While large-scale construction and infrastructure projects can help to positively transform a community, it’s not always so easy for residents to see it that way. When it comes to creating healthy dialogue between builders, stakeholders and the community, partnering with communication experts can be an invaluable approach to opening the lines of communication and ensuring positive outcomes for all involved.
PRR Inc. is a woman-owned, integrated communications firm serving all facets of the construction industry, acting as the intermediary between construction companies, government agencies and the people they serve. Founded in 1981, the Seattle-based firm has a nationwide reach, with offices in Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, Norfolk, Virginia, and Portland, Oregon.
“We were founded on public involvement and inclusive community-based decision making. Our projects are really about connecting communities when it comes to the construction of roadways, bridges, green stormwater infrastructure, and buildings — making sure infrastructure fits into the fabric of the community,” says Colleen Gants, co-president of PRR. “We call that human-powered places.”
Improving construction through communication
PRR’s public involvement strategists and trained facilitators help build public trust, inform stakeholders and manage emerging issues on a range of construction projects, from design-build efforts to public-private partnerships.
“If you just come in and say we’re going to widen this road near your home, there will be outrage. You have to engage residents and seek their input. You need to address their needs, hopes and aspirations while also helping them understand the project needs; and sometimes change the design based on that input — you can’t just put down a solution to a problem people may not even know they have,” says Gants.
Technology is fast becoming an effective way to engage communities. PRR can help construction companies and municipalities mitigate the potentially negative public impact of a given project by engaging in constant communication with and feedback from the effected community. One way the company has achieved this is by utilizing “in the moment” research — collecting community feedback in real time through the use of text message-based polls and surveys. “That has been extremely helpful because we can gather input at the site at the moment people want to express themselves,” she says.
In addition to research, public involvement and facilitation for construction projects, PRR offers a full range of marketing and public relations services, including media training for construction professionals, media outreach, crisis communications, communication planning, social and digital media, design, video production, event planning and advertising. “All too frequently, executives or project managers shy away from the media because they don’t feel comfortable,” says Gants. PRR often prepares a briefing book highlighting relevant topics and talking points, provides media training, and accompanies clients to interviews and press conferences.
One of the fastest growing sectors of PRR’s construction communications business is its creative studio, which produces visual media, including interactive digital video, to help clients and the public visualize a project’s real-life impact. “Video has been helpful because it provides an effective visualization of what a project will feel like in the future and how it fits into a community,” says Gants.
The company also supports commercial development helping both contractors and developers attract tenants when their projects are finally unveiled. “It’s taken human-powered places to a whole new level,” Gants says.
A passion for construction PR
Gants credits much of the company’s success to PRR’s employee base. “It’s a rare and unique skill set to be passionate about construction when you’re in communications, but we’ve people who specialize in it and love it,” she says. “It’s engaging work, allowing face-to-face interactions. We are proud of our ability to help individuals improve their lives by helping to improve their communities.”
While these employees come from every corner of the communications field, Gants says that journalists, marketing experts and campaign workers are often the best fit. “The people who come from the campaign industry are used to going out into the public and talking with people, as well as being able to work with executive-level people,” Gants says.
Technology presents a huge opportunity for civic engagement, bringing into the fold those who might otherwise be too busy or disinterested to attend an in-person forum or meeting. “These days, residents do not always have time to drop everything and go to an open house. The firm also facilitates community conversations around construction projects through the use of Web-based forums where stakeholders can meet to discuss their concerns. If we put something online, where they can listen to a narrated discussion and answer a few questions, we can integrate our community engagement, digital platform and research, all in one place.”
With a presence in five major cities across the country, PRR is looking to expand its geographical footprint even further in the near future. PRR’s employees will go wherever a job takes them, and several of the company’s 80-plus employees are often at clients’ construction sites full-time. While this ensures the highest standard of service and communication, it does present some challenges from a human resources perspective. “These people are rarely if ever in a PRR office and the question is how do you make them still feel like part of the company? It’s a challenge, but one we’re working hard to perfect,” she says.
PRR is on par to have one of its best years on record, and the future looks just as bright as the company continues to expand its slate of services and expand its geographic footprint. With a passionate team, rebounding construction industry and dedication to integrating digital solutions into the public feedback process, PRR Inc. will continue to lead the industry as a premier construction communications specialist.
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