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Creating a Community Chest Improving community relations for the Dennis Family Corporation’s Land Es


Dennis Family Corporation

PR Company: 


Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2002 A 16



Executive Summary: 

Bert Dennis, Chairman of one of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Australias largest privately owned land developers, Dennis Family Corporation (DFC), had built an organisation on the values of loyalty, trust, integrity, quality and honesty. Terms not generally associated with his profession. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

He had started his business by renovating homes with his wife Dawn. Over 40 years he grew the company to one involved in every facet of building and land development employing more than 300 people.

The Corporation had a litigious relationship with local government, based on councils lack of awareness of DFCs capabilities. They were frequently visiting the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal (VCAT).

Bert wanted the land estates to become, and be seen as, an integral part of local community development.

Previous attempts to sponsor local groups had not successfully integrated the estates into the community were sporadic with no direction.

Poor relationships with the local community and the council resulted in negative media coverage and poor land sales.

Socom developed an innovative program that changed community perception of the DFC estates, increased land sales and gave the corporation access to key community leaders, improving its success in securing applications and reducing its VCAT appearances.

Situation Analysis: 

Bert Dennis, the founder of the Dennis Family Corporation, had built a business based on community values.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Bert was a legacy child whose father died when he was two. Supported by the local community throughout his childhood, Bert had a desire to give back.

As a successful businessman, he also wanted to maximise the benefit of any philanthropic activity.

The DFC operates in a highly competitive industry with major competitors including Delfin, Australand and the Urban and Regional Land Corporation. The DFC also competes against numerous builders including Metricon, Pioneer and AV Jennings. In such a competitive market, profile and brand awareness is critical.

Competition was particularly fierce in generating sales from areas surrounding the estates, a primary catchment of clients.

The Dennis Family Corporation wanted to improve its image within the local community to give it an edge over competitors and build relationship with key opinion leaders. The program had to be attractive to the council and have its involvement, making the Corporation an attractive partner in local development.

The fact that the estates were located in new suburbs meant that the surrounding areas often suffered from poor infrastructure, therefore an opportunity to assist local community groups, sport, cultural and other not- for -profit groups was present.

There was a need to develop a program that would increase DFCs penetration into the local community, and give it an opportunity to develop relationships with key opinion leaders.

The aim was to encourage local not for profit organisations that usually had a broad membership base drawn from the community to apply for funds.

DFC wanted to involve key opinion leaders in the decision-making process of selecting worthwhile organisations to support, thus giving DFC access to local identities.

Socom developed the Community Funds concept for the Dennis Family Corporations Rose Grange, Burnside and Hunt Club estates. Every block of land sold at each of the estates placed $100 into a fund and made it available to local groups and causes.


Database Analysis<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Each land estate and housing brand maintains databases with sales inquiry information. These databases were analysed to identify trends and a typical consumer.

Key research findings included

  • The majority of homebuyers live within a 2km area of the estates.
  • Each estate was attracting a large percentage of first homebuyers with an even mix of second and third homebuyers. A small percentage was investors.

Industry research

Several industry bodies were contacted for research including:

  • Urban Development Institute of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Australia (affordability, housing activity)
  • Royal Australian Planning Institute (land development)
  • Planning departments at individual municipalities (details of other developments in the area including size, facilities and developer details)
  • Competitors (focusing on web sites and written communication such as newsletters and sales collateral).
  • Local area research
  • The Wyndham, Cranbourne and Melton areas were studied.
  • A premailer was distributed to ascertain key opinion leaders interest in program.
  • Researched number and type of community, sporting and cultural groups and charities within the areas.
  • Local media research

Journalists for at each of the local publications were contacted to determine their awareness and perception of DFC.  The key finding was the DFC was perceived as just another local property developer.  No journalist could highlight a point of difference from any other developer and none were aware of DFCs history or size.

Target Policies: 

Socom identified the following target publics and developed specific activities and messages to suit each audience.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

  • Councils
    • City of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Wyndham
    • City of Casey
    • City of Melton
    • Other councils
  • Local opinion leaders
    • Principals, business leaders, past and present mayors, CFA chiefs, PTA presidents etc.
  • Local community
    • Primarily within a 2km radius
    • Secondary within a 10km radius
    • Surrounding areas
  • Homebuyers
    • Mainly within a 2km catchment area
    • First, second and third
  • Existing estate residents
    • Primarily for a referral base
  • Local community groups
  • Local media
    • All local media that are distributed within a 10 km radius from each estate.
  • Metropolitan media
    • Particularly real estate sections.

Communication Strategy: 

Socoms strategy to achieve the programs objectives was to:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

  • Develop a philanthropic program for each estate that would engage local opinion leaders.
  • Contribute funds to local community groups to raise the awareness of the estates as philanthropic and community minded organisations.
  • Focus on assisting community groups with a large community membership.
  • Seek local media involvement in the program to increase the quantity and quality of the media coverage.


