Initial Announcement Is Key to Success for Clean Energy Projects
When a clean energy project is in its early stages, there are many factors that can make or break an announcement campaign. What is your company trying to achieve? Who is the target audience? By what means will the message be conveyed? What is your plan to build public support throughout the entitlement process? What kind of opposition will the clean energy development face, and how will it be neutralized?
In its early stages, clean energy projects are most susceptible to delays or cancellations from NIMBY-type (“not in my backyard”) activity. Some opposition groups make community aesthetics, noise, or cost issues of contention, while other opposition groups simply resist change in their communities. As a result, this is one of the most important considerations to be made during any project roll out.
The most effective countermeasure against NIMBY-ism in the early stages of a clean energy development is how to get ahead of the opposition before it can organize. The first few weeks following the project announcement are the most promising window to try and prevent such opposition from forming and to cement the plan’s supporters. The results of these few weeks will often determine the success or failure of the project.
When development projects are proposed, there are multiple measures in place to ensure a successful roll out with limited or no opposition. Public Strategy Group (PSG) has an announcement strategy for just this:
Garner Support from Opinion Leaders: The chief elected officials are the key supporters for the success of any project. By informing chief elected officials in the area most affected by the project first and foremost, followed by an immediate press release, the elected officials are less likely to feel blind sighted, excluded, or alienated from the project. Too often the right people read about major projects in the newspaper and this only antagonizes relationships with elected leaders. Rather, by informing them first, they are given time to become familiar with the project, and perhaps even personally invested in it. A press release will educate the general audience of the proposition and will put in motion the rest of the steps. Generally a press conference announcing a large economic development project will generate further favorable press.
Inform the Public: Newspaper ads, web ads, and direct mail campaigns should go into effect within 24 to 48 hours of the announcement in order to efficiently disseminate the facts to the public before opposition has a chance to amass. The ads and mailers provide residents with a website or a phone number that they can contact to receive information or provide feedback, and for project officials to determine whether or not a project is popular. It is important that they arrive quickly, following closely behind the project announcement in order to be most successful. In this way, you are able to get ahead of the opposition in framing the debate and shaping the message. Facts and information also provide supporters with familiarity, which minimizes the window for opposition groups to capitalize on ignorant or indifferent community members.
Connect with the Public: Following newspaper ads and direct mail campaigns, a statement should be made of a community-wide open house, held within a few weeks of the announcement. This is an example of controlling the message. It is a way of always being ahead of any potential opposition. Open houses are great mediums to control the crowd, have your experts speak directly to neighbors and concerned residents, and generate positive press by showing a willingness to undergo local by reaching out to the citizens of the community. The use of social media can also be beneficial as a means of obtaining immediate feedback on your project, and can open the channels for dialogue between you and your public. Innovations like twitter and Facebook allow you to directly address the concerns of community members, and immediately dispel misinformation.
Ensure supporters attend the open house: Even though the entire community is invited, make arrangements that specifically target supporters, such as special emails or mailed pamphlets. The press often seeks out opponents at open houses, so by having supporters’ presence there, you can create a favorable voice at the open house.
It is important to emphasize that these strategies are strong because each of these measures places the power in the hands of the developer, not the opposition. Completing these steps in the first few weeks can start a clean energy project off on the right foot, and avoid costly, time-consuming delays down the road by opposition groups. They ensure that a proposed clean energy project is one step ahead of any opposition attempts and is backed by the necessary measures to gather as much support as possible for your project.
Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1995. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American studies from the University of Connecticut.
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