The defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline has revealed the growing political influence and power of special interests campaigning under the banner of NIMBY. Often thought of as a local phenomenon led by fearful homeowners, NIMBY activism has evolved into a political enterprise led by seasoned operatives who consistently orchestrate grassroots campaigns to block public policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels.
The prominence of the Internet, an explosive 24-hour news cycle, and, more recently, evolving digital channels have made the permitting process antiquated and vulnerable to activist attacks. Some activist groups have even published playbooks on how to manipulate the process, which partially explains how they consistently delay, disrupt, and defeat thousands of projects across the country.
The untold story behind the success of the NIMBY phenomenon is the absence of PR, which is responsible for protecting a corporation's reputation and promoting its narrative to multiple stakeholders, but it's largely missing in the siting and permitting process.
This abdicates the credibility and citizenship of a corporation to activist attacks. These attacks reduce social equity and increase political risks, which prevents the now damaged corporation from earning the social license to operate from a vital stakeholder – the community at large.
A recent Hill+Knowlton Strategies poll showed that 65% of Americans do not trust corporations to do the right thing, which explains why more than 62% ranked meeting community leaders as the most meaningful way to communicate with the public.
In other words, corporate leaders must engage in PR and give the public a seat at the table.
PR is the secret and sustainable solution to building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders who help secure the social license to operate. Activists already know this secret, which is why they come out early to destroy the credibility of the corporation in the news media.
Corporations that elevate the role of PR can strategically integrate their communication assets and significantly reduce the political, social, and financial risks associated with public distrust and activism.
The result will be more project approvals in less time and at significant savings.
Patrick Slevin is an SVP at Hill+Knowlton Strategies who directs the firm's corporate campaigns and stakeholder engagement practice. The former mayor of Safety Harbor, FL, he is a national speaker and writer on overcoming activist opposition.