“Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) is a term used to describe a person or a group of people who strongly oppose new development in their communities. Whether it’s a new housing complex, retail development, casino, or power plant, NIMBYs—as they are commonly called—will actively organize to communicate their opposition to a local project in an effort to curb development. These days, the “backyard” in NIMBY has grown so vast that residents often oppose airplane flight paths, offshore wind, and liquefied natural gas terminals.
Often it seems that NIMBY activists are simply in it to win it. They sometimes speak out without taking the time to educate themselves with accurate information pertaining to the development at hand. While NIMBY groups may protest loud and proud, their motives often seem to stem from misinformation and poor communication between project representatives and the community.
So how does a company relay factual information regarding a project to the general public? It’s simple. It hires a grassroots public affairs firm (special pleading here, that’s what we do) to enlist community support and engage conversation relating to the project. We commonly hear from a company facing strong project opposition that “we have everything under control” or “we have a public relations firm in place.” Fast forward two weeks, and it is front page news that their project has been defeated.
The fact of the matter is, many PR firms are not experienced with the grassroots techniques needed to find local supporters to speak out on projects and win a campaign. Rallying this local support is a key component to any contentious proposal. By finding these local allies and forming a supporter coalition, developers are able to build support for their project from day one.
Here are three key elements in a successful campaign to respond to NIMBY concerns.
1. Creating a Supporter Database
Coalition building creates social change in a community that is being flanked with negativity. A common goal of building and bettering the community helps supporters bring a logical voice and a positive attitude to any new development project. Instead of focusing on the picketers outside of a public hearing, developers need to concentrate on gaining this support with a variety of tactics commonly used to battle the NIMBY issue.
Obtaining supportive reinforcement means knowing whom to target. Preliminary research of the town or community is pertinent in the first stages of a development project. This includes not only a thorough analysis of the demographics of the area but also the opinions and political agendas of leading local officials and legislators. Research of third-party organizations, including nonprofit agencies and business groups, will help identify a potential support network. This often leads to a helping hand if they may have something to gain from the development.
2. Sending the Message
Once the developer has filed an application with the local jurisdiction, a press release announcing the project and introducing the public to basic facts about the development can often eliminate rumors and misinterpretations from NIMBY groups. Soon after the release hits, an introductory mail piece should be distributed to all households to keep the idea of your new development fresh in their minds; materials like direct mailers, e-mail reminders, and newspaper ads remind potential supporters of the advantages that a new development will bring.
3. Banding Together
Local residents who want to see economic development or positive change in their community will help out in any way they can. Of course, some may be more vocal than others.
A good tactic may be to pinpoint those “super supporters” who are willing to write letters to local newspapers and decision makers, both in support of the project and as a factual rebuttal to any NIMBY arguments. Perhaps these residents in favor are willing to participate, and even help with the planning of meetings that reinforce the coalition and allow other supporters to come out for the cause. Benefits of the “super supporters” are invaluable. This includes their willingness to post lawn signs addressing the issue at hand, gather petition signatures, or simply make phone calls that engender further support.
—Al Maiorino is president of Public Strategy Group, Inc., a public affairs firm based in Rochester, N.Y., that describes itself as specializing in “grassroots campaigns for development projects that are experiencing community opposition or extensive hurdles.”