The UK construction industry’s reputation is the result of what it does, what it says and what others say about it. It can’t control the latter – it can only control its own behaviour and communications.
The CIPR has been running a 12 days of Christmas CPD campaign highlighting some of the information, guidance and ideas generated by the Institute and its members this year. On the seventh day of Christmas my Institute gave to me: #PR2015: “a free 28-page downloadable guide to the biggest trends and issues affecting public relations in 2015. It covers sector-specific issues from a regional, national and international perspective.”
I wrote the CIPR construction and property special interest group (CAPSIG) contribution to this document, still dwelling on the “Image of the construction industry” issues raised during two conferences I attended in November. This is what I wrote:
While many are rightly keen to present a more professional image of the public relations industry, the traditional media image of other business sectors – such as construction – is a continuing challenge.
For some, PR is to blame. After all, they argue, construction has some amazing projects. They talk about London’s Shard, the 2012 Olympic Games infrastructure, and Crossrail (photo shows Woolwich Crossrail station box, February 2013), and yet they insist “we don’t get the media coverage we deserve”, or “we’re not marketed properly”. As a result the sector is facing a skills shortage widely attributed to “the poor image of construction”.
The truth is that, notwithstanding some landmark projects, perceptions of construction are often heavily influenced by consumers’ household experiences, particularly of small- and medium-sized businesses engaged in repair and maintenance. Innovations such as the UK government’s world-leading building information management (BIM) drive rarely get a wider mention. Instead, we get SME “cowboy builder” stories, financial woes, safety scares, and other negativity.
Talking to industry audiences, I have underlined that the industry’s reputation is the result of what it does, what it says and what others say about it. It can’t control the latter – it can only control its own behaviour and communications.
Fortunately, this is recognised. The joint government/industry Construction 2025 strategy, published last year, devotes a whole section to improving the sector’s image. Chief construction advisor Peter Hansford says “fundamental change is required in how the construction industry is perceived by the general public”, and “engaging young people and society at large” tops his list of four areas where action is needed (above health and safety, diversity, and improvements in the domestic repair and maintenance market).
However, the sector’s inertia, innate conservatism and its often short-term view could hold it back. Too many organisations sit tight in their disciplinary silos, their leaders not recognising they are part of the problem. Construction is not a monolithic entity. Its many constituent parts need to begin to change, and then continue to change right through to 2025 and beyond (some industry organisations, thankfully, are taking a long-term view: the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, for instance, is promoting an “Infrastructure Decade”).
Stereotypical views of construction won’t be altered overnight but they can be gradually eroded and replaced by new perceptions based on trust-based engagement with businesses, large and small, which deliver profitable but fairly priced services efficiently, safely, on time and on budget.
Communicating and sharing these outcomes will help reinforce the new perceptions, and, like the rest of business and commerce, people at every level in organisations can play their part by keeping abreast of and using new media. CIPR’s construction and property group surveyed industry PR practitioners about their use of social media, and found more than half felt the sector lagged behind in its adoption of social media. So getting industry people – not just PRs: everyone from boardroom to site – up to speed in using all communication channels is going to be an essential part of helping them transform the current image of construction.