Facing the Public

Published August 2014 in OSP Magazine (pgs 84-85).

When starting a new telecommunication tower project, it is important to employ a strategic and efficient public affairs campaign to decrease the risk of public opposition from concerned locals who may not want construction to take place in their backyards. The earlier a campaign begins, the greater the likelihood of recruiting supporters who are interested in the project.

Likewise, by neglecting to ease the concerns of affected locals, often these projects can be slowed or even defeated by an aggressive campaign by the opposition. For example, earlier this year the residents of Mobile, Alabama, strongly opposed AT&T’s request to build a communication tower near the neighborhood, with over 50 households showing up to personally voice their concerns. The Mobile Planning Commission denied the request in a 6-3 vote against AT&T’s project, effectively defeating the development of a new cell tower. Protesters cited concerns such as seeing a decrease in property value and hurting the neighborhood aesthetic. Fears such as these are common barriers to successful telecom projects, and an aggressive campaign to appease the concerned locals must be implemented and enforced to avoid delays.

Five Proactive Measures

By campaigning early and proactively seeking supporters, a project will be able to move forward. There are several easy strategies that will help guarantee a project’s success. Fully utilizing these tactics as well as remembering to personally correspond with supporters will further ensure that development will not be stalled or delayed due to protestors.

Step 1: Identify supporters.

Many people are willing to help, but need to be asked. Personally interacting with supporters and learning about the different organizations they are involved in will help later on. Building a network early and establishing active lines of communication can make a huge difference to a project’s success. Plus, being able to personally address supporters shows dedication and commitment.

Step 2: Build grassroots support.

Send creative and informative content to relevant targets and neighborhoods through a direct-mail strategy. Make sure information is accurate, interesting, and explains how the project will benefit their community. Include a tear-off component where those interested can write back if they are looking for more updates on the development. By taking the initiative to create awareness as early as the planning stages, control over the message is sustained.

Step 3: Organize a supporter database.

Every supporter you meet is important. Remember to log every single supporter’s information in an organized and detailed database. This will be extremely useful later on when strategically refining the campaign strategy. For example, by labeling supporters by geographic location, it will be easier to enlist their aid after pinpointing the specific areas that still need aggressive campaigning.

Step 4: Use technology to advance a cause.

With technology today, it would be foolish to ignore the easy and rapid communication social media offers. Create a Facebook page so supporters can easily network and communicate with each other. Those who want to stay updated can do so by looking at updates via Facebook or a link to the company website. If there are any upcoming events, invite them to come and post a flyer online. The “Share” option on Facebook even allows supporters to invite their friends and family members to come out, reaching even more people. Don’t forget that Twitter is also an easy way to spread news and quickly update supporters.

Step 5: Invite discussion -- even from protesters.

Hosting an open house to answer questions and directly inviting protestors may seem daunting, but it’s a great way to ease any concerns. Taking the initiative to personally engage the opposition can turn a protester into a supporter. Hosting open houses or meetings early on in the planning stages shows the opposition that their views are being heard. Remember to publicize the event early on, to ensure that anyone concerned about the project attends.

The task of combating local opposition is rampant among all industries, not just telecommunication projects. Even if a project will bring numerous benefits to the community, efforts may be futile if an effective public affairs campaign is not employed. If there are benefits to the community, adamantly publicize and make the neighborhood aware of them. Be confident in development plans, and honestly try to address the opposition’s concerns.