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PR communication strategies to turn NIMBYs into promoters

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Senior Using Internet

It’s 7 am and you are enjoying the sunlight streaming into the room, spring has arrived and you decided to breathe in the fresh air by leaving the windows open. You can hear your neighborhood waking up, sounds of kids gathering at the bus stop and the occasional bird song.

Then it happens…. whack, whack, whack. The sound of hammers and saws breaks the zen of your environment, instantly sending you into a negative mindset. You instantly post a photo to Facebook complaining about the noise. Your neighbors take notice and add to the conversation. Who is this contractor and what are they doing at this time in the morning?

You DM your HOA president, then the community management company. You don’t receive an instant response, so you go further and leave a negative post on their Facebook page. More time passes and the noise continues. Now you are looking for the contractor’s name, the builder’s name and maybe even the developer. You just want someone to listen to you - and no one is listening.

Does this story sound familiar to you? Maybe you are a home builder, community developer, HOA manager, or contractor who has been on the receiving end of these messages. Too often you find yourself on the receiving end of non-customer complaints.

Whether it is during the approval process for a new construction build or a simpler contractor installation - your customer’s neighbors become indirect customers during the process. How do you take these NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) protesters and turn them into brand advocates for your company?

The key lies in leveraging a PR strategy before your team ever takes one step on site.

Fighting the Fear of Change

Most negative reactions from primary and secondary personas come from a lack of information and education about your project and industry. This reaction stems from a native fear of change. According to Harvard Business Review, resistance to change manifests in many forms, from the least resistant, to sabotage and rebellions.

The first step to defusing negative reactions fueled by fear is to understand their origins. Understand not only your ideal customer persona, but also secondary personas - the neighborhoods, communities, and groups your business interacts with indirectly.

By stepping into their shoes you can frame this persona’s fears and concerns. After listing these out, consider how your company can address those pain points and concerns proactively.

Defuse Excess Uncertainty Through Education

If change feels uncertain, or worse, like walking blindly off a cliff, you are inviting chaos into your process. No one willingly walks off a cliff blindfolded and thinks it’s fun.

Now that you understand the pain points, it’s time to plan how your company will proactively address each issue. Review the list of potential resistance issues and address them from your company’s point of view first. This should be a simple exercise, taking no longer than a few minutes per pain point. Here is an example:

  • Pain Point: When renovating a home for a customer, the neighbors are concerned about construction traffic and noise at all times because they have a young family.

  • Company Facing Solution: Post construction area signs, fence the area and limit construction noise to working hours (no early mornings and no evenings)>

Now the hard part: Take that same issue response and convert it into a customer facing statement - not a company facing statement. Here is an example:

  • Customer Facing Solution: Before the construction starts, the contractor asks the customer if they can provide contact information for their neighbors. A personalized letter goes to each customer directly from the project manager including direct contact information. In that letter, the entire construction process is explained with key dates and what to expect, including tips for visitors and children during the project. The project manager follows-up personally a few days before the project begins to introduce themselves and answers any questions or concerns and continues to check in during the process. At the conclusion of the project, issue a survey asking how well the company held to their promises and ask for feedback that can be leveraged for future improvement.

Earning Trust Through Thought Leadership

The change you are creating can be resisted if it makes people feel stupid. You might not think installing a deck would make someone feel uneducated, but without getting too detailed about the psychology of the matter - humans simply reject things we don’t understand.

Companies should over-invest in creating structural reassurance by providing easy to access and thorough information, education, and support systems for customers and potential customers.

Tap into your marketing resources to create content that educates communities about your processes, what they can expect before, during and after. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Host a town hall and live stream the event so that the community can ask questions and receive answers
  • Create an FAQ section on your website that addresses customer concerns
  • Write blog articles that focus on the project itself and related topics that your team can distribute easily via social media and email to concerned parties

Timing is Everything

The key to every well executed plan is timing. Now that you have a plan of action, take care to ensure that it is followed in the right manner. One information leak or mis-step and you will find yourself on the defensive trying to defuse preventable complaints against your company.

Add your PR strategy to the project timeline and project management documentation (this could be a Gantt chart, software or simply a list). Make sure that this timeline is shared and explained with all parties involved in the project - from project manager, to team leads, to contractors.

Communicate clearly what your promises are to the community you are working within and the level of expectation regarding performance to those promises. Work to create a culture around these customer service values. Clearly define the consequences for your brand if your company delivers a sub-par performance.

If your company has not already, align your marketing and PR-related activities with your customer service and management activities. Ensure that your entire customer lifecycle is managed from one place, either in a project management tool or a CRM (customer relationship management software). This gives all levels of your organization a sight-line into the totality of the customer relationship.

If you follow these guidelines, your brand will be well positioned to take a person from a position of “NIMBY” to an advocate for your brand. These preemptive tactics can even attract more business for your company, strengthen your brand position and create positive PR for your company.

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