Monday, September 8, 2008, 4:35 PM

Never underestimate the gadfly

We have all encountered the gadfly. Maybe it was that neighbor gathering signatures to stop construction of an adjacent retail center. Or the guy e-mailing community alerts "exposing" the local manufacturing plant. Too often companies - including developers, construction companies, and manufacturers - dismiss the gadfly as the lonely voice of opposition. This is a dangerous strategy. After all, one company's gadfly could be an entire community's hero. And an organization that ignores local sentiment is inviting public relations challenges.

Here's one example: Renewable energy companies are suffering the loss of $2 million in energy grants in South Carolina thanks in part to the grassroots advocacy of Greenville resident Edward "Ned" Sloan.

Here's another: San Francisco gadfly Rob Anderson almost single-handedly halted San Francisco's bike lane plan because, he argued, it was bad for the environment.

One more: Southlake Texas residents are fighting back against a mixed-use development that they believe encroaches on their neighborhoods, leaving developers scrambling to make concessions.

A company's public relations strategy must account for community sentiment, even if it's driven by just one persistent citizen. Reporters love to elevate the gadlfy to special status (see above), whether he/she has the community's backing or not. If your company's work has an indirect impact on local communities - traffic, noise pollution, hazardous materials - ask yourself: could today's gadfly be tomorrow's public relations nightmare?


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