Our philosophy when addressing crisis communications
Handling crisis communications is different than most types of PR or general communications. In those arenas, the measurement of success is often “How many people attended an event?” Or, “How much coverage are we getting in the media?”
When handling such a volatile subject as a rate increase, however, the measurement of success is “How many people DIDN’T attend the rate hearing?” Or, “How much coverage are we NOT getting in the media?”
A typical crisis communications program that we deliver for a water or wastewater client goes through two phases; 1) Emergency Care and 2) Reputation Rehabilitation.
In fact, an ideal program has three phases. It would begin months earlier and implement a Preventive Care information program before the situation becomes critical.
This approach not only reduces the negative impact of the crisis, but it helps save money in the long run.
Our unusual public relations technique: We tell the truth
The biggest problem with most unhappy ratepayers is that they are badly misinformed. Ironically, this is most often caused by the city or utility itself.
Behaviorists and sociologists have long known that people cannot tolerate an absence of information. When people don’t know the answer to something, they won’t just ignore it or wait patiently for someone to provide the answer. Instead, they will fill the void with their best guess. Their best guess then becomes a “fact” in their minds and often they are more than willing to share their “facts” with other people.
This lack of information is caused by the lack of a good communications program from the city or utility.
Ratepayers don’t know that the cause of a rate increase is the need to replace infrastructure or the need to meet a new water quality standard. Instead, they believe the rate increase is caused by wasteful operations, excessive salaries, and a desire to gouge them for every last cent.
Our strategy is to open lines of communication and provide the truth behind a situation. While this doesn’t always make people happy, (who enjoys paying more for necessities?) it does help people gain understanding and acceptance based on actual facts.
And it calms down the public outcry dramatically.
At the same time, we also work to shield the council or board from criticism. (At times it can be quite harsh.) In many cases, they are the people who are solving a problem created by people who came before them. We work to assure that they are not unfairly targeted for blame and ridicule.