How to Get Public Support for Your New Park
Editor’s Note: Al Maiorino, president of Public Strategy Group Inc., Boston, provided the following advisory on how to work with the public on issues such as developing an RV park. The firm is a leading public affairs firm specializing in issue advocacy and grassroots campaigns. He has successfully run and won corporate campaigns involving land use difficulties, legislative advocacy issues for large and small companies ranging from Fortune 100 clients to smaller firms, and voter referendum campaigns. In regards to land use politics and campaigns that counter Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) opposition, he has worked on projects as big as major airports to as small as a housing development. On legislative issues he has had clients and consulted on federal, state and local issue advocacy campaigns. For more information visit www.publicstrategygroup.com.
With a slow economy, pricey housing, an aging population, more retirees and many snowbirds, RV park development is growing. While the RV parks have many benefits, public opposition to them is coming along with it. Often, nearby residents are concerning about rumors such as rising crime in the area and general sprawl and growth.
Having been in the business of running public affairs campaigns to build public support for controversial projects for nearly 20 years, I can tell you that the key piece of the puzzle missed by developers in their public outreach strategy is the “campaign” style approach the opponents seem to do so well.
Too often RV park developers do not offer up an aggressive public affairs campaign when they announce a project, often letting crucial time pass between the announcement of a proposal and when public outreach begins. Opponents use this time to build opposition and sway residents against these projects. By running a political-style campaign, you can reach all residents, identify the supporters, and harness them into action for your project. Here are some crucial tactics that RV parks should consider in their outreach efforts:
- Announce your proposal wisely – When announcing a project, have a few pieces of direct mail ready to hit all the households in the host community to spread the positive benefits of the project. Follow this up with newspaper web ads, and phone banking of the community to, again, further identify supporters. Have an open house to answer residents’ questions and recruit supporters. All of this should be done in the first few weeks after announcing a project, to not allow the opposition to gel and take over the narrative. Too often companies allow precious time between announcing a project, and disseminating information to the community.
- Meet with identified supporters – Once you have a database of supporters built from the mailers, ads and phone calls, the developer should meet with them so that they know they are not alone in their support, and they are a grassroots force that can begin to write letters to public officials, the newspapers, and attend key public hearings and speak out. Rarely will a supporter write a letter for you or attend and speak at a public hearing if you have not had the face to face contact with them previously.
- Build grasstops support – In addition to reaching out to residents, stakeholders and well-known members of the community, along with businesses, associations, and other civic groups should also be met with to attempt to bring on board for support.
- Keep an updated database – As you begin to identify supporters of your project, that information should be put in a database to refer to throughout the entitlement process of your proposal. Coding your supporters by local legislative districts can also help if you need to target a particular local legislator who may be wavering in support.
The key goal of these types of campaigns is to never allow the opponents an opportunity to seize the moment because of inaction by the developer. Just announcing an RV park project is not enough to assume that everyone will be on board to support it. By running an aggressive campaign and identifying supporters, you have taken a key step of any successful campaign. Knowing what to do with the identified members of a community who support your project is the next step, and one that will allow vocal support to outnumber opponents – whether it be petitions, letters or crowds at public hearings.
In 2013 and beyond, expect NIMBY (not in my backyard) opposition to RV parks. Meeting this challenge with proven grassroots techniques will be critical to making 2013 a success for RV parks projects.