In our 2016 Silver Leaf Awards profile series we’re sharing insights from the Calgary communicators behind the winning submissions. Rob Gray | ABC, APR, Lead, Strategic Corporate Communications, Alliance Pipeline shares their project delivered in a crisis communications context.
Q: Tell us about your project and its objective.
In August 2015, Alliance Pipeline announced hydrogen sulfide (H2S) had entered into its mainline pipeline system due to complications experienced by an upstream operator. The concentration of this toxic gas was enough to be fatal and would cause severe damage if it reached the processing plant at the terminus of the pipeline system.
Alliance had to safely remove the substance from the pipeline. The safest means was to burn it off, which would render the substance inert, but due to the volume of gas, would require large, very visible flare-stacks at multiple locations in southern Saskatchewan. This situation also necessitated the first unplanned, full-scale shutdown of the Alliance pipeline in the company’s history. This shutdown had material impacts for customers, downstream markets and other key stakeholders, and generated a level of international media interest unprecedented for the company.
Alliance’s communications team (supported by NATIONAL Public Relations) implemented Alliance’s robust crisis communications plan. Proactive strategies and tactics were undertaken with an end goal (and result) of informing the public and impacted stakeholders in an effective and timely manner, establishing Alliance as a credible and driving source of information, and protecting the company’s reputation in an environment of heightened pipeline resistance.
Alliance’s communications program was structured to address the following objectives:
- Engage stakeholders near the flaring sites assuring them there was no threat to life or the local environment
- Notify commercial stakeholders and keep them updated on a resumption of service timeline
- Communicate with employees to ensure awareness and alignment with response efforts
- Ensure stakeholders and media were provided timely information to reduce the risk of misinformation and speculation
- Communicate with government representatives and regulatory officials concerning the mainline shutdown, flaring activities and stakeholder engagement initiatives, and
- Keep Alliance’s owners (via the Board of Directors) apprised of the situation and progress.
To achieve these objectives, the company proactively employed a variety of communications methods including local stakeholder engagement, media relations, online communications, a centralized telephone call centre, government relations and various internal communications tactics.
Alliance successfully met its objectives. Stakeholders indicated they felt well informed. Also, the more than 500 instances of media and online coverage were largely neutral to positive in tone, and based on Alliance’s key messages.
Q: What did you feel most proud of in this project?
A: I was proud of how Alliance approached the situation, with safety and doing the right thing being the unequivocal drivers. From a communications standpoint, this was a true leadership opportunity to directly impact the outcome of a crisis.
This was a significant operational issue that impacted many of our stakeholders. In an era of intense pipeline scrutiny, this could have turned into a reputational disaster but, if anything, it served to reinforce our relationships, with both local officials and customers going so far as to praise our efforts after the fact.
Q: What was a key challenge you faced?
A: We are a small communications team, which made it challenging to respond to such a large-scale and rapidly unfolding crisis. However, with a well-planned and practiced crisis communications approach and mechanisms in place, an expert team, trusted external resources and the support of our executive leadership, we succeeded.
Q: Was there anything particularly creative or innovative you can share?
A: We took a very transparent approach in communicating with media and other stakeholders. As part of this, we made media-quality photography and video available online. This made the job easier for reporters, who were then less inclined to come to site, and provided us an opportunity to ensure accurate information and key messages were effectively communicated.
Q. If you had to use one word to describe this project what would it be?
Q: Why is winning a Silver Leaf Award significant for your communications career?
A: It provides both credibility as well as validation in having one’s work reviewed, recognized and endorsed by experienced peer-communicators.
Thank you Rob Gray and the team at Alliance Pipeline for their time responding to our questions!
Silver Leaf is IABC Canada’s premiere professional awards program celebrating excellence in business communication. It’s a chance for communicators working in all disciplines to receive national industry recognition for outstanding work in the field of communications.
“Congratulations to all 2016 Silver Leaf Award winners,” says Tracy Fox, IABC Silver Leaf Co-Chair. “The quality of work our members produce is excellent and really demonstrates the quality of communications professionals in Canada.”
To learn more about the Silver Leaf Awards click here.