Yesterday I had the privilege of chairing an interesting discussion event at the Cube Gallery, Manchester, hosted by the Centre for Construction Innovation and Salford University. The theme was Communications in the Built Environment, and delegates came from the world of construction, manufacturing, consulting, government, and of course one or two PR and marketing people.
Joining me on the panel were Luke Manning, a former journalist turned founder of digital agency Rolling Thunder, and James Mottram, CIO at Balfour Beatty Rail.
The topic was introduced with one simple idea: do nothing or do something. In the media – from trade press to national news to social media – there are conversations and stories being talked about every day that are directly relevant to you, whether you participate or not. These represent either threats or opportunities for your reputation, so when it comes to PR and communications you have two choices: bury your head or take some control.
The discussion was thrown open to the floor: how many of you actually do participate? A heartening sea of hands. It’s great to see that in a sector that has been as hard-hit as the built environment in recent years, communications seem to be back on the agenda.
The topic of the event was deliberately kept very open. We invited the floor to take the conversation in whichever direction they wanted, taking in reputation management, product marketing, crisis planning, stakeholder engagement, behavioural change and internal communications. It rapidly became clear that the overriding theme everybody wanted to discuss was social media.
Once again, there was an extremely positive sense in the room that organisations are seeing the benefit of good social communications and content marketing, with particularly vocal advocates from contractors such as Galliford Try and F Parkinson. Case studies were discussed of how companies have built networks, established relationships with influencers, disseminated content and even done deals via LinkedIn and Twitter – led by Luke Manning who showed how he had launched one of his side projects – a record label – entirely on social media. The discussion then concluded with the topic of stakeholder engagement, with a discussion introduced by a delegate from Transport for Greater Manchester on the need to take a marketing approach when consulting and communicating with the public. Here James Mottram was able to share an illuminating case study from his time at Transport for London, when used creative visual and comms tactics including holograms and film to win support for a major change initiative.
While barriers do exist in the built environment sector – as they do in every other – it was extremely encouraging to see how so many people have overcome such concerns as cost, risk and organisational complexity, and benefited from a proactive approach to PR.
Oliver is a Director of Admiral PR, based in our Manchester Office, with a specialist knowledge of the education and built environment sectors.