What’s the hardest job in PR this week? My opinion: try working for a power company here in New England after Hurricane Irene.
Consider Foxborough, Massachusetts, where PR reps for National Grid had to explain why they restored electricity to New England Patriots' Gillette Stadium. Meanwhile most of the surrounding homes in Foxborough started day number four in the dark on Wednesday morning.
Tuesday night National Grid Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, Marcy Reed tackled the bru-ha-ha on WBZ Newsradio Talk Show Nightside with Dan Rea. The National Grid explanation? That Gillette Stadium is powered by higher voltage lines, which get fixed first in the wake of natural disaster. Lower voltage lines, which power homes, come second – since fixing the big lines restores power to large numbers of people.
The radio interview went great. Reed got her message across. But moments later, it became clear that controlling the message is no easy game, as a WBZ reporter succeeded at confusing listeners again – entirely unintentionally – explaining that Gillette Stadium had electricity because it drew from an electric transformer station in the neighboring town of Wrentham. Yet the reporter made no clear reference to Reed's messaging. Listeners were left wondering: does Gillette have power because of its geographic location to Wrentham, where there's electricity? Or, was it repairs to high voltage lines? The reports seemed conflicting.
Power companies have my sympathies this week. Why? There is no easy way to tell the public: "I'm sorry we can't restore electricity to everyone immediately." And it doesn't matter how PR departments develop the messaging, which can easily get lost in the media storm.
But, of course, my deepest sympathies go to those without power, especially those in Foxborough. What a frustrating situation they're in.
Contributed by Aaron Kellogg. Follow him @KelloggAaron