Bravo Group - It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No… it’s your Public Information Officer! - Bravo Group

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No… it’s your Public Information Officer!

It was a Friday evening after a long week of being on the road for work, and as I sat down for dinner with my family my cell phone rang.  My 4-year old was telling a very detailed story about an intense game of tag she had at school that day with her friends, so I let the call go to voicemail.  But the phone rang again immediately and the look on my wife’s face said it all. Change of plans for the weekend — I was going to have to work.

For anyone in PR, especially those in the energy industry, we know this is a part of our job. When there’s an incident and your client is assembling the formal response team, it’s go time.

In the energy industry, as in any regulated industry, the reality of incidents is part of the job.  For PR/public affairs/communications people, that means reacting quickly on a number of fronts by serving as the onsite Public Information Officer (PIO): developing statements, monitoring news and social coverage, briefing and assisting public officials, interacting with the general public and impacted members of the community… and the list goes on.

You also need to line up resources back at the office to help with the tasks you can’t manage onsite and/or don’t have the time to focus on.  As part of a larger Incident Command Structure onsite, you’re actively participating in meetings and calls with response team members in addition to your regular duties.

The key to responding to any incident is to maintain safety and speed: speed to respond to incident, speed to manage the situation and speed to ultimately resolve the incident – and to do so with the safety of the community and response team at the forefront.  In short, responding to an incident is hectic, and as PIO, you are juggling a number of responsibilities. Throw in the fact that you are often the face of the company onsite and you need to be on top of your game to succeed.

Responding to and managing an incident successfully begins with preparation on a number of fronts, and well in advance of any incident occurring.  Here are a few tips from personal experience:

  1. Have an internal protocol and process vetted, approved and understood by your entire team for handling an incident – from media monitoring to onsite coverage.
  2. Review prepared statements and media materials to make sure everything is updated.
  3. Make sure certifications, trainings and other required administrative details are up-to-date and current.
  4. Have your “Go Bag” is packed and handy at all times – including all of your personal protective gear, extra toiletries, medications and personal essential items.
  5. Remember to pack all your work essentials – laptop, tablet, phone, power cords – and access to internet connectivity.
  6. Above all else, always remember safety is of the utmost importance – make sure you have all materials and training to do your job safely!

Fortunately the above incident was resolved quickly, but that isn’t always the case.  While adrenaline and caffeine can help you manage the long hours, responding to incidents can often take days or weeks — and being successful comes down to being fully prepared.  Knowing you have studied and trained appropriately, and have your personal and work items handled, are the keys to successfully managing an incident from the PIO position.

Chris Getman is co-lead of Bravo Group’s energy infrastructure practice, bringing nearly 20 years of experience in public relations, corporate and marketing communications and advocacy expertise to Bravo’s energy clients.