Public Relations and Your HOA

Success in any business — including your HOA — involves a heavy dose of PR. Just as possession is nine tenths of the law, good PR makes up the lion’s share of effective marketing. For good or bad, publicity inside or outside your community can create a lot of emotion.

In an HOA, homeowners are your “public.” As a board member or manager, you must take their perceptions and feelings into account in all you do. The decisions you make and the rules enforced will have an undeniable effect on how residents view not only the Association, but your community as a whole. The key is to find a balance between your public’s perception and what keeps things running smoothly.

Keep People Connected

The more connected people feel to their neighbors, the happier they will be. Happy homeowners are more forgiving of each other — and of management. If homeowners are connected, their perception of whatever happens in your community will originate from a better place. And that can keep them from automatically assuming the worst.

Sponsoring regular events, service projects, and social networking in your community can go a long way to ensuring sunnier perceptions, no matter what happens.

Consider the Message

In an HOA, it’s easy to get caught up in managing, without considering how board actions are perceived. For example, one community had a “problem renter” involved in a domestic dispute. Violence ensued, and law enforcement had to be involved. The day after the incident, one of the board members suggested evicting this renter due to the trouble that seemed to follow her — even though she was the victim.

To a concerned board member, community safety was the highest priority. While this is understandable, consideration must also be taken for how this could affect PR both inside and outside the community. Nobody wants to be accused of evicting a battered woman because her boyfriend assaulted her. And you certainly wouldn’t want your HOA to be seen as callous or unfeeling.

Be Reasonable

In another example, a Utah HOA recently made national headlines by mandating homeowners take down their American flags. The HOA deems flags “holiday decorations” that, according to bylaws, must be removed within 10 days after the holiday. One homeowner, asserting her flag wasn’t a holiday decoration but a patriotic statement, refused to remove the flag and was fined for the infraction.

Is fining a resident for an American flag a reasonable response? Should a patriotic flag be an exception to the “holiday decoration” rule? You decide. But at the very least, perhaps this HOA could have considered the public ramifications before deciding how to handle the situation.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Running a successful HOA does involve enforcing the rules. But remember, this business is about people, homes, and families. It’s much more emotional than selling widgets or mowing lawns. Consider opening a civil dialogue, building consensus, and providing helpful solutions rather than mandates.

Mechanically enforcing the rules just because you can isn’t necessarily the best solution when it comes to PR. Try putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes, and consider public perception before making a potential mountain out of a relative molehill.

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