Today’s blog post has to simulate a crisis communication strategy employed by a company within my field. And wouldn’t you know it? The company I want to work for has recently helped out in the crisis in Puerto Rico as I eluded to in my first blog post. Our readings for the week, thus far, have revolved around the crisis communication portion of strategic communication. We also read a case study about how Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) handled the 2011 Nor’easter. This case highlighted the need for strategic crisis communication planning when employing the public information model of communication following a natural disaster. My “case study” will highlight Alphabet Inc. (the company that controls Google) and their involvement in Puerto Rico’s hurricane crisis in October of 2017.
Support Drones from Project Loon. Photos taken by Jason “JD” Daniel, California, 2017.
“Before a crisis occurs, organizations need to have strategic plans in place in order to communicate effectively. The first priority for an organization following a crisis is to protect stakeholders from harm (Coombs, 2007c). Consideration of the organization’s reputation is secondary. However, research has shown that crises types, and response actions to those crises, will ultimately influence stakeholders’ opinions and attitudes toward an organization following a crisis event.” (Grantham_PowerPeople)
On October 10, 2017, Google’s application to provide crisis relief in Puerto Rico was accepted. We can immediately see one of the differentiating factors in Google’s Crisis Response vs. CL&P – Google, as a third party, applied through the government to assist in a situation where crisis response was NOT communicated/anticipated/manageable.
The key finding from my research is that the aforementioned difference is too discriminate to compare the two appropriately – but what I can do is assess the backlash from public opinion to Google’s intervening in the crisis and make my recommendations and assessments based on that.
CNN has a fairly macabre photo gallery of Hurricane Maria’s devastation on Puerto Rico – the kind of macabre where the photos don’t elicit positive emotions but the viewer can recognize the importance of the image will probably garner critical acclaim and awards. On September 16, 2017 Hurricane Maria struck – leaving many people in most of the country without food, shelter, power, and other essentials – it engulfed everything.
Photo Credit: Express
Strategies and Tactics
DWs article lays out the specifics of the strategies and tactics used during the crisis. Here’s a more succinct timeline.
- Hurricane Maria hits – September 16, 2017
- Google’s Application to supply aid was accepted October 5, 2017
- Both drones and balloons – HBAL199 & HBAL237 – successfully provide internet to remote areas of Puerto Rico where cell coverage was knocked out on October 20, 2017
- October 23, 2017 – Government authorizes 30 more balloons
When the government authorized Project Loon to provide 30 more balloons of service to Puerto Rico, the crisis response was deemed a success. All that remained were the critics to voice their scrutiny.
Project Loon was criticized from the get-go. One notable voice was that of Bill Gates – who essentially said “in times of great crisis – the last thing people will need is the internet.” The rest of the article talks about how true help would come in the form of money or more tangible assets.
Hurricane Maria afforded Google an opportunity to silence those critics – and they did. Project Loon not only provided limited internet – it also provided cell coverage. Google did make a considerable contribution to the U.S. Territory. Google has helped save the day, again. Need a dinner recommendation in Chicago? Google it. Need cell and internet coverage in a disaster-worn country after a hurricane? Google that, too.
While I have no recommendations on how my skills can help Google get more balloons approved by the United States government (even in hindsight – I’m severely unqualified). But what I can analyze is the time between Project Loon’s announcement in 2013 and Hurricane Maria – more specifically immediately after the initial criticism.
Bernstein Crisis Management highlights 10 strategies or steps of crisis communication. From that article I’d like to highlight steps 3, 4, and 7. Identify and Train the right spokespersons and Developing Holding Statements.
At first notice of an article such as the published Bill Gates interview, I would have had a spokesperson issue a statement, most likely with audience. “Spokesperson training teaches you to be prepared, to be ready to respond in a way that optimizes the response of all stakeholders,” whose concern, we’ve learned, is of the utmost importance.
After a public statement defending the product and purpose, holding statements would have been incredibly appropriate, especially considering the following:
- At announcement – the project had never actually been deployed – therefore criticism should be taken with a grain of salt.
- The announcement of Project Loon and its capabilities was the focus of the announcement – not whether Google would also provide financial assistance.
- The internet provides for communication – and in crisis, communication and the ability to communicate is paramount.
Whatever Google did must have worked – the critics have been silence since Puerto Rico. In my head I imagine someone somewhere implemented my suggestions above in the most professional of manners. Another part of me thinks ‘it’s Google – they probably did nothing and just thought wait and see …‘