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At its core, real estate development is a political undertaking focused on winning the community’s license to operate. Corporate developers assemble A-teams of politically connected lawyers, planners, engineers and community leaders to sway mayors, councilwomen, aldermen, and commissioners to vote in their favor at City Hall.   

However, these A-teams get tested when anti-development protesters manufacture crises for projects.  It’s during these times of crises that political capital evaporates and political cover shrinks for elected officials who become hypersensitive about losing their next election.

As a result, hundreds, if not thousands, of sustainable zoning and development applications are rejected by these anxious elected officials. The key is creating and maintaining political confidence with elected officials.  Without it, all the political capital and cover in the world will not save your project from defeat. 

Here are three quick tips that will immediately help you restore, regain and recalibrate political confidence in elected officials during times of crisis.

Tip 1: Step Back to Move Ahead

The notice and hearing process is a friend to anti-development groups. It only takes one hijacked public hearing or negative news article to tear down its legal, logical and orderly constructs to erect political, emotional and chaotic uncertainties that galvanize anti-development rhetoric. 

This is where the project is its most vulnerable and where clients retain SL7 Consulting.  In these circumstances, I counsel my clients to take a step back to minimize the target on their backs and let the initial wave of hysteria settle down. During this period, we reassess the political liabilities and opportunities (the opposition has now exposed their weaknesses) that will underwrite a counter-initiative plan of action. 

Elected officials and opinion leaders will be looking to you and your team to see what you will do to restore political and social confidence.  When you retain SL7 Consulting (or some other reputable professional), influencers and supportive elected officials will be reassured, because you’re bringing in one of the best in the nation to ensure this project successfully crosses the finish line – without collateral damage.

Tip 2:  Turn Crisis Into Your Advantage

When it comes to zoning and development, crisis management is not about doing more things right, but doing less things wrong. When the crisis hits the fan, elected officials demand more out of developers to protect them, which is what the opponents are counting on (See Tip 3). 

This is where you direct your stakeholder engagement efforts on those local influencers elected officials seek out for guidance, reassurance and confidence.  Chances are you have a few of them already supporting your project, but in times of crisis, they usually pause and wait to see, or they offer you bad advice out of self-preservation.  

This is where you must reassure your current and potential allies that you’re in charge and ready to turn this crisis into their finest hour.  This is where corporate executives retain SL7 Consulting.  On behalf of my clients, I work directly with influencers to protect their reputations, while expanding our network of influence and narratives. 

Retaining SL7 Consulting bolsters their confidence, which in turn, facilitates confidence back into City Hall. If you neglect to empower these key influencers, then you will permanently abdicate the strategic high ground to the activist groups.

Tip 3: Be Predictably Unpredictable

It’s no secret that anti-development groups possess playbooks that eerily predict how corporate developers will operate within the rigid application process.  Unfortunately, applicants unknowingly follow the playbooks when they double down with town hall meetings, workshops or mediations that make elected officials feel better, but ultimately empowers anti-development professionals.  

So, you need to be unpredictable.  If you’ve followed my first tip of stepping back, then you’ve removed a good supply of oxygen that they rely upon to perpetuate the crisis.  What you’ve done is you’ve bought yourself some time to recalibrate your team to take judicious action.

If you followed tip 2, then you have a seasoned stakeholder engagement veteran such as SL7 Consulting working with your team to galvanize and expand your network of surrogates.  Certainly, the activists will not foresee you bringing in a professional who knows their playbook and tactics. If done correctly, they will never know or until after the final vote is counted.


My 3 tips will help you establish a specialized grasstops counter-initiative that’s focused, integrated and always on the offensive.

These quick tips will protect you and your project, while marginalizing the opposition.  You will be surprised how a relatively small investment of time and resources can have optimal impact.  More importantly, how it will regain the political confidence that’s crucial to receiving the license to operate.

Feel free to email me at P.SL7@patrickslevin.com to request more information on how I help clients across the nation win the license to operate.  You can also call me at 850.597.0423 to explore how I can protect your sustainable project that’s currently in the cross hairs or when you want to generate social goodwill with stakeholders.

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About the Author

SL7 Consulting's primary purpose is empowering executives to lead, communicate and inspire the stakeholders who impact their bottom line priorities.

Whether it's crisis management, corporate initiatives, public affairs, issues advocacy, zoning & development, political campaigns, or field operations, resistance to change is why SL7 Consulting is seated at the table.

Contact SL7 Consulting's founder, Patrick Slevin, to learn more about how we will meet and exceed your already high expectations for success. Phone: 850.597.0423. Email: P.SL7@patrickslevin.com.

Visit www.PatrickSlevin.com for more information.

Originally Published October 18, 2017

Written by Patrick Slevin

All Rights Reserved © 2017

                                               Patrick Slevin, Head of SL7 Consulting

                                               Patrick Slevin, Head of SL7 Consulting