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Love construction? How subcontractors can get a slice of the PR pie

The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway, the BBC programme following the construction of Crossrail, aired in July and coincided with the first birthday of #loveconstruction.

A happy coincidence, as viewers got excited about one of the biggest rail construction projects in recent years and the topic trended on twitter.

Judging by all the positive twitter traffic generated, the programme will have done wonders for the image of Crossrail as a feat of engineering.

It will also have had a positive effect on the construction industry as a whole, as stories were told from the viewpoint of the people involved.

From those controlling one of the largest tunnelling machines ever operated below the streets of London, to those ensuring that Bonhams Auction House stayed functioning during a critical delivery of antique cars above ground.

Fun and exciting

Two things were evident. One: that the construction industry is fun – or in the words of one of the engineers featured: “Construction isn’t just boring.”

Two: that we have exciting stories to tell about the work that’s going on.

“Subcontractors on high-profile projects are often overlooked when the PR machine starts to roll, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t reap the benefits”

The image of construction still needs some work, but programmes like The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway can only help to improve things.

So what about the subcontractors working on these big projects? How can they benefit from the collective buzz that is being created? 

Subcontractors on such high-profile projects are often overlooked when the PR machine starts to roll, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t reap the benefits too.

So what can you do, as a subcontractor, to improve your chances of getting a share of the PR pie?

Get in with the right people

Get a good working relationship with the main contractors and project leaders from the start and find out what their plans are for rolling out stories and PR around the project as it progresses.

If you know what their plans are you will be in with a better chance of getting a mention at the very least.

However, be aware that the communications team (and there invariably will be one) will be fiercely guarding the messaging and therefore won’t be allowing subcontractors to do their own thing.

“Mentioning the local subcontractor on a big project can offer a different perspective and help draw in local media interest”

Although there is usually a good reason for that, particularly with more sensitive projects such as the Olympics or High Speed 2, some communications teams are a little over-zealous and spoil things for everyone else.

Smaller contractors involved in amazing projects suddenly find that they can’t mention them at the very time when it would do wonders for their profile and help bring in new business.

So start by gaining their trust and appreciating why there is a need for some discretion on projects. If you were the main contractor you would do the same to avoid upsetting the client.

Find a way to become part of the story

There is no reason why it should only be the ‘big boys’ that get talked about.

Mentioning the local subcontractor on a big project can offer a different perspective and help draw in local media interest, present a more human face and engage the local community.

By keeping in with the right people, you will at least know what is going on and if there is anything that you might be able to feed into.

If you have a story from your work on the project that could become part of its story, why not put it to the communications team?

Be their biggest fan

If your contract allows it, make sure that you use every opportunity to promote the project itself – even if you can’t say that you are working on it. Follow their social media feeds and actively engage with their content.

The right people will at least see you and may start to connect with you, and you can build your own relationships with them from there.

If there are events where key people from the project will be speaking, try to get a place on the same platform, or failing that go along for the networking.

“If you aim to get your slice of the pie, make sure you do it with the full approval of the main contractor and their communications team”

Towards the end of the project the communications team may start to relax the restrictions on how and where the project can be mentioned.

You may be able to generate some in-depth editorial, with a different focus, in collaboration with the main contractor and on the back of ongoing media interest in the project.

However, if you aim to get your slice of the pie, make sure you do it with the full approval of the main contractor and their communications team.

Don’t try to sneak something pass them. You don’t want to become part of the story for the wrong reason. Get it right and you could be up there when the BBC comes looking for the next big construction project.

Deborah Rowe is principal consultant of Sheba Marketing, is a member of the organising committee for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG) and on the judging panel for the Construction Marketing Awards

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