The main points of contention between the company and the municipality included noise from the factory, a car park that the previous owner had built without applying for a change in the zoning plan, and the absence of any kind of contribution from the company to the development of the local area. When the new owner invested heavily in soundproofing, local residents were completely unaware.
The company car park was built without a permit. The current company leadership is not to blame, but people didn’t know that. This created an opportunity for local associations, who set out to fight against the noise and illegal construction. They did so in a legitimate way but with no factual basis. Why? Because they had the chance to. The company’s communication embargo didn’t make the company seem credible and gave their arguments false support. Combined with the fact that in the eyes of the locals, the company wasn’t especially interested in what was going on in the local area, a real reputational problem arose. A potential consequence of this could have been the removal of the car park at the current owner’s expense, a prospective loss of dozens of millions of Czech crowns. Our starting point wasn’t great and changing the people’s view of the company had to happen extremely quickly.
In partnership with the client, we identified four crucial steps to repair the company’s reputation with local people. The first step was transparent, open communication with municipality leaders, activists, or anyone else with an interest. This meant open, in-person discussions, communicating the investment in soundproofing along with releasing research reports, and launching communication channels, especially through social media, where local people can keep track of the latest at the factory. In terms of strategy, we chose to combine a targeted delivery of messages in a multimedia format with conscientious discussions with supporters and critics.
Another prerequisite for improving the situation was to actively engage with the community. This included organising events for the public but, most importantly, supporting local social, cultural, and sporting events. Examples include 90 years of football, a summer cinema, supporting the majorettes, an exhibition of a legendary photographer and patriot, a motorcycle race, a kids day, and a ball. All this within one year and with a view to further expand activities for local residents. The most important thing is that the company regularly reports on its activities – not just the social ones but also its operational improvements, which are more important for the locals. As regards noise reduction, the client carried out two independent measurements a year apart and published the results, including the report. In both cases, the results were within the legal limits. The people’s reaction? A year ago, rather dubious. A year on, universally positive. The local associations also carried out their own measurements and the results matched up. It therefore became clear that our client keeps their word and honours their commitments towards the community in all aspects of social responsibility.
Today, the client is a fully-fledged member of the community and a trusted partner, both in terms of political representation of the community and its residents. Proof of the significant improvement in relations is the joint effort to remedy the situation around the unlawful construction of the car park, which now serves both employees and local residents. Discussions have also started about a possible renovation of the local chateau, which is close to the people’s hearts. Complaints about noise and the factory’s operation have completely disappeared. The change in approach has paid off for both sides and now the day-to-day development of the community is carried out in a spirit of mutual cooperation.