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OVERCOMING DECISION-MAKER FEAR TO EARN ANTENNA SITE APPROVAL

Fear is a powerful emotion. It keeps people behind locked doors. It makes them give up their chance to find the love of their lives. It keeps them from pursuing their dreams and reaching their potential.

When you consider the incredible impact fear has in shaping the very fabric of people’s lives, it’s easy to understand why fear of the unknown has caused delays, denials and even moratoriums for wireless antenna site proposals.

Today, the public more readily communicates their fears to their political leaders. When your project is the source of their fear, you can bet the odds of gaining an approval decrease dramatically.

More than three out of four delays, denials and moratoriums are purely politically motivated.

That’s because the decision makers are scared too. In fact, decision makers have two primary fears that relate to wireless technology and antenna site proposals; fear of the unknown and job security.

First, like the general public, decision makers fear the unknown. They may have seen wireless antennas before and may have even approved them.

Yet, seven out of 10 times, these same decision makers have no idea how the technology works or how a specific antenna site proposal fits into the entire network. That makes them highly susceptible to opposition groups, even if the opponents are irrational and basing their opposition on inaccurate information.

Second, decision makers fear losing their job. Their only boss is public opinion. That’s why a hostile group of opponents, even a small group, is very intimidating to an elected official. When opposition occurs, they will not sacrifice their jobs to help you.

The good news is, once you recognize the true nature of these fears, you can overcome them with a relatively simple approach. This approach includes two components. They are:

1. Educating the decision makers

2. Outnumbering opponents with supporters in the hearing room

Each component is valuable by itself. However, they are most effective when implemented together.

Let’s begin by discussing the most powerful weapon in your persuasion arsenal-education.

Teaching elected officials to say “yes.”

These days, the primary challenge of wireless carriers is not changing the minds of opposition groups. Usually, once opponents have organized against a wireless site, nothing short of conducting brain surgery will change their minds.

The challenge is overcoming the fear the opposition has instilled in the decision makers.

Consider, for example, a proposal to build a PCS antenna site within a typical small city. A well planned site that meets all zoning requirements and land use criteria is often not enough.

At the same time, antenna proposals are not usually seen as a community’s most important issue-they are not WalMart-type issues. In other words, these are not top-of-mind, community-polarizing controversies.

That’s why you significantly increase your chances of approval by educating decision makers on the following:

Tell them what PCS is.

This is more than just the technology behind PCS. You must capture people’s imaginations by telling them how PCS increases communication options and makes wireless technology less expensive, more private and more dependable for the average user.

You must tell a story that gives a practical, real life example of how PCS will be used. For example, in the future, PCS technology will allow emergency medical personnel to transmit life-saving data to and from the scene of an accident, saving countless lives.

The debate is then no longer about a potentially ugly antenna site. Rather, it’s about implementing a remarkable new, life-saving technology. That’s the kind of proposal decision makers love to say “yes” to.

Tell them how PCS works?

To hear the typical opponent of wireless antenna sites tell the story, one would think that PCS and “death ray” technology are one in the same.

To soothe fear of the unknown and overcome scare tactics, decision makers need to know how PCS works.

Do not assume that decision makers “must” know simply because they have heard wireless antenna proposals before. It’s up to you to answer all potential questions before they’re asked.

Tell them how antenna sites are chosen.

“Can’t you just move the site a mile down the road?”

Decision makers need to know that antenna sites are not chosen at random.

They need to know that antenna sites are needed within a specific area and at a specific height to provide coverage for a particular area. They need to know that each antenna site corresponds to other antenna sites, and if one site is altered, it can affect the entire network design.

It’s critical to distinguish between the challenge you face in overcoming decision-makers’ fear (mostly of losing their job) vs. the fear of your opponents in the community. Remember that decision makers usually respond to what they perceive to be the concerns of their constituency.

That’s why the second component of our approach to overcoming decision-makers’ fears, outnumbering opponents, is so effective. In other words, an incredibly effective way to overcome opposition to your antenna site proposal is to create support that will stand up and speak out in the hearing room.

Building community support for antenna sites.

(Or, creating advocates you don’t have to pay for)

Most site managers and property specialists salivate at the prospect of actually motivating supporters from the public to stand up and speak out on behalf of an antenna site proposal. They are amazed to learn that it is indeed possible. In fact, we do it all the time.

However, the disadvantage wireless carriers face is that it’s more difficult to get people to stand up in favor of something like PCS than it is to get people to oppose it. There’s simply more passion in the fear of the technology than there is in wonderful possibilities the technology creates.

