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For years, when working on a real estate or transportation project, the developer or public entity leading the project was often seen front-and-center. This is still the case in many developments, but increasingly the architect, engineering firm, or construction company is finding itself in the public spotlight. Those types of firms have not traditionally invested in community relations programs. As players behind the scenes, they weren’t called on for significant interaction with the public and key other constituencies. All of that has changed in the wake of the Great Recession and the return of large-scale public projects, especially in the transportation sector. As A/C/E firms become more central players — and often pointed at as the scapegoat when a projects takes a bad turn — community relations and external communications should take greater priority.

Tony Robbins, the iconic motivational speaker and author, often says that it’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently. This statement can just as easily be applied to companies. Organizations are defined by what they do day after day and how they talk about themselves. If your firm has conflicting or even inconsistent messages, it will be much more difficult to highlight what makes you unique and why a potential customer or client should hire you. Just think about it. If all of your employees have different answers when asked about your company’s services or vision, what does that mean? If you have difficulty explaining who you are and what you do, why should others work with you?

When one thinks about a brand, we often recall consumer products like cereal, coffee, or even cars. However, brands are also important for real estate and senior living projects. The typical consumer (including businesses) has a visceral sense of what a brand means to them. This can be grounded in fact or through perceptions collected by external forces such as news outlets, friends, colleagues, and even social media.

I was skimming through my issue of Virginia Living magazine recently and found myself motivated to try some of the restaurants that were featured in their annual ‘Best of’ list. Realistically, I am not going to drive to Warrenton or Roanoke to get a burger – but the list did get me thinking about the power that lists/awards/rankings have on consumers. We are instinctually driven to products or services that have been “credentialed” by an outside party.

As anyone who is involved in the real estate or A/C/E industries know, a project – no matter what the size – involves a variety of moving pieces. It takes skill and a great deal of planning to effectively execute and construct a public or private building, transportation project, etc. One thing that has added to that complexity is public involvement. Since the start of the Great Recession, hundreds of projects across the Commonwealth have been stymied due to an influx of interest in real estate projects. From apartment buildings to major mixed-use communities, everything that seems to come to the table nowadays is subject to scrutiny.