Rightly or wrongly, handling PR disasters often falls into HR’s remit. As the centre of communications and scandal control, it’