The problem with being a “Great Place to Live, Work & Play”

Traveling around as much as I do, I hear it from Mayors, I see it in community vision and mission statements, and I read it in marketing brochures. . .

[insert city name here] – “A Great Place to Live, Work and Play/Shop/Stay”

It’s been the tagline, catch phrase, sound bite, etc. for years now.  And candidates for governor and congress use it in speeches (even last night), chambers use it, downtown groups use it, economic developers use it, etc.  And this is a big problem.  So, if you’re marketing yourself as a great place to live, work and play, your community has no chance to stand out.  NO CHANCE!

Here’s why:

  1. What does this statement really tell me about your community?  Nada.  It doesn’t tell me who you are, what you have, or what’s unique.  So looking at “Anywhere: An awesome place to live, work and play” and “Lake Town: Live a Lake Life” which one do you want to know more about?  You’re community needs to be united around an identify that is unique and authentic to you.
  2. At best you’re running with the pack when using this as the fulcrum of your marketing.  I can type “great place to live work and play” into Google and get 4.35 trillion hits.  Sort through the first few pages and you’ll see community after community saying the exact same thing, along with a couple articles like this and some articles about live, work play (LWP) mixed use type projects.
  3. And the pack you’re running in is big.  It’s the more than 35,000 places in the United States that have a permanent population and buildings (Source: USGS), especially the 19,500 cities, towns and incorporated places (statista.com).

So if you’re using (or thinking about using) “Great Place to Live, Work and Play” to describe your community, STOP!  Because even declining rural communities can stake the same claim, because their declining population is less about them and more on the fact that there are better places out there to live, work and play. . . ones that have a better marketing message or that are willing to invest in the amenities and infrastructure that proves it.

Still think it doesn’t apply to every community?  Then envision the supermarket.  You may not want to buy a can of sardines, but there are cans of it on the shelf because that is what some wants to buy them.

 

Exclusive: Rhodora Annexation Reaches 60%

Working with several landowners, we recently submitted a 60% notice of intent to annex the Rhodora Area to the City of Lake Stevens.  Getting to this milestone was not easy.

The effort began last September with an analysis of the area and determination of which method of annexation method to pursue, deciding to move forward with a direct petition method annexation.

Since then we’ve spent months reaching out and meeting with nearly every property owner in the annexation area to discuss the annexation and what it means.

You can learn more about the annexation at www.toyerstrategic.com/annex

But here are examples of how we have reached out:

Mailer #1

Door Hanger #2 (Front)

Door Hanger #2 (Back)

Mailer #3

Additional Factors in Project Feasibility

Companies, especially those in real estate development, have developed comprehensive due diligence/feasibility processes to determine if a project is a go or no-go.

But even the best due diligence/feasibility processes we’ve seen lack an understanding of the ‘political’ elements impacting a project, which often results in one of two scenarios:

1. The company passes on a project in response to a perceived regulatory roadblock, which if investigated further might be easily navigated, or

2. The company proceeds with a project only to run into an ‘unexpected’ political change that threatens the entitlements they seek (e.g. moratoriums, more stringent regulations, emergency ordinances, etc.).

We’ve got solutions and here’s how we help:

  • Political & Regulatory Risk Assessments – We specialize in understanding local and state regulatory systems and we excel at researching local regulatory trends, past project results, changing political winds (example: is the no-growth neighborhood group running candidates to flip the local council/board?).  We can help your company assess the political and regulatory risks prior to your investment.
  • Reverse Engineering of Regulatory Roadblocks – Have you ever passed on a project because you ran into a single regulatory limitation that didn’t fit the project (e.g. allowed % of lot coverage was too low for your home designs)? We help companies assess regulatory roadblocks and design strategies that can change the red flag your seeing into a green light.
  • Maximizing the Project’s Value – What if you could get a little more density?  Shorten your approval by a few weeks?  Or reduce some of your project’s conditions?  We can help with that.  We understand the politics of negotiation, as well as the opportunities to speed up local regulatory processes, and we can assist you in maximizing your next project’s value.
  • Proactive Project Mine-Clearing – Developing relationships, seeking code interpretations, securing code amendments – are all efforts we can manage on your behalf prior to your next project moving forward.
  • Community Outreach – There’s nothing worse than thinking everything is going great only to go to hearing and have dozens of neighbors show up in opposition.  We are experienced at communicating with neighborhoods and adjacent landowners, and we can help your company manage long-term project risk by utilizing the opportunity to address concerns early in the process.

Want to learn more about how we can help your projects?  Contact us.

Chose Your Words Carefully

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” – Confucius

Language is complex and ever changing. But at its root, language is about telling a story. Communicating events, expressing emotions and inviting imagination to visualize what you’re saying.

So, it’s no wonder the words we use can often make a situation better or worse. The following example from one of our past projects demonstrates the challenge and explains how we coach our clients in evaluating the emotional intensity of the words they are about to use.

A few years back one of our clients sent us an “FYI” email that they had been contacted by a reporter about one of their projects and they were planning to send a quick email to respond to questions the reporter had asked.

It was 2008 and development projects weren’t attracting positive headlines. We sensed that there may be more to the reporter’s inquiry and we called the client for more details.

The client brought us up to speed that they had been sent an email from a reporter and not feeling in any danger, our client had already written an email in response. Thankfully, the client hadn’t yet hit send. The following is a generalized and simplified version of the inquiry and my client’s response:

Reporter’s email:

I have received emails and calls from a few of your customers concerned about the changes in what your units are worth and how that is going to impact their ability to finance and close on their purchases. They are growing impatient and I am considering whether to do a story. What’s your reaction?

Opening of Client’s Draft Response:

We understand that some of our customers are angry and frustrated . . .

We’d heard enough from the client, it was time we intervened.

