11th March 2019
Jack Akers

Three Top Tips to Avoid Bad Press: Lessons from the Construction Industry

Delays are often out of a construction company’s immediate control; Brexit can be blamed just as much as the weather.  But the press isn’t always so understanding. For them, a delay’s a delay.

So what tactics does the construction industry employ to stay ahead of the media – or at least, minimise negative fallout?  Using Signal, our A.I. powered media monitoring platform, I analysed media coverage of the top 3 construction companies’ delays this year to get a better handle on, well, how they handle the press. I then explored sentiment surrounding their coverage to see what worked (and what didn’t).

Read on to find out three ways construction companies can avoid negative news coverage, and make the best out of a bad situation.

Tip #1: Blame something else and blame it fast

Coverage about Balfour Beatty peaked in mid-January, after Chief Executive Leo Quinn slammed ministers for neglecting infrastructure in favour of Brexit. In the firing line for delays to the HS2 railway,  Quinn blamed delays on the Government and specifically the Brexit logjam. Despite this being a bold move – it never pays to criticise the client, after all –  it paid off extremely well:

Balfour Beatty received zero negative coverage about their delayed projects.  The divisive nature of Brexit meant that  some news outlets went so far as to give declarations of support to the construction giant, a rare thing.

It turns out that you can get away with delayed projects as long as you have a big enough baddie to blame. And in Balfour Beatty’s case, the enemy happens to be Brexit.  The same can apply to any other external problem outside a company’s control.  Whether it’s a large unpredictable shift in the market, or extremely bad weather – blame something else before the media can blame you.

Tip #2: If you stay quiet, the media runs riot

With Brexit woes and the repercussions of Carillion’s collapse still nipping at their tailcoats, Galliford Try have still managed to pull through to the other side.  Back in 2018, the media made a lot of noise regarding the delay of the Aberdeen bypass’ construction. A lot of this bad press has followed the company into 2019, so what did they do to shake it off?

Media sentiment about Galliford Try was mixed over the last few months:

The vast majority of press coverage was neutral (71%), while a significant amount of coverage was positive (18%).  These news stories all mentioned the company’s recent jump in profits by 4%, and rise in shares by 6%. Unfortunately, coverage regarding project delays did not fare as well.

A large proportion of the media coverage they received was negative (10%).  News outlets highlighted the £26m hit taken by the construction company, due to the Aberdeen bypass’ delay.

Unlike Balfour Beatty – who successfully blamed their ongoing delays on Brexit – Galliford Try have remained relatively quiet.  This has made them a fairly easy target for news outlets, who perhaps took the company’s silence as an admission of complete accountability.

Little do the media know, the Aberdeen bypass’ completion has been delayed by a number of physical factors outside the firm’s control, namely the weather.  To absolve bad press, all Galliford Try need to do is speak up. If it’s not your fault, then say so.

Tip #3: Show off your achievements

After taking on some of Carillion’s staff and contracts, it was feared that Kier Group was following in the liquidated construction giant’s footsteps.  They received negative coverage for their unfinished projects, but this was largely overshadowed by coverage of their positive achievements.

Kier Group surprised everyone by cutting its debt by £40m in a matter of months, and successfully completing many of its contracts.  This earned Kier Group a lot of favour in the media.

Despite its troubles, Kier Group received the greatest percentage of positive media coverage (25%) about its projects.  This is mainly due to exciting new contracts being won (such as a facility for the Science Museum Group), and old contracts being completed (like Wexham Park Hospital’s emergency assessment centre).

Kier Group ensured that its spokespeople publicly expressed their excitement on new projects, and pride on completing old projects.  This worked in the firm’s favour. After all, the media’s a simple entity. It takes whatever you’ll give it. And if you feed it a lot of good news, it’ll churn out a lot of positive articles.  

Always do something

If there’s one thing we can learn from the UK’s three biggest construction companies, it’s that you should always be proactive.  Staying quiet gives the media every right to speculate and slander, while shifting the blame can save you from bad press.  If it’s positive headlines you’re looking for, then shout your achievements from the rooftops. The media won’t listen if they can’t hear you.

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