Drake’s Island is a 6.5-acre island lying in Plymouth Sound, Devon. It has enormous historic significance, as it was from here that Sir Francis Drake set sail in 1577, returning 3 years later having circumnavigated the world.
For the ensuing centuries, Drake’s Island has remained a focal point of the defense of what is now modern Plymouth, becoming an important landmark for local residents. In 1995 the island was put up for private sale and purchased by local businessman, Dan McCauley, who has proposed building a luxury resort on the island.
Between 2003 and 2015 there were several attempts to acquire planning permission for the luxury hotel, all of which were turned down. Following the rejection of the application in 2015, the owners of Drake’s Island faced criticism in the press for comments made outside of the council offices and their subsequent silence about their plans for the island.
Public opinion was divided between those who felt that the island had remained derelict for too long and therefore planning should be approved, and those who believed that the island should not be turned into a luxury hotel.
A new, revised planning application was submitted in February 2017. Whilst all parties involved believed that this application was the strongest yet, there was no way of knowing who the council would vote until the planning meeting in April 2017. With this in mind, Chalk & Ward PR were approached to assist with reputation management during this time and to support the final attempt to gain planning approval.
As with any reputation management project, preparation is key.
We hosted a strategy session to identify all potential reputational risks – ‘horizon scanning’, as we like to call it. We devised a strategy for every possible outcome, agreeing key messages for each. We also provided media training with industry specialists for the key spokesperson, supporting that with a comprehensive Q&A briefing document.
Press releases were written for all outcomes, ensuring that a swift and professional response could be issued immediately, regardless of the result. Contact was also made with all interested parties, including journalists and other opinion formers. Our strategies were far reaching, discussing online responses, providing suggestions for social media monitoring and implementation.
To everyone’s delight, the planning application was approved on 5 April 2017. The main spokesperson for the project was interviewed by both the BBC and ITV immediately following the committee meeting. He appeared confident, well prepared and sincere when the interviews were broadcast. The news was covered positively in all regional papers, as well as online and across social media.
Following the success of the project, there are now plants to support the development of Drake’s Island with further communication activity as it progresses.