Crisis Communications 101: BC Place & Canada Place Case Studies

Last week, I had an opportunity to experience one of the best professional development opportunities I’ve had thus far in my career. Discovering that Currents 2012, the CPRS (Canadian Public Relations Society) National Conference would be held in Victoria this year was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

As a media relations and social media volunteer, I was granted the chance to attend a few of the workshops as well as a keynote address and the knowledge-and interest-I gained from each one of them is amazing. Areas such as crisis communications or issues surrounding media disclosure for companies have never been my specialty, nor have I come up against them when working for companies or with my own clients; but they were informative nonetheless and it makes me want to learn more about how to deal with such situations on a regional, small-to-medium sized business level.

That leads me to my first workshop, Crisis Communications with Linda Bilben. With over twenty years of experience, Linda is currently a Partner and Creative Director in Reputations (@ReputationsCorp), a Vancouver-based firm specializing in award-winning branding, issues and crisis communications management.

In this workshop, Linda shared with us two of her most well-known crisis communications case studies, the January 2007 BC Place roof deflation and the 2010 Canada Place construction accident in early December that saw one construction worker fall off of Canada Place’s sails and sustain life-threatening injuries while other a block away died of injuries he suffered on site. Both workers were contracted by Ledcor.

I will start with Linda’s and Reputation’s crisis communications plan for BC Place’s roof deflation first before moving onto the Canada Place case study.

Case Study #1: 2007 BC Place Roof Deflation

BC Place Before Sept 2011

The 2007 roof deflation was both quick and unexpected and while Linda and Reputations had a crisis communications plan in place for BC Place, the one incident they didn’t factor in was the roof deflation.

Faced with the worries of the Ministry of Tourism, VANOC and IOC on whether or not BC Place would be ready for the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics and the interests of the international media, Linda and her team at Reputations put their plan into action.

By using human interest stories such as having Global BC’s Ted Chernecki up on the actual roof structure within three days, Linda and her team were able to deflect the media’s interest for the time being while a new roof was being ordered. While the new roof was stuck in customs at the US border, Linda and her team constructed human interest stories to be shown on regional and national as well as international media was 17 days straight. Every single member of BC Place’s media relations team and all of their spokespeople received media training for those 17 days as well.

After 17 days, Linda and her team had conducted 1500 media calls, thanked over 250 suppliers and vendors, neutralized the international media and won the confidence of VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism and the IOC.

Case Study #2: 2010 Canada Place Construction Accident

Canada Place

During sail reconstruction at Canada Place shortly before Christmas in 2010, a construction worker slipped and fell off the sails, landing on the ground below. A block away, another construction worker was crushed to death by a piece of falling equipment and both men had been contracted by Ledcor.

In less than an hour after the accident, local reporters were tweeting about the crisis, and publishing articles online as they received information. Before the work day had even started, Canada Place was facing the challenge of correcting misinformation about the event, and then sharing the actual facts in a way that maintained the trust and support of their employees and stakeholders.

Almost immediately, misinformation was coming from all sides, from blogs and other social media platforms, including WorkSafe BC incorrectly reporting that there had been 2 deaths that day, when the truth was that one worker was still in critical condition.

Linda and her team had to go online via social media and on websites and ask the media to pull the misinformation down and within in 20 minutes, correct statements regarding the Canada Place incident were in place. Two hours later, a press conference was held. The correct topics were trending via social media and the entire setup and take down of the crisis communications plan within one day of the Canada Place incident. By going to news organizations via Twitter on the topic, @ReputationsCorp ended up trending on Twitter regarding the Canada Place incident.

Final Thoughts and Vital Knowledge from the Workshop

What I’ve learned from this workshop that applies to nearly every company out there is this: a crisis communications plan is crucial to any business or situation. Always, always plan and for that matter, always plan for Plan B or Plan C. After all, Linda and her team hadn’t been prepared for the BC Place roof deflation and yet, executed their crisis communications plan successfully.

Not only is the plan vital, but so is testing the plan with clients and running through simulations with them so that they understand how to handle media questions as well as internal and external stakeholders during the given timeframe of a crisis.

And lastly, always ensure that you have a team around you who can manage and plan during a crisis. From what I learned during this valuable workshop, it’s one of my goals to learn how to manage crisis communications on a small business, regional level.