Our client – an established, highly regarded commercial real estate firm – provides a wide range of services including development, construction, property management, and building services. The firm, which works with numerous major national corporations, as well as various government agencies, has won numerous industry awards over the course of its 50-plus years in business.
When a government agency alleged that our client was responsible for building a public structure that contained defects making it potentially unsafe, Pugh & Tiller (formerly Weiss PR) was engaged to help them restore their formerly stellar reputation. Complicating the situation was the fact that the government agency had been attacking the firm publicly for more than a year before we were retained to handle crisis communications. During that time, our client felt it was in their best interests not to engage with the media or defend its actions publicly.
As a result of our client’s determination not to debate the issues surrounding the project, media coverage only provided one side of the story, namely that of the responsible government agency. That led the media – and the public – to conclude that the charges leveled by the government agency must have some validity. Gradually, this almost daily barrage of negative coverage began to take its toll on the firm’s other business, as prospects and clients shied away, concerned about being too closely associated with the firm. In the words of the firm’s CEO, the firm “was beginning to die.”
Working in conjunction with the legal and public affairs teams, we developed an aggressive campaign designed to bring balance to the public perception of the project by shedding light on the actions and inactions of both the government agency and the other companies involved in the project. We recommended positioning the firm’s CEO as spokesperson because we felt that his straight-forward approach and strong record of community involvement would make him a respected and authoritative, yet sympathetic figure with whom the public could identify. We developed readily understood messaging which cut through some of the more complex issues surrounding the project while addressing inaccuracies which had been accepted as fact. Given the CEO’s lack of experience in dealing with the media, we ruled out doing a news conference and opted instead for one-on-one interviews which allowed his personality to shine through. Finally, we decided our client should always be available to the media, providing insights on the project while enabling the media to better understand the role of each of the parties.
As might be expected, our client’s willingness to finally talk to the media and explain his firm’s position garnered a great deal of attention. While perceptions did not change overnight, media coverage gradually began to shift from negative to neutral to positive. The media began questioning others involved in the project, raising hard questions which had not previously been asked regarding the role each of the parties played. Reporters also expressed their appreciation for our client’s willingness to make himself available. As coverage began to shift, we launched a stream of positive publicity about other projects being handled by the firm, as well as information about its active role in the community. Gradually, our client’s reputation was restored as both the media and the public began to disassociate the firm from the problems plaguing the public structure.
Commercial Real Estate
Crisis Communications & Issues Management