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Constructive Communication

July 11, 2014

jshelbyToday’s post is courtesy of Jennifer Shelby of Rhino PR. A Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM), Ms. Shelby has more than 14 years of experience in the architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) industry.

“DETOUR”.
“BLASTING”.
“ROADWORK 9AM TO 5PM”.

These are common and recognizable forms of construction communication, but do they really tell you what’s going on? If you live or work near a construction zone, chances are you’d like a little more background on the meaning behind your extended commute.

Effective construction communication can be the difference between a widely accepted and championed project, and one that upsets and aggravates a community. Like everything else, you can never over-communicate, and a strategic communications plan tied into construction activities is a wise endeavor that will mitigate headaches and help keep a construction project in a favorable light.

Website: By establishing (and publicizing) a construction-specific website, or a page on a company’s website, the construction and communications teams have one central place to provide information to the community. Updates can be made in real-time, and it is an easy place to point people for project information. In order to be successful, it is critical the site be consistently updated. Old information is useless and will sabotage good intentions. Appointing a communications liaison responsible for gathering and posting relevant information will ensure a seamless chain of communication.

E-blasts: A website is great, but it is passive and relies upon the user taking the initiative to visit the site on his or her own. While essential, it will not reach a target audience if they don’t know about it. E-blasts are an excellent way to reach constituents and alert them of upcoming changes in traffic or site work and how it will affect them. Keep emails direct, simple, and clear, and always point readers back to the website for additional information. The critical piece here is reaching the proper audience. Establish an e-mail address collection program through any channel you can, from sign-ups on the company’s website and collection at town meetings to obtaining addresses during phone surveys. If unable to reach individuals, make sure the news is distributed to administrators of office parks, company representatives, neighborhood groups, schools, and community centers, as well as local print and broadcast media, as appropriate.

Project Boards: Most construction companies hang large company banners on site, and it’s not unusual to see additional details posted nearby about the intended use of the project. Find out if it’s possible to post a clearly written billboard-style sign on site that alerts passers-by to the website URL and key project team-member firms.

Town Hall Meetings: It’s a wise idea to hold a town-hall style meeting at the beginning and at major milestones throughout the project to let the community come together to hear consistent information and to ask pertinent questions. Not only does this give neighbors a forum to hear about the project directly from the decision makers, it also gives project team members insight into issues of priority in the community. This is an ideal time to hand out project-related materials, alert constituents about the website and planned methods of communication, and provide face-time between project leaders and concerned citizens.

Social Media: In addition to the website and e-blasts, social media is the perfect tool for keeping people informed. Set up a Twitter account, Facebook page, and easily remembered hashtag to keep people informed in real-time.

Figurehead: Having a project figurehead is an important piece of this process. Constituents want to know who they can talk to when something goes wrong, or if a particular need isn’t being met. Hopefully, positive project feedback will be received as well! A high-level individual representing the owner, contractor, architect, or a combination of all three is most appropriate. This person or group of people will present information at town meetings, and will be the signatory/ies on more individualized missives (such as e-blasts). This is where the communication buck stops, and from whom effective communication flows.

Contacts: There is nothing more frustrating than trying to reach someone in charge, and not having direct and easy access to that person. Throughout every mode of construction communication, easy contact access is essential. Providing a construction-specific email address is favorable, and quick response is essential in maintaining positive community relations. This email address and the website URL should be on every printed and digital piece of communication, and should be reiterated verbally as often as possible.

Consistency is key, which is why having a clear internal chain of command is also essential. Construction management should understand the process for alerting the community liaison of upcoming construction issues, so they can effectively convey information to the community.

Fluent construction communication is an easily attainable way to maintain project support, and should be implemented before site work even begins.

Questions or comments? Start a conversation on Twitter at @RhinoPR_Jen.

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