Politics, Not Marketing

The Saint ReportNIMBY, Planning and Zoning, Referendum/initiative, saintblog, Thought Leadership

Mike S 2014(1)By P. Michael Saint, Chairman and CEO, The Saint Consulting Group

“Smart Marketing” seldom overcomes opposition to new real estate projects because land use permits are a political challenge, which cannot be won with clever merchandising or public relations.

I read an article last week in Senior Housing News by reporter Tim Mullaney entitled, “How Smart Marketing Combats NIMBY Woes in Senior Living.” See http://seniorhousingnews.com/2015/03/22/how-smart-marketing-combats-nimby-woes-in-senior-living/

While Mullaney and the sources he quotes get some things right in my opinion, they fail to understand that winning government approvals in the face of opposition is a political exercise and should be approached as a political campaign; i.e. identify, educate, organize and mobilize you supporters to overcome opposition.

Mullaney ‘s experts believe in outreach to neighbors, which is good, but they recommend public meetings or planner style “charettes” which invariably simply serve as a forum for opponents to meet each other, stir up opposition and organize opposition groups. They also fail to recognize that some opposition is not “NIMBY” neighbors, at all but is based on ideology – “don’t build here because you will harm the environment” or economic, “don’t build here, you will hurt my business.” Those kinds of opponents must be treated differently than the common NIMBY.

While those in the article see door to door individual meetings as important, they fail to mention that canvassing is the perfect opportunity to gather signatures on petitions in favor of the project and capture contact information for follow-ups where identified supporters can be asked to participate in the political approval process by sending emails, attending meetings, calling politicians, appearing in video petitions and making other demonstrations of support.

Those who are opposed to a project can always be counted on to attend government meetings and hearings and voice their concerns but those who favor a project seldom participate in the process. This leads politicians to wrongly assume that it is political suicide to approve a project because the whole community must be against it.

Mullaney’s experts also advise spending time with opponents. In our experience over 30 years, once a person has declared his opposition, it is near impossible to get him to change his mind. Time and resources are much better spent on reaching out to the undecided and getting them to support a project or getting supporters to demonstrate their support.

As one of Mullaney’s experts says, “the key is to get a strong base of support to outnumber the protestors” just like winning a political campaign for a politician running for office.

Mike Saint is chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, email msaint@tscg.biz