Involving PR and comms teams at the earliest possible stages of any project, and engaging positively with a range of communities, stakeholders, partners and clients were the major themes to emerge at a typically insightful Infrastructure Intelligence webinar on Friday 17 June.
Shaping the narrative of any campaign from the start, positive collaboration, and not being afraid to get the right messages across all figured highly on the agenda of four leading industry PR’s at the webinar, organised in association with events and communications specialists BECG.
Given the importance of the industry to the nation’s health and wealth, the panellists outlined what, and how, construction and infrastructure companies need to do to ensure that their work is better promoted - and that they receive due credit for the impact they make on society.
Alicia de Haldevang, UK Public Relations Manager at Stantec, opened the discussion by concentrating on communicating with a client audience. She said: “The industry should collaborate and involve communications teams at the earliest possible stages. Together we can help shape the narrative and language, highlight the points that people care about the most, be it the environment, social impact, or any other vital area.
“We also need to encourage wider communications sharing within businesses – communications shouldn’t just be the remit of your communications team! We all have a responsibility to share our accolades, successes, and learnings, and not rely on company social media posts.”
Jo Field, Founder & Chief Executive of JFG Communications, discussed the importance of early and consistent engagement with local communities and stakeholders. She said: “Projects are about people. You have to think about the customer or end-user and the communities you are impacting along the way. This means you have to bring people with you on the journey, and they have to help shape the project. Many projects simply won’t happen unless they have stakeholder cheerleaders to enable them to get the planning approvals needed to go ahead.
“The construction sector offers exciting projects to work on that create jobs, growth and social benefits for communities. But the industry needs to get better at shouting about the great work it is doing, which will be crucial in attracting a more diverse workforce.
“My top tips for improving construction communications are to engage early and often with the communities you are working in, ensure local people have opportunities to shape the project, and partner with supportive stakeholders to amplify your message.”
Emily Ashwell, Communications Manager at AECOM, backed the first two speakers and highlighted the importance of preparation before embarking on a successful campaign. She said: “Before any campaign goes live, there’s a huge amount of work to be undertaken behind the scenes to agree messaging and achieve buy-in from different parts of the business and industry. This is where communications plays a crucial role, helping stakeholders to see the bigger picture and understanding the importance of wider messaging rather than it being siloed specifically around their own workstream or business.”
James Bird, Director at the hugely influential Cavendish Advocacy, highlighted the importance of getting the construction industry’s message across to government. He said: “The industry needs to make sure the narrative is right for the policy agenda of today and tomorrow, and being seen to add value to the agenda - not just going in with asks. That means being creative and not being afraid to get the right message across.
“The construction industry is crucial to the government’s levelling up and sustainability agenda. From innovation around MMC and robotics, to delivering vital infrastructure and skilled jobs, the sector is critical to securing UK growth and it should not be afraid to showcase its contribution.”
A range of questions were highlighted during the discussion, including how to help SMEs who may feel they do not have the time or resources to embrace a communications strategy.
But the panel agreed there were steps any company could take to start shouting about the excellent work they do.
Having a realistic and proactive plan, using social media, being visible at events and thinking about what you can talk confidently about were all seen as great ways to make those first steps. Many SMEs are likely to be locally based, so reaching out to local media would also be a positive move.
Emily added: “Before you start any PR think about what you want to achieve which will affect where you direct resources. Remember to play to your strengths.”
Infrastructure Intelligence editor Rob O’Connor said: “We’ve had literally dozens of webinars over the last couple of years, covering a huge range of hot topics. And the subject of communications and PR has always popped up, with people thinking construction could often do a lot more to get its positive messages across.
“So we decided to do something about it, and having four of the industry’s top PR and communications specialists here with us today gave us a fantastic insight into how the industry as a whole can, should, and usually does, reach a range of different audiences.”
The Infrastructure Intelligence Live series of events is organised in association with our strategic partner, BECG.