Here’s how we motivate people to help.

We used to approach grassroots public affairs for wireless antenna sites the same way we approached other controversial issues such as residential or commercial real estate developments. Although that approach was effective, it took a lot of time and money.

For 18 months, we experimented and tested more efficient and cost effective means to earn wireless site approvals. Our goal was to provide a method for carriers that can be used for tough sites without worrying about costs or time delays. Let me share what we learned so you can put it to use.

We reduced our full grassroots public affairs program to its bare essence to allow us to get the right people to work on behalf of our antenna site proposals quickly and without a lot of cost. We’ve named this approach QUICKact. It’s a quick activation of supporters.

How it works.

The key is understanding how political leaders think and behave. You must convince the decision makers that they will gain more political goodwill from supporting your proposal than by opposing it.

A QUICKact is designed to identify the people whose opinions matter most in the community: from the mayor’s best friend and the community’s business leaders to law enforcement and public safety officials. And we get them to write, call or speak out in favor of your site.

It’s one thing for a wireless carrier, a large and faceless corporation, to say PCS is a great new technology. It’s quite another for the largest contributor to the mayor’s campaign to tell the mayor at a dinner party how excited she is about PCS technology because it’s more dependable than traditional cellular service.

This approach has kept the phones of City Hall ringing for days, turned out dozens of people for hearings, and motivated key community leaders
to meet with decision makers and lobby on behalf of antenna sites.

We start by conducting a study of the target community, called a “community audit.” This includes researchi
ng the political landscape of the community. We study elected officials background, issues that may pose threats or opportunities for our proposal, and gather lists of opinion leaders.

We then reach out to educate and ask for help using a combination of one-on-one meetings, targeted and personalized letters, and telephone calls. Our message is carefully crafted to appeal to and motivate each target audience.

The program takes place quickly and, in such a short time frame, it’s not always possible to precisely predict where political pressure must be applied. However, as of this writing, our record is 100 percent with dozens under our belt already.

Speaking to win

While education and political motivation are crucial to overcoming opposition to antenna site proposals, other factors are also at play.

For example, the quality of a carrier representative’s presentation in the hearing room is often a significant, if not deciding factor. Unfortunately, many carriers are sending untrained and inexperienced representatives out to `sell’ the most immediately important aspect of PCS-antenna sites.

It is as important for a carrier representative to have an understanding of how decision makers think as it is to understand the specifics of their site proposal. That’s because politics will often be more of a factor in making the decision whether to approve or not than land use issues.

Every individual who may be faced with the need to speak on behalf of the carrier or the technology, whether they be a real estate specialist, a radio engineer, or a manager, must be trained.

They need to know how to speak well and understand the basic principles of persuasion. They must anticipate the tough questions they will be asked and have answers prepared in advance. They need a basic, outlined presentation that can be modified for each situation that explains what wireless technology is, how it works, how a specific site fits into the network and why it is needed.

Without this kind of preparation, a carrier is set up for disaster.

The fear factor.

To overcome the fear factor on challenging antenna sites, wireless carriers and their consultants must remember that most people really don’t care that much about antenna sites unless it directly impacts them.

Opposition groups oppose wireless antenna because they are afraid of them. Elected officials are afraid of opposition groups. If you understand the nature of their fear, only then can you overcome it.

We recently worked with a client whose experience is a perfect example of overcoming the decision-maker fear factor.

The proposal called for constructing a regional shopping center in a small city. The complication was that the proposed building site happened to be within a designated airport zone.

After being educated about the proposal, neighbors of the project were generally supportive. However elected officials were apprehensive about the proposal. That’s because, despite approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, a handful of opponents created a media splash about the possible dangers of building the shopping center near an airport.

The developer spent the weeks prior to a crucial hearing educating decision makers about his proposal and about airport safety standards and crash zones. He also asked his supporters to attend the hearing and speak out on behalf of the proposal.

After the proposal was approved, an elected official who represented the key vote on the project stated that she was very concerned that the proposed location was not correct. However, she said, “I had to say yes. You can’t buck the tide of support.”

If this approach works for a 500,000-square-foot development, it’s easy to see how it works for 100-foot antenna sites.

To an elected official, it doesn’t matter if the proposal is a shopping center or an antenna site proposal. As long as they understand enough about the proposal to overcome their fear of the unknown and if they perceive an opportunity to build political goodwill, they will say “yes.”

You may not turn fear into love, but if done right, you can turn fear into an approval.

John L. Davies is president of Davies Communications, Inc., a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based full-service communications firm, specializing in grassroots public affairs for wireless carriers.

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