Strategy, Legal & Operations

Community outreach: How to capture and keep the public’s attention

Dreamforce 2017 Conference delegates applauding

Engaging with the public on construction projects isn’t what it used to be. Traditional public meeting participation, for example, is down. Faced with a whole new set of challenges, construction company communicators are looking for more effective ways to capture and hold the attention of their intended audiences.

“We have to over communicate what we’re trying to accomplish and develop great and easy ways for people to engage on our projects,” said Theresa McClure, eastern region manager for strategic communications at HDR. McClure along with three other construction communications and risk professionals recently spoke at the Sage-sponsored ENR webcast, “Keeping your project’s public face clean: Community outreach and construction impact mitigation.”

According to McClure, today’s community outreach is impacted by a new reality:

  • Our human attention span is approximately 8 seconds long.
  • The average American spends 5 hours a day on a mobile device.
  • Americans today are significantly less engaged with their communities than they were a generation ago.
  • Social activism is on the rise.

These and other factors are changing the dynamics of how construction companies need to reach out to communities. “It’s about getting the public to authentically engage in your decision-making process, creating a process where they feel their input matters, and finding a platform where you can keep everyone informed on your project.” McClure said. “We do this with powerful headlines, stories, and delivering them through interactive tools that resonate with people.”

Construction communicators have to find innovative ways to cut through the clutter and get their message across. How? McClure offered these tips:

  1. Compelling content is a must.
    People want to understand how they’re going to be directly impacted by a project. To address this, provide information in a way that is helpful, easy to understand, and relevant to your audience.
  2. Video is the number one tool to engage your audience.
    In fact, 135% more people are reached with video on social or online platforms than photos, standard posts, or informational graphic. Videos are also more likely to be shared than any other content. Think about ways to use video—both in-person and online—to engage and inform your audience. Also check out stop motion video, a new edgy way to deliver content.
  3. Live streaming content can show a return on investment.
    Using video live streaming through Facebook and Instagram allows you to target a specific audience group and actively engage them in their mobile and social community.
  4. Transparency in the message is key.
    People want to know the facts. How much money is being spent? Is the project on schedule? Are commitments being fulfilled? How many sidewalks have been added? Providing a dashboard of project development helps keep people informed and engaged along the way.


The webinar also provided insights from risk management and public information professionals Mike Hastings of Hastings Risk Consulting, Kathleen Fuller with the Ohio Department of Transportation – District 9, and Erica Wiley of the Portsmouth Gateway Group. You can hear more from McClure and the other speakers by listening to the entire webcast online.

View webinar