This Building PA podcast features co-hosts Chris Martin and Jon O’Brien as they talk about crisis communications for the construction industry. To listen to this podcast visit Building PA Crisis Communications.
Jon O’Brien (00:00):
Welcome to Building Pennsylvania, a construction industry podcast. Co-Hosted by the Keystone Contractors Association and Atlas Marketing. This is Jon O’Brien and this is Chris Martin. Yes. And today we are here to talk about crisis communications. Chris is a nationally renowned figure when it comes to this topic, he’s spoken across the country for AGC, the Associated General Contractors. And just today, he was in Hershey to speak. If you want to talk about your experience today, what brought you here? How was the audience? Give us a little feedback on your presentation.
Well, thanks, Jon. That really set me up nicely there. Thank you. Well, today, as you said, I, I spoke at the Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health Conference that was held at the Hershey Lodge. Thanks to your colleague and cohort Seth Kohr, who is a committee member and invited me to come and speak the topic this year, Chris Martin (01:07): The morning was crisis communications and its impact on safety and really what we focused on today and the discussion was the correlation between having a safety program and the need for a crisis communications plan. The, conversation and the presentation went quite well. I will admit the interaction was quite lively. There was a lot of comments and questions. And, and one question that came up was toward the end of the discussion, but it was focused on having technical support or experts to help tell the story when it comes to a news conference or even with a media interview. And it was interesting because the, question came from someone who was a safety officer. And the question was quite simply, should you have, you know, more people engaged in the communications element and telling the story of what has occurred.
Chris Martin (02:17):
And my response was quite simply the more people the better, but make sure that they have a, they have a reason to be there. You know, a lot of the times you see like a news conference or even a, even a, a politician who is behind the podium and they’re speaking, and then behind them, are even more people who are there more of a support element. But I just prefer that if you’re going to have people stand back there, they should have a role and they should be able to answer questions and, be a part of the conversation as appropriately, rather than just standing there for, eye candy. So I thought that was interesting. Jon, would you, I mean, you’ve done a, you’ve handled a lot of crisis communications for members in the past. What’s your take on crisis communications and safety?
Jon O’Brien (03:11):
Well it’s a, you know, it’s a serious topic. You want to make sure your team’s prepared and you want to make sure you know everyone’s kind of on the same page. So like you’re saying you have various team members involved and again, I agree with you. You don’t want them to be there just to be there. You want them to have a specific role and a specific purpose, you know, to be involved. And part of that is, you know, making sure everyone that’s involved knows the story you’re telling and knows exactly what happened. And because the last thing you want to do is put someone up there and you hear, Nope, no comment, you know, it’s like you’re insensitive. You don’t care about this situation. You don’t want to comment on it. So you want to make sure knowledgeable people that are up to date on the incident or whatever happened, whatever the crisis is, make sure to have knowledgeable people with insight onto the situation are involved in the process.
Chris Martin (04:06):
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And it’s funny, you said, no comment because that was a topic that, or that was actually an individual slide in the presentation. And it’s funny, every time I do that for construction or engineering or even manufacturing, when it comes to crisis communications, people’s eyes get big. Like, what do you mean? I can’t say no comment. Yeah. And it’s always funny because you know, my take on it is, and I’ll share this with our listeners, you know, it’s you’ve worked hard to develop us a message and have a response and coordinate with your members and your leadership and all the people that are involved in your crisis communications team. Why wouldn’t you want to go out and tell your side of the story, rather than just hiding behind two words that literally zap all the credibility out of anything that you’ve done up until that point. Yes, absolutely. I know.
Jon O’Brien (05:05):
Did you focus on the written statement at all? And do you, think that’s a good process to get your company to put it in writing first before any sort of spoken word is given?
Chris Martin (05:16):
Well, it’s funny you say that too, because although we didn’t get into that, you know, the varying efforts or the varying degrees of how to respond, one of the participants did ask you know, we have he was talking about a specific instance where he was talking at a chemical plant and he had mentioned to the reporter that it was a caustic… I’m sorry. I can’t think of how he said it, but it was the cash Alison of the toxics. And he said that the next day, the headline was caustic, toxics at the site. And, you know, it was a matter of how, you know, how do you, make sure that those words are specifically what you want them to say? And my response was, you know, that might be a perfect opportunity to do a written statement.
Chris Martin (06:14):
So just the actual having a conversation. And a lot of people don’t realize that, that a written statement is a viable response. And so, and especially in the construction industry, because, you know, just as well as I do, you know, contractors try to avoid the limelight, they just want to do their job and go home safely. And on time, all those fun things that come along with it. But I think there’s a lot of opportunity for contractors and safety officials and leaders within the industry to look at, you know, situations or crisis situations. And, as an opportunity to not only tell their story, but talk about how safe and how productive they are.
