Sustainable Project Managers Must ‘Know the Enemy’

by | Dec 8, 2011

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss… If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself. — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Most of us are familiar with a more common version of this ancient saying- know your enemy. Sun Tzu was a praised military general and a genius strategist in ancient China. His The Art of War is still considered one of the most significant works on warfare. Of course, some of his tactics are obsolete today, but the concept of studying one’s enemy before devising a strategy is still very much alive.

Knowing who you are about to face is crucial in any battle, be it a spelling bee contest or a business negotiation. Even in situations where “enemy” is not exactly a correct term to use, studying your opponent will likely give you an upper hand. In industries like renewable energy, where opposition to a new project is probable, it is always a good idea to do your homework and study the people you will be working with (or maybe even against) to succeed.

Before you begin to formulate an outline for your public relations campaign, you should carry out thorough research. This research should mainly focus on two things: evaluating the local demographics and studying the members of the governing bodies who will be making the decisions regarding your development. Both subjects are equally important. You have to be aware of the community’s general attitude toward your project. You also need to be familiar with the boards and commissions that will influence the outcome of your proposal.

First and foremost, you need to identify and create a database of local residents who are in favor, against, or undecided about the project. A good way to begin is to carry out a poll or a phone bank, and to inquire with local residents on their views of economic development and your specific project plan. You need to establish and evaluate the break down of the opinions regarding your proposal among the members of the local community. The strategy of your PR campaign will greatly depend on how many residents support or oppose the project. You also have to investigate additional factors that influence a particular opinion, for example, marital status, education, occupation and personal background, whether they own businesses and/or property etc. This information combined should give you a clear picture of whether a resident will support or oppose your development and why. Your PR approach will adjust accordingly.

The second thing you should focus your research on is the governing body that will be making the decision regarding the construction of your development. You need to investigate the members of the governing body and how they are likely to vote. Any type of information-from their party affiliations to religious views-may come in handy. Therefore, your research should be deep and thorough-no detail is too small. You also need to be aware of the boards and commissions that may influence the decision-making process. Depending on your project you may have to face the planning board and/or the zoning board, the environmental committee, the preservation commission and possibly others. Knowing who exactly you are going up against will increase your chances of winning.

Your final step should be evaluating the ‘track record’ of how the city has reacted to proposals that were similar in nature to yours. Has there been an attempt to build a biomass power plant or a wind farm? The attitudes toward a similar renewable energy venture in the past will most likely translate to your project as well. Likewise, if the city and its residents favor economic development they may view your proposal as an opportunity.
Regardless of the size of your project, or the extent of the impact it may have on the local communities, most likely some level of opposition is inevitable. To tackle this challenge most effectively you should know who exactly your are going up against. Depending on the nature and the specifics of your proposal you may either have to briefly investigate the community or carry out a thorough and detailed research. Either way, doing your homework and ‘knowing your enemy’ is always a good strategy in Public Relations.

Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1995. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American Studies from the University of Connecticut.

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