Insights / public-relations

October storm was a crisis; it should not have been a public relations storm

It’s nearly 2012.  CL&P is a public company.  The October snow storm was unprecedented. Therefore, when faced with an issue:  tell your story using all available means; don’t operate like a mom & pop company; and, present the facts to the public with supporting evidence.

This is a matter of common sense for experienced communicators. Crisis communication best practice is straightforward. Get the facts out as soon as possible; don’t lie or blame others (e.g., weather forecasters), show empathy, don’t over promise and demonstrate that you are taking corrective action.crisis communications

So why then did CL&P not properly prepare and support Jeff Butler, its president and COO? And, if he was not up to the task after coaching and media training, why did they not appoint a more qualified chief spokesperson? They had plenty of time, and it looked to me like they left the guy hanging. Contrary to some views, one does not always put up the company chief during a crisis. If the severity of the situation warrants, the chief can make initial appearances, but then a transition can be made to a more qualified person.

It also baffles me why the company continued to hold news briefings when there wasn’t any real new information to convey. This only reinforced  the negatives (a lack of progress and loss of control) as well as keep CL&P on the defensive. Further, did anyone ask the company to establish a deadline to restore power?  Why overpromise and set yourself up for failure?

I could go on. But, where were the b-roll videos of twisted wires and downed trees and crews working diligently to restore power? Where were the numbers and the slice-of-life perspectives we needed?  We all knew that this storm was bad, but we only wanted to see it the proof for validation — whether on television, YouTube or the company site. What’s more, I still had telephone service, how about an automated call with updates? Our school system was able to reach my cell phone each day with a message – why not CL&P? 

To me this boils down to a lack of communication and crisis planning. Use the tools available today, and use your crisis communications experience or outside counsel if you need support. Don’t act like a mom & pop outfit when you are a public company with resources. You will only pay later to rebuild trust in your brand.