Jon O’Brien (06:59):
Yeah. That’s one thing I know every situation is different and perhaps it might not call for a written statement, but in the situations that I’ve helped out in the past with our various members, that’s one thing that we’ve kind of gravitated towards was first, let’s get a written statement out first, you know, get feedback and input from everyone on the job site, anyone that has input on the incident and then, you know, work with your superintendent and maybe the president of the company or whoever, and just deep have a good, detailed written statement. And that way, you know, if, the news cameras show up and not the right person’s there, or they don’t have issues, you know, they might have issues, you interviewing someone this way, they have a written statement that they can actually read on the news, just so that the perspective from the contractor is accurately described on the newscast.
Chris Martin (08:01):
Sure. Absolutely. And I think, you know, there is definitely a time and a place for that. And, and I agree with you. I think that that is always the right thing to do to, to write down your message, to make sure that the people that are going to serve as your spokesperson have that consistency. And, and actually one of the persons in the in the presentation this morning talked about unification and unified messaging. So I, I agree. I couldn’t agree more with it.
Jon O’Brien (08:28):
Yeah, that’s right. The last thing you want the media to do is to show up at the job site and perhaps, you know, they have issues getting the interview from the contractor, and now they’re roaming the job site and they’re talking to, you know, just a passerby, or someone not really involved and might not be a good comment that’s coming out of that person’s mouth. That’s not really that familiar with the incident.
Chris Martin (08:53):
Very, very true. And you know, there’s been instances where that has happened and the comment was from a somewhat disgruntled tradesmen. Yes. Just simply had a bad day. And so you’re absolutely right, and making sure that the, you know, controlling that message and managing the situation is extremely important. And, that consistent single voice message and response is extremely important because that’s how you can manage the crisis situation going from that. Absolutely. When it comes to social media, was that brought up at all, as far as crisis management, the one thing that we always tell clients, and as you know, when it comes to social media in a crisis situation, the biggest thing is again, consistency, but more importantly, making sure that your response is well timed. And by that, I mean you know, let’s throw out an example.
Chris Martin (10:04):
There is a an explosion at a concrete plant out in the middle of nowhere. The explosion occurs the last thing you want to have is somebody going to Facebook or LinkedIn, or even Twitter and saying, Hey, I just heard a big explosion at my job site. So you want to limit that initially. We always look at social media as a great support for the followup as well as the opportunity to reinforce messaging. So I think that’s what I would recommend for utilizing social media simply because social media, one, there’s so many platforms and, you know, to be able to manage that it can be a little daunting, especially while you’re managing a crisis situation. And then the second part of that is, is making sure that you have your message in place before you start to get information out.
Chris Martin (11:11):
And, I say it that way because and all the crises that we’ve managed and have been a part of, you know, the messaging and the statements go back and forth and back and forth multiple times and are reviewed by a lot of people legal, financial, communications, safety, all of those people are involved. So you want to make sure that you have the right version of your response. So we always tell people that kinda go a little it’s in your best interest to go dark on your social media until you have something to say in terms of a crisis. Okay. So here’s an example here. Yeah.
Jon O’Brien (11:54):
You’re dark for awhile. Then you got your statement and you got your uniformity amongst your company, and you post something on Facebook. For example, your company releases a statement on Facebook about an incident, and you start getting comments that could be viewed as negative towards your company. Do you first off, would you recommend allowing people to comment would you? Would you respond or would you delete them? Or how would you handle that sort of situation?
Chris Martin (12:28):
That’s a really good question. I mean, typically if there is negative conversation or misinformation, we would encourage you to take that offline. And by that, I mean, having a conversation like in Facebook messenger, for example, or direct message in Twitter to that person and, the company representative, because that way you’re acknowledging their information, but yet you’re also making sure that whatever they’re saying, if it’s misinformation or just factually wrong, you don’t want to have that become you know, a mini crisis within a bigger crisis. So that would be the first thing I would recommend is, you know, take that information offline and have a conversation with someone. But the other side of that is, you know, depending on the level of the crisis you may want to turn off the commenting and not allow people to comment. You know, for example, if there’s a fatality on a job site the last thing you want to have is people, you know, jumping on to social media and saying negative things about the person that died, or the company that, you know, this infraction happened or something to that extent because you know, the bigger element is that we all want to be safe and we all want to go home and see our loved ones at night.
Chris Martin (13:59):
So it kind of becomes a sticky situation to say, a blanket response needs to just be go dark and don’t address things. But I think it’s in your best interest as a general contractor and owner a leader to manage the misinformation, if it becomes a problem.
Jon O’Brien (14:21):
Makes sense. Yeah, definitely. And every situation is different. Right. When it comes to a traditional media, like the print media and the news media, do you have any sort of a good feedback, pros, cons any sort of a good advice for contractors and dealing with them?
