CRISIS GURU #17
In his Crisis Guru Commentaries, Jim Lukaszewski provides real answers to real questions about your most critical communications problems and issues.
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TODAY’S TOPIC: PREPARING MANAGEMENT FOR LONG-TERM, HIGH-PROFILE PROJECTS
Dear Crisis Guru:
How do you prepare management for the communication agonies and urgencies required for large, long-term, high-profile projects, e.g., power lines, power plant siting, highway development, plant/building expansions, environmental remediation, retail store siting, merger & acquisitions?
Corporate Communications Manager
Dear Corporate Communications Manager:
I usually ask four powerful questions designed to temper management’s overly optimistic attitude and expectations. These questions address the realities of high-profile, often very long term projects.
Question One: “What’s your retirement date?”
Answer: Most big projects can take a decade or more from proposal to start up. The team making the original proposal is unlikely to be in charge when the first spade is turned or the completion ribbon is cut. Does the initial strategy allow for transitions to new issues and players as the process proceeds? How?
Question Two: “Can you afford to play at this level of complexity, visibility, and cost? Do you have the resources to stay in the game - and win?” Even the best in the business fail to succeed a significant number of times.
Answer: These are projects are incredibly costly. Sometimes the cost of managing all the soft issues such as studies, managing opposition, community relationship building, and legislative and legal costs can actually equal the cost of the project - before it ever begins. What’s the strategy for obtaining the highest initial impact with the best indication of future success?
Question Three: “Do you have the stomach for it? Can you stand the criticism, commentary, analysis, the bloviating, and emotionally driven negativity about the project until it’s approved, and even after that?”
Answer: Big, important, complex, high-profile projects are the beginning of an ongoing permanent relationship with the community in all its glory and in all its irritations. This is a management experiment without a conclusion or end point. If such a project gets underway in controversy, it will probably live in controversy for quite some time. It’s a fact of life; you’ll be the targets of it. Avoid taking much of anything you hear, see, read, or view personally. Focus instead on the results you seek to achieve, and the open, ethically engaging process you will need to succeed.
Question Four: “Are you prepared for the YOYO effect?” While there may be a lot of people attending the announcement ceremonies as you begin, when the news gets worse and public officials and others begin to be standoffish and aloof, even your friends may leave you, or at least come and go. You’re On Your Own (YOYO).
Answer: This answer does go against most public relations wisdom, which says if you do certain things, you will gain and maintain friends everywhere. The reality is that the more controversial your project, the more irritating it is to even a small group within the community, the less likely it is that you will have many friends, and even they will be temporary, following the ups and downs of your community relationships.
It’s just a part of what is happening in today’s society. Community irritation and anti-corporate activism are part of a current trend in American life. Corporate values and goals, once readily accepted by most communities, are now rejected by communities, religious organizations, and others who simply have a dramatically different view of what society should be and look like. It is likely that these community relationships or, if you prefer, non-relationships, will continue for the foreseeable future. Whether you like it or not, and no matter how much money you spend, you are largely on your own. This means that you must control your own destiny or someone else will.
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