Challenging seven myths about the planning comms industry: Part 1

Taking all of the core members of the Skyline Comms team into account, we estimate there to be between 10 and 15 years of experience in the planning comms industry.

The landscape of the industry has clearly changed during that period of time- even more so during 2020.

It is fair to say that during our time, we have come across a number of myths about the industry. These are being challenged more and more by planning consultants and developers though, especially due to the COVID-related restrictions this year.

Over the last few weeks our team have discussed the seven main myths, and how our clients and others are starting to challenge them more.

The following article is a result of our internal discussions, and outlines the first four myths, but we do of course welcome your thoughts. In our next article we will look at three other myths that we often come across.

Myth 1: Early engagement is a bad idea

It is a common issue in the planning sector that comms firms are often instructed to carryout engagement at a late stage.

Members of our team have even been called in to support applications after property developers were asked to leave local parish council and neighbourhood planning meetings.

The real myth with early engagement though, is that it is damaging because it would only really provide an outlet for those who are against either the specific application, or new developments in general.

However, by carrying engagement out early, planning consultants and developers are able to take these opinions into account earlier in the process.

Done in the right way, early engagement will mean that your application will bear any potential issues in mind, and find suitable alternatives that are likely to be better received.

In short, early engagement allows you to understand issues that may arise, and respond to them, before they impact on the application process- or worse, before they result in a refusal at committee stage.

A great example of early engagement in action is our ‘site visit’ offering. At the pre-application stage, our team carry out a site visit to understand and advise our clients of any potential local issues.

Following a site visit at in 2020, for example, we were able to feed back to our client that traffic and congestion would be an issue brought up by local residents and the committee. While officers assured our client that this would not be the case, the client took our advice and included proposals drawn up alongside the highways team. During the initial engagement, and at the planning committee, traffic and congestion did in fact come up as real issue! The early engagement we had carried out for the client allowed them to provide a solution there and then- without the need to go back to the drawing board with the application.

Myth 2: Planning comms firms can be expensive

In our experience, the average day rate for a comms firm is between £850 and £1,200, meaning that for the average one-off engagement project, fees can run to between £5,000 and £10,000.

We even heard of a comms firm quoting up to £12,000 for an engagement project with 3-5 days of work.

As we outlined earlier, a long-term approach here is key. It can also really help to reduce the fees associated with one-off projects.

One huge benefit to taking a longer-term approach to engagement is that you will have better relationships with the local councillors and other local stakeholders, including the neighbourhood planning groups.

We find that many planning consultants and developers cover specific regions, so having that long-term approach means that you are more likely to achieve a successful outcome for future projects in the region as well as the initial one you are looking at.

Fees-wise, if you were to have a retainer in place with a flexible comms company, in many cases a monthly fee of between £1,000 and £2,000 will cover the vast majority, if not all, of the engagement needed on a specific project.

Additionally, as we do with our in-depth political briefings (such as those we provide before and after election cycles) the fees for those briefings are either offered at a reduced rate or are included in the retainer fees, depending on their complexity, which provides further insight and value for future business decisions.

Myth 3: Planning comms is not value for money

Following on from the above point regarding the fees associated with the planning comm sector, especially relating to fees including our £12,000 example, it seems that a number of developers and planning consultants have been put off from using comms firms because they do not see their value.

While the retainer option may be an attractive solution, some may still say that they do not see enough value to warrant instructing a planning comms firm.

However successful engagement requires consistent and regular engagement with key stakeholders. We have seen many times how stop /start fee instructions materially undermine and damage the chances of success at committee. Imagine the perspective of a community when their is a year gap in contact and engagement?

Time and again we have seen early engagement increases the chances of success at committee. After all, a developer can expend huge sums of money for all the reports and associated costs of getting an application to committee, only for it fall due refusal at committee. Building support both at an officer level and councillor level is key to a successful outcome.

You will notice that the key theme running through our observations above is the importance of long-term engagement. For us, it is a key part of what we do, and is why we are able to deliver for 95% of the projects we work on.

This article has covered only the first three, of seven, myths that we often hear about the planning comms industry. In our next article we will cover the middle two of these seven myths.

Skyline Comms offers political insights at a local and national level, as well as political and community engagement to support applications through the planning process.

To find out how we could support your political and community campaigns during this challenging time, please email our Managing Director James Hockney on or call 07958 389713.