Chris Martin (14:43):
Yeah we’re really teaming up here, bro. First off personally, I always, I recommend and encourage conversation and, you know, a lot of the times, if you’re talking with a reporter you know easily, you know, the first question is are we on the record? So that, then that way you can know your level of engagement specifically with that reporter. Secondly, you know, always assume that you’re on the record so that you don’t make mistakes and share information that you don’t want out there, because if you do, it’ll be in the public record and the public domain. So you want to avoid that. But I’m always a huge proponent of having the opportunity to talk with someone. And mainly it’s not so much that I want to talk to the reporter, but I want to know what the reporter knows relevant to this topic or this situation.
Chris Martin (15:47):
So I would use that as an opportunity to ask questions and get them to talk a little bit more, and then not so much shut down the interview, but say, you know what, you’ve given me a lot of good information. Let me go back to my team, confirmed that this is all within the investigation and make sense, because I just don’t know at this point in time. And let me get back to you. That’s how I typically would use that conversation so that you have an opportunity to prepare yourself rather than just walking in there and doing your best to respond to a question or have that conversation right then and there. Yeah. Great advice. Good stuff, huh? Yeah. Anything else that stuck out today? Any good questions or good feedback you heard?
Chris Martin (16:39):
There was a lot of questions and I have to admit that I’m still trying to pull it through in my head, but I really enjoyed the fact that there was so much interaction between the participants and myself as the presenter. It was great. People were you know, quick to offer comments and questions. One woman in the audience even talked about her PR person who was very good in handling media and talking about things, but that person’s boss would be the one that would come in and in her words “screw things up.” So it was interesting to hear. And a lot of people had examples of, you know, instances that it didn’t go quite so well as they expected. So I was shocked by that. I wasn’t expecting that. So that was good. But overall, I really enjoyed it and had a great opportunity to speak to was probably about 60 people maybe 70 people at the Governor’s Occupational and Health Conference.
Jon O’Brien (17:50):
And hopefully that was just as good for everyone else as well. Absolutely. well, as, as you know, I’m a big proponent of KCA be an extended staff for all of our members. And I always tell them if they have any sort of crisis communication issues or problems, you know, feel free to get in touch with me. I can help help as needed or get professionals like you to come in and help. But another thing I was thinking was it’d be great if there was a crisis communication resource guide or some sort of like a crisis communications guide to kind of give contractors and construction companies some help on a (PHONE RINGING AT KCA OFFICE) Sorry about that call there. Hopefully that wasn’t a contractor with a crisis.
Jon O’Brien (18:46):
Right. I was thinking, it’d be great if KCA and, you know, maybe a firm like yours put our heads together and come up with some sort of crisis communication guide. And I was wondering what your thoughts are, and if that’s a needed resource.
So I couldn’t agree with you more and having the opportunity of, you know, here are the basic steps of what you need to work on and pull that together. I think that would be a great resource for your members. And we’d be glad to participate in and help to pull that together. Absolutely. That would be a fantastic thing for the industry and for KCA members. Awesome. And if any members or construction companies are listening to this podcast, I know our Building Pennsylvania podcast website, isn’t quite up and running yet.
Jon O’Brien (19:35):
We’re not at that point yet, but if they have questions or they want to get in touch with you, is there a good number or email just to reach out to you?
Sure they can. They can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can call my office at (412) 749-9299. And we will be glad to offer assistance and provide the best knowledge that we can based on the situation and go from there.
Awesome. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say KCA’s glad to have Atlas Marketing as a member, and you do a lot of good stuff for the industry, like giving today’s presentation and keep up the great work.
Well, thank you. It’s great to be a part of KCA and we love being a part of this industry. So thank you. You bet.
Jon O’Brien (20:30):
Thank you for all you do. And for all you listeners out there, I hope you enjoyed it. Many, many, many more topics are coming. You know, like I mentioned earlier, we might talk about ACE mentor one week, workforce development the next. We might talk about the various trades and what does it take to get into those trades? Talk about different delivery systems and ways to improve collaboration in the industry. The topics are endless when it comes to Building Pennsylvania, the list keeps growing literally just like Pennsylvania. Yes, absolutely. Great. Well, thank you for giving us a few minutes of your time. I hope you enjoyed it and please don’t hesitate to contact us and stay safe. Thank you.
One thought on “Building PA Podcast: Season 1; Episode 1 – Crisis Communications”
Great topic to tackle. Almost all construction-related businesses are privately-held, rather than publicy-traded, so they don’t have the imperative to regularly communicate with the general public with any accountability or liability. The firms that have “communications” people are primarily interested in them for promotion. The vast majority of contractors will never need a crisis communication plan executed but every one of them should have one. Retaining a comms consultant to be prepared would seem to be an easy, low impact fix to that. That approach gives the business owner a way to create a plan, a chain of communication and then share that with the entire staff. Like insurance, a crisis communication plan is something you do hoping you never need it. You’ll never be happy if you do need it but you’ll be glad you’re prepared.