How property companies are stepping up to engage the community

Published on  by Joann Rutherford

By Glenn Byres – Managing Director, Headland Advisory.

At its core, the property industry’s mandate is a conservative one – providing a platform for patient investors in assets that offer a stable income stream to millions of superannuation holders.

The orthodoxy of its operating model also coloured its traditional approach to communications. That is, satisfy the market that financial forecasts were on track and pitch its product to the consumers.

But we’ve seen from other sectors that a singular focus on balance sheet performance has a sharp downside. (I’m looking at you, financial services!).

There is a significant cause and effect from the failure to communicate vision and values – or in the case of the banks, live by them.
Cause – a disconnect between an industry, its customer base and the broader community weakens the social license to operate.
Effect – governments feel free to treat an industry as a soft-touch and respond to perceived community pressures.

This is the dilemma property has historically faced. A continuous cycle of escalating taxation and regulation have shackled the industry, and governments felt immune from blowback.

In recent years, however, there have been signs that property industry leaders understood the failure of this approach.

They now spend as much time building a narrative around the human dimension of the industry as they do individual product promotion.

The industry’s peak organisation, the Property Council of Australia, has now run several rounds of a campaign that seeks to bridge the economic might of property to its place in communities.

They sought to emphasise the built form connects people from where they live, to the shopping centres where small business thrives, retirement villages in which we age, and how it all shapes the cities that surround us.

Individual companies too are re-gearing their communication platforms and priorities to tell a larger story about their purpose.

Frasers Property Australia has launched a podcast series that lets executives talk about the art of place creation and building an enduring legacy well beyond completion of a development.

Stockland has initiated a campaign – which draws on its Liveability Index, a creation designed to test concepts as diverse as health and wellbeing, sense of belonging and the environment; and then uses the results to design communities around what matter.

Dexus is similarly using its Prism and Workspace platforms to circulate case studies and research into forces shaping office environments, from human factors (supporting parents returning to work) to technology (creating smart buildings) to benchmarking surveys on global cities like Sydney.

The trend represents an open and less self-centred take on communications – one that turns the conversation to the users of property, rather than creators.

The industry has a good story to tell. As a pioneer in sustainability, funds management, diversity and more, property can easily position itself as a good corporate citizen.

The more it applies imagination to the task of doing so, the better of it will be. Expect an even bolder approach in 2019.