(Editor’s note: These comments from P Michael Saint, chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, first appeared in Shopping Centers Today, May 5, 2008)
“When you drill down into the heart of all this, people are afraid that new development will adversely affect them. That emotion overcomes any facts given to them,” says P. Michael Saint, founder of The Saint Consulting Group.
“Developers think if they shout ‘jobs’ and ‘taxes’ loud enough it will overcome people that are afraid. There’s a disconnect there. The fear people feel becomes passion, which is easily translated into political action.” It’s time to learn new approaches to prevent that chain reaction of opposition, Saint says.
“Developers need to realize it should be a political campaign,” he said. “It’s not about facts, it’s about politics. Whether it’s London, England, London, Ontario, or London, Kentucky, people are going to decide based on the politics of the community.” The key is not to address the people in favor of a project — they seldom become active in their support — but to focus on opponents,” he says.
“If a PR firm gets a front-page article in the newspaper on how good the development will be, they think they have a victory,” Saint says. “But in reality, it’s simply alerting the opponents to begin their fight against the project.”
Grassroots opponents have become more sophisticated, using Internet campaigns and quickly organizing themselves into groups, Saint says. “The company needs to spend the shoe leather and go out into the neighborhoods,” he said. “Get out and meet people to prevent them from organizing against you.”
P. Michael Saint is founder and chairman of The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org