Multi-disciplined organisations and the need for a strategic approach

I’ve worked for several property consultancies, including CBRE and Trident Building Consultancy, and currently Carter Jonas and Chestertons.

Property consultancies are always a fascinating client because they encapsulate the breadth of the property lifecycle, providing services as diverse as site acquisition and planning through to agency and business rates advice, as well as increasingly operating property assets. Consequently property consultancies communicate with a great diversity of stakeholders.

How does an organisation with such diversity of functions, staff, locations and customers put in place a PR strategy which provides unity but is relevant to each service line? The approach varies depending upon the organisation’s structure and culture but most property consultancies operate with a single over-arching (corporate) PR strategy which then determines a range of individual (service line) strategies: ‘vertical’ strategies for individual service lines and ‘horizontal’ strategies for the communication of a wide of corporate messages.

While the overall PR strategy provides the big picture, the communications strategies for each service line contain the detail. This model is depicted in Chapter 13 of my new book Promoting Property:  insight, experience and best practice. The benefit of this approach is that while each service line strategy includes the key corporate objectives and messages contained within the overall strategy, the specific aims and objectives will relate directly to that service line: in this model the over-arching strategy is consistent, while the key messages for Capital Markets vary substantially from those for Logistics; likewise there are few similarities between the target market for Planning and for Valuation. This approach also ensures that should corporate changes occur – such as new leadership or organisational expansion – the ongoing PR for each service line is largely unaffected. However, communication though regular meetings and reporting both up and down and across the structure – between the corporate function and the service lines – is essential to avoid conflicting comment: described by one PR director as the ‘yin and yang’ of property consultancies’ various functions, an important element of a PR director’s role is to avoid situations in which messages communicated on behalf of one service line are detrimental to another.

As communications has proliferated substantially, partly as a result of an increasingly broad spectrum of tactics (largely following technological advancements), the PR role has expanded to include new functions including search engine optimisation (SEO) social media, video, curation of information using algorithms and the various means of presenting digital information. The newly expanded opportunities for communication, while presenting substantial opportunity, represent a significant challenge to both human and financial resources.

While a clear structure such as that described above has many advantages, the fast pace of change and the increasing blurring of distinctions between service lines requires agility. Large scale mixed use schemes, co-living and build to rent, for example, can potentially involve many of the services that a property consultancy offers.

Property consultancies have overseen a greater proliferation of service lines, with many now taking on the ownership and management of property assets, primarily shared workspaces, but advisory services continue to be the property consultancies’ primary offering.

The strategic approach has never been more important.

This blog is an extract from Chapter 13 of my book Promoting Property:  insight, experience and best practice which was published by Routledge in April 2020.