trained professionals from a grassroots firm will make sure that the correct message from your company is being distributed to the community and the silent majority is heard. The way you approach the situation will make all the difference to your project.
Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1995. His firm has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Additionally, his firm has worked on projects in twenty states and three countries. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American studies from the University of Connecticut.