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Now that the grocery companies are realizing the benefits to proactively counter or even avoid NIMBY (not in my backyard) opposition to their projects, it is important these same companies keep an open mind about what type of campaigns to run.
All too often, companies will mistake “public relations” for “public affairs” and run a campaign that is based on selling a project with glitzy ads rather than running a targeted “political style” campaign that can more than counter what the opponents put together for their efforts. Tactics such as door-to-door canvassing, identification phone banking, direct mail and polling are critical to running an effective campaign to counter NIMBY opposition.
Many of these campaigns should follow some simple rules:
Rule No. 1 – Educate first, then you can identify. Don’t try to identify supporters of your project until after a fair amount of education. For one, you will have a lot more supporters if you disseminate facts for the project first, thus maximizing your spending.
Rule No. 2 – Identify supporters and code them into a database. Whether it is through direct mail, radio, phone calls or e-mail, having lists of supporters or undecided residents lying around on paper doesn’t do your campaign any good. Also, by getting your supporters into a database, you can then separate them by town, county and legislative district for effective grassroots lobbying.
Rule No. 3 – Do not rely just on e-mail. Believe it or not, a fair percentage of people are still not on the Internet. Many of these are of an older demographic, who are often more pro-development than not. Running ads with a website to contact is great, but always throw a toll-free number in there for non-Internet users to contact you.
Rule No. 4 – Do not focus just on third-party groups for support. Third-party groups are critical for your efforts, but sometimes a few dozen “regular citizens” showing up to hearings and meetings can do your project a lot of good.
Rule No. 5 – Be transparent. The last think you want is for your public affairs campaign to become a public relations nightmare. Just as projects have engineers, lawyers, scientists, etc., they also can have community relations specialists. Be open about your outreach.
These are five of perhaps dozens of potential tactics that can go into a grassroots public affairs campaign to counter opposition to grocery development projects. Campaigns should be designed based on several factors, including the size of the population you are targeting, the level of opposition and the length of the entitlement process.
Al Maiorino is president of Public Strategy Group Inc., a public affairs firm that specializes in grassroots campaigns for development projects that are experiencing community opposition or extensive hurdles.