By P. Michael Saint
CEO, The Saint Consulting Group
Several bloggers have commented on the recent Forbes magazine article that profiled The Saint Consulting Group.
In a couple of cases, these bloggers seem to have entirely missed the point of the story.
The point is that these days projects are approved by politicians who decide to approve or disapprove development based on what they think their constituents want.
Opponents of new development projects react emotionally. They fear change. They fear that something new will harm them – take away their view, lower their property values, clog their streets with more traffic or adversely change the character of their neighborhood. Because theirs is an emotional reaction, and they are passionate in their opposition, it is easy to motivate them to storm city hall to urge government not to allow the proposed development.
Supporters, on the other hand, generally arrive at their favorable feelings through an intellectual process. They do not feel threatened. But they are also not passionate in their opinion so very seldom will they voice their approval to city officials, unless encouraged to do so.
So what happens? The night of the public hearing, 300 emotional citizens show up at city hall and tell their elected officials, “not in my backyard.”
The city officials, seeing and hearing only naysayers, assume the public is opposed and vote “no”.
For developers to succeed in these times of NIMBY, smart growth, and anti-sprawl, they need to approach the approval process as if running a political campaign – spread a positive message, identify their supporters and make sure those supporters voice their opinions to the appropriate elected officials.
There is nothing deceitful or underhanded in finding a supporter and asking her or him to call a city councilor or to attend a public hearing.
On the contrary, not doing so these days is almost to guarantee failure. After all, 78% of Americans told the Saint Index poll they are against anything new being built in their community.
It struck me that several of those who were critical of the Saint Consulting Group’s grassroots political campaign approach, were really arguing that we were in the wrong because we helped a project they opposed.