Always Listen to ‘NIMBYs’ to Gain Their Respect
VP Brian Dries explains how our project strategies include taking into account the views of people impacted by the plan—especially the “not in my backyard” opponents.
It’s common to find words of wisdom worth quoting from those in our own profession - especially when you work in public relations. Bryant McGill, author, activist and social influencer, said, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
It’s something many in the communications field sometimes forget the true value of because we are constantly expected to be the ones who present, speak, lead and instruct. But, skipping the first step of listening can lead to a complete loss of respect for every additional step you take. If you tune into our own COO/SVP Kate Wilhelm’s recent podcast, you will hear that we need to continue the philosophy that listening is a tenet of respect.
Whether it’s communicating to wide audiences or a small community, it’s essential to listen first. In many cases, residential and commercial development teams are under tight deadlines to complete site maps, finalize engineering reports, summarize economic impact studies and settle on the legal language related to zoning variances.
Creating a communications strategy is typically way down on the priority list—f it’s even considered at all. But making it a top priority will complement all other essential tasks and alleviate future complications that may occur when there is a failure to communicate and listen—no matter the size of the foundation that will need to be poured.
Ceisler Media specializes in developing and executing communications strategies to help integrate development projects of all types and sizes with local communities. We don’t look at those who might be dubbed NIMBY (“Not in my backyard”) people as opposition. We believe it is necessary to listen to every community, neighbor, business, etc. Working with all parties involved is how to manage a successful project.
When neighbors and local stakeholders oppose a project it’s usually because they weren’t provided with all of the facts upfront. No one sat with them to listen and address their concerns before the project plans made their way to a public forum. They were never informed about the homes or buildings that are proposed to be developed near their backyard.
Even worse, people may base their own opinions on misinformation or rumors they heard from a few others. And once the information becomes misrepresented, the falsehoods spread like wildfire across social media platforms—creating more opposition from people who don’t even live in the same area code as the proposed development site.
We’ve seen and heard it all when community members create their own narratives because there’s a void of information or content available about a development project: Like how a 55-plus living community will significantly strain a local school district because there will be an influx of new students enrolling (Maybe, if it’s a very active senior community). Or how creating new bike paths connecting communities and commercial corridors will create more traffic pollution (Probably true to those who have never ridden a bike).
One of Ceisler Media’s recent projects included representing a development team that received township approval for a mixed-use complex in Bucks County. The site will include a top-ranked national grocery store, several commercial pads for retail and restaurants and more than 200 upscale apartments.
Even though we joined the project after the initial site plans were made public and residents had an opportunity to form their opinions, we immediately worked to understand the needs of the community and work with developers to show all the great things they were going to do for residents and local businesses. We listened to people’s concerns and made sure they received the facts about the new mixed-use site. This included issues relating to traffic congestion, open space, historical and environmental preservation, and municipal burdens with more people living in the township.
Prior to the local board of supervisors approving the plan, we garnered more than 1,000 residents to join in support. Even those who were initially opposed realized there were many benefits for the township once they understood what would be developed in their backyard. We listened first and made sure all questions were answered. We created an informational webpage to present all the facts and created an open channel for residents—those who were for and against—to contact us with their inquiries. We also made sure we addressed any questions and concerns raised by local officials.
We first listen and then communicate, especially when it comes to NIMBYs. With that said, we also know the reality of every community we work in, which means you cannot satisfy everyone. But we do everything we can to connect with each resident and stakeholder.
Ceisler Media respects every community and neighborhood where we work. Everyone deserves the facts, and most importantly they deserve to be heard. That is our approach—and our philosophy.
Brian Dries is a Vice President at Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.