Stage 1 Development of the Community Funds (October 2001 February 2002)

  • Developed rules and regulations Logistics of how the fund would work, be administered etc were determined. Refer to Appendix 1.
  • Identification of appropriate judging panel members - Local opinion leaders were identified for the community fund judging committees.
  • Distributed pre-mailer To ascertain key opinion leaders interest in the program.
  • Letters of invitation to key opinion leaders Distributed to key opinion leaders identified as suitable in research. Refer to Appendix 2.
  • Initial meeting with judging panel Discussed concept and provided information manual. Refer to Appendix 3.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Stage 2 Community Funds Promotion (February 2002- July 2002)

  • Second meeting with judging panel Discussed judging manual and suitable boundaries for catchment areas.
  • Launch of community fund Media release announcing the fund concept and offering photo opportunities of judging committee was distributed to local publications. Refer to Appendix 4.
  • Third meeting with judging panel Media event to announce the amount of funds available and that the fund was open for applications. Refer to Appendix 5.
  • Media relations  - Media events were organised for the launch for metropolitan and local papers. Combined Dennis Family Corporations Estate community funds media release to metro publications.

On-going media relations will continue during the promotion phase of the grant recipients. See Appendix 6.

  • Newsletter articles Each of the estates newsletters and the DFC corporate newsletters were utilised to announce and promote the funds. See Appendix 7.
  • Direct mail promotion - A leaflet was distributed to local residents promoting the fund and informing them that applications for the fund could now be made.

A database of local community groups in the surrounding was developed and the brochure, information and application kits sent to them. See Appendix 8.

  • Advertising  - Advertisements were placed in the local papers promoting the fund announcing that it was open for applications. See Appendix 9.

Stage 3 Community Funds implementation (May 2002- August 2002) 

  • Entry form - A standard entry form was developed. It asks for applicants to enter their appropriate contact details, the name of the project for which they are applying for the funds and a brief description, of no more than 100 words, about the project. The entry form together with the information packs are available to local groups through the web site, the land and sales office and can be mailed to them on request. See Appendix 10.
  • Entry information pack- An information pack with a list of guidelines and information has been developed. The guidelines include terms and conditions, example of projects funded and assessment criteria. See Appendix 11.
  • Database - A database was designed to allow each estates office to enter the information contained on the entry form into the database, as the submissions are received. The database then generates letters of notification and the report for the judges.
  • Receiving applications - Applications are received by each estates land and sales office. Information contained on the entry form is entered into the database. The database generates a letter to notify the group that its application has been received. The sales office distributes this letter.
  • A summary report for the judges - Once the applications are closed, the database will allow each estate to print the summary report and nomination forms to be sent to the members of the Community Fund selection panel.

Stage 4 Allocating grants (September 2002- January 2003)

  • Selecting the winning applications
    The Community Fund judging panel must select its top 10 preferences on a nomination form and send these into the chair in a sealed envelope.

  • Fourth meeting with judging panel
    Judging committees nomination forms are collated and nominated applicants are ranked according to the number of votes they received.

  • The candidates with the most number of points are the successful applicants.

  • Notifying the successful and unsuccessful applicants
    Successful applicants will be sent a letter notifying them of their success.
    Unsuccessful applicants are sent a letter notifying them that their application was unsuccessful.

  • Fifth meeting with judging panel / cheque presentation
    It will be important to verify that the grant money has been used according to the application.  Therefore the fund will pay the third parties directly, on behalf of the applicant.

Media coverage will be generated for grant recipients over the months following the allocation of grants.


  • To meet key opinion leaders from Melton, Wyndham and Casey shires at least three times each year.
    Throughout the course of the program, five meetings will be held with local opinion leaders.
  • To generate an interest from at least 50 local community groups. Each estate has received enquires from more than 50 community groups regarding the fund. This has been measured by the number of calls, e-mails and faxes requesting information packs be distributed to the groups.  It is expected that there will be more than 80 applications for each fund.
  • To generate at least five articles in the relevant local publications that contained the following key messages:
    • The estate is committed to building a better community.
    • The estate supports organisations that provide services that are important to our community.
    • For every block of land sold at the estate $100 is placed into a fund.
    • A number of community leaders have been appointed to select the projects that will receive the funds.
      Seven articles have been generated to date with more than 95 per cent of media coverage received containing at least three of the key messages established.
  • To increase the percentage of land sales generated from residents in the local area by five per cent.
    Sales for 2001/02 increased by 31 per cent from an annual turnover of $135 million to $250 million, with a 10 per cent increase in sales generated in the local area.


The key factor that enable Socom to evaluate the success of the campaign was the number of endorsements from State and local government representatives and other local opinion leaders.

  • Community Fund endorsed by Victorias Deputy Premier, John Thwaites at the launch of Rose Grange
  • Mayor of Casey at the launch of Hunt Club Wetlands.
  • Mayor of Melton at the Launch of the Brimbank Shopping centre
  • Quotes by Community Fund Judges in the local media.

Media coverage

In addition, after the community fund campaign, local journalists had a much greater level of awareness of the DFC and a better perception of them.  Most local journalists were aware of DFCs history, growth and activities at the end of the campaign.  This was reflected in the transformation of the media coverage.  (Evaluation included media analysis according to content (messages) and reach (audience).

Level of interest in the Fund

The level of interest in the fund has far exceeded expectations. It is forecast that the final number of applications will exceed 80 for each estate indicating that the promotion of the Funds had penetrated local communities with far more effect that previous sponsorships.

VCAT Cases

In 2001/02 the DFC had only one case before VCAT. A significant improvement on previous years.