First, the reporter was baiting the client by suggesting he was only considering whether to do a story. The reporter was most certainly going to write a story, but wanted to see what my client might say in a low pressure, less formal situation. Second, had the client sent the email response unedited we are certain the reporter’s article would have taken on a different tone.

There is a big difference between the two characterizations. Concerned and impatient customers have questions. But, angry and frustrated customers have lawyers and grudges.

Why? There was a conflict between the reporter’s and the client’s emotional intensity expressed by the words in their statements.  The reporter’s question characterized the customers as “concerned” and “impatient.” However, our client’s response characterized the customers as “angry” and “frustrated.”

There is a big difference between the two characterizations. Concerned and impatient customers have questions. But, angry and frustrated customers have lawyers and grudges.

By changing the characterization of the customer’s emotion, our client had elevated the emotional intensity of the situation, which would have reshaped how readers might interpret the customer’s situation and relate it to their own experiences as customers themselves.

Further, our client would have given the reporter no choice but to write a story and at the same time, provided a new intensity and urgency for the story.   Finally, our client’s second paragraph of their statement – a succinct and thoughtful analysis of the customer’s concerns and examples how they were working with the customers – would have taken a backseat to the visual imagery the reader of the news story would associate with “angry and frustrated” customers.

Ultimately, we helped our client respond to the reporter and avoid elevating the intensity of the story.

To further demonstrate the importance of understanding the emotional intensity of words, here is an example illustrating the range of intensity that can be associated with the emotion of anger. Think about how each makes you feel and what circumstances you associate with them.

Basic Emotion:

Angry

Lower Intensity:

Upset, concerned

Elevated Intensity:

Irritated, Offended

Highest Intensity:

Enraged, Repulsed

In Development The Sixth P is the Most Important

Regardless of what type of business you’re in, we bet you’ve heard of the five Ps before.

Unfortunately, this great example of alliteration leaves out the sixth and most important P that often has the greatest impact on real estate development: Public.

Whether you like it or not land use dictates that the ‘public’ has a say and what they say about your project will greatly impact your project’s success.  Handling communications on your project in a manner that properly engages the public (e.g. adjacent property owners, environmental groups, community services, etc.) has never been more critical.

Want to know how well this works?  Ask Hillary Clinton.  In politics this is called the drip, drip, drip. . . Your urgency to fight ‘fires’ will lead to inconsistent responses, multiple spokespeople and more negative attention as mistakes in your message are made.

Changing technology and faster ways to communicate are not making more people aware of business transactions and pending developments than ever before, but they given them great power to be heard by large numbers of others.

We recommend that our clients spend time during their project planning to identify a communications strategy that helps ensure their projects aren’t subject to being taken over by things like social media activism.

First, let’s talk about 3 mistakes real estate companies often make when dealing with the public:

  1. They get too dependent on labeling their work with “Confidential” and “Proprietary.” The fear of information getting out about a project (impacting the price, terms, closing, etc.) is often the biggest reason why a company is ill prepared when the public becomes aware of their project.  The results are even worse if the project generates any controversy.    Regardless of what steps you think you’ve taken to keep your project secret, it won’t stay secret.  Information inevitably gets out as your employees talk about work, your vendors brag about getting the bid or your project submits the first application seeking a public approval (e.g. zoning, permitting).  Just remember, you’re only one tweet away from a crisis unless you’re prepared in advance.
  2. They respond to speculation/public comment on a case-by-case basis because they don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to themselves.  Want to know how well this works?  Ask Hillary Clinton.  In politics this is called the drip, drip, drip.  If your company lacks even a basic communications strategy or a plan for public comments (e.g. letters to the editor, open letters via Facebook, etc.), things will only get worse when you try to individually respond to each rumor, tweet or news inquiry.  Avoid the desire to have a communications strategy that mirrors how you use email.  Your urgency to fight ‘fires’ will lead to inconsistent responses, multiple spokespeople and more negative attention as mistakes in your message are made.
  3. They avoid diplomacy and prepare for war.  More so in land use projects than any other endeavor, the tendency of companies is to prepare for combat with the public and the neighbors.  However, in many cases the minor issues that cause major headaches can be worked out in advance of public processes by having a plan to meet with and listen to these public ‘fuses’ that can represent the start of your troubles.  I’ve seen too many projects where a conversation about planting a few perimeter trees, building a fence or donating to the fire department could have saved the project from public critique and time consuming delays.

Now, here are four tips to help your next real estate project:

  1. Have a plan.  Develop a proactive company communications plan or at least craft a project communications strategy that anticipates likely public objections and identifies who on the project is responsible for all public comments.
  2. Involve and train your employees. Make sure they clearly understand their responsibilities and who you have designated as your spokesperson.  Moreover, don’t be afraid to ask what challenges they think you will encounter and see if they’ve heard or overhead the early reactions of adjacent landowners, the grocery store clerk or anyone else. As they say, listen with many ears and speak with one voice.  Lastly, make sure that whoever is speaking on behalf of your company has some formal training (e.g. NAHB spokesperson training, etc.).
  3. Think less like a business and speak more like the girl/guy next door.  A project’s neighbor doesn’t care about how your project will help the local economy, how affordable your housing will be or how what you’ve proposed is consistent with the comprehensive plan.  To them, it’s much more personal.  So, you need to brainstorm how someone outside your company will react to what you’re proposing.  Then put together a strategy that identifies their likely concerns and effectively communicates on a level they will listen and engage.  And whatever you do, don’t let a project engineer be the spokesperson – engineer speak is a foreign language when spoken in a public meeting concerning a project.
  4. Don’t be afraid to hire a professional. A professional can not only help you create an effective plan or train a spokesperson within your company, but they can also help you determine if certain projects or initiatives require more intense upfront planning, such as polling, focus groups or message development.