Building the new rules of engagement

Thursday 04 February, 2016

It is an exciting time to be involved in the Scottish property industry.

Confidence and investment seem to be returning to the marketplace from a range of sources, helping to make Edinburgh Europe’s most invested city, with Glasgow not too far behind.

These grand plans – and their subsequent planning controversies – are changing the very heart and soul of our cities.

With this renewed confidence comes a need to engage with our audiences throughout the lifespan of any development project. It has changed the very nature of how we deliver communications for the property market.

As the director of Weber Shandwick’s property division in Scotland, I’ve spent the last 15 years working on some of the most complex and debated developments in Scotland, in good times and bad.
Over the years we’ve developed a series of tried and tested methodologies to engage with our audiences, from the start of the consultation process, right through to construction, marketing and selling to new occupiers. In the traditional marketplace, these were separated, almost to the point of being compartmentalised, to reflect their different needs and objectives.

The traditional way of thinking was divided between sorting out the planning, getting the building built and then making that building attractive to commercial audiences. These three phases would be almost entirely separated.

The change in Scotland’s cities has altered this approach drastically, and in doing so has had a major impact on how we at Weber Shandwick are managing the communication process. We’re living in exciting times.

The confidence and investment in the market has brought a new-found ambition and vision to developers. They are taking on increasingly complex and challenging regeneration projects, right in the aged – and sensitive – hearts of our cities.

Areas such as the Old Town of Edinburgh and Merchant City in Glasgow are being transformed thanks to the confidence of developers. As a result, eye-catching creativity has fuelled huge public debate about how our cities should take shape. Social media has offered the public a platform to engage in this debate more than ever, with their views reported across mainstream media.

The public nature of this debate can now have a massive impact on a project’s long-term reputation, and how it is perceived throughout the development process. Get your messages right from the start of the process and you have a great platform to build on, literally and metaphorically. Get it wrong, and your project could be forever haunted by controversy and negativity; a difficult reputation to shift during a project’s lifespan.

It’s vital to create a very definited sense of place, right from the genesis of any development. Gap sides – especially those which have been left unused for a long time – are beginning to re-join the rest of the city. That city will have an insatiable desire to genuinely understand what their future will look and feel like, and it’s the responsibility of the developers to feed that desire.

Computer generated imagery has played a huge part, allowing us to visualise a virtual city centre, invariably packed with al-fresco dining, modern art and unbroken sunshine. We can now literally bring a development to life and show the world what a fantastic location it can be.

Our cities are full of examples of fantastic temporary areas – from grassed areas to temporary allotments, art projects to pop-up hotels – what better way to sell a project than by getting people to visit it? All of this means that the feel-good factor we experience at the start of a development can directly influence the perception in the market place. Ultimately, it will also influence the commercial success.

We can’t separate out our strategy any more. Keeping projects “under the radar” doesn’t work. Creative engagement with our civic community has a direct and indelible link to commercial success. These are the new rules of engagement.

Originally from Project Scotland