What did this client want Bellenden to do for them?
In 2012, Barratt Developments plc set Bellenden the challenge of improving relationships with local authority stakeholders and MPs so that there was a more positive view of the company’s housing schemes and a better understanding of the commercial requirements of new developments.
Any potential pitfalls you needed to take into account?
In depth MORI research amongst local authorities had demonstrated that there were legacy issues associated with the brand and these were acute where councillors were aware of Barratt, but had not worked with the company recently. Conversely, the research showed that where there had been in-depth, quality contact perceptions improved dramatically. However, the research concluded that the level of contact was too ad hoc to transform the company’s reputation and that in some areas councillors were concerned about speaking directly to house-builders.
OK, and what was your grand plan to tackle this?
Barratt had previously concentrated their efforts on communicating with local audiences about specific housing development proposals. The strategy was to move from reactive site-specific communication, to proactive engagement across all levels of government, including councillors, council leaders, MPs, council chief executives and local authority planning officers ahead of specific proposals.
Bellenden and Barratt prioritised councils where Barratt wished to build homes but had little recent experience and no live planning applications. Barratt’s local MDs were trained to think in terms of providing a solution to local housing need.
The approach was piloted in Northamptonshire, and Barratt and Bellenden then identified 12 locations across the UK where it wanted to build relationships for future developments.
Messaging was tailored to local priorities, emphasising that Barratt was committed to working in partnership, consulting with communities and councils, creating local jobs and providing high-quality design and sustainability.
A top down approach was designed to complement the bottom up council by council approach. This focused on local audiences but drove a step change in the level of contact by: sponsoring party conference receptions; dinners with opinion formers; third-party endorsement; site visits; and liaison with MPs. Bellenden created extensive content including leaflets, adverts, briefing documents and position papers to support the campaign.
Sounds good. What outcome did all this have on your client’s business?
The campaign resulted in greater understanding by local government figures of the improvements Barratt has made to its design quality, environmental standards and community consultations, and councillors understood and accepted the benefits of engaging with developers beyond site-specific development.
Barratt’s divisional MDs now have a consistent approach for engaging with local stakeholders. Councils are also identifying new sites for housing – from abandoned hospitals and factories to old tips - and approaching Barratt for help.
No other UK housing developer has ever run a bottom-up, proactive, issues- led campaign to engage local authority decision-makers, outside of specific planning applications, and combined this with top-down national engagement.
The campaign is transforming Barratt’s reputation and has improved relationships with local authority stakeholders and MPs, putting it at the heart of the discussion on building more homes across the UK.
Impressive. Any gems of wisdom you learned from working on this that you’d like to pass on?
Communications need to be multi-tiered but consistent across every level of government and an issue-led approach is the only way to engage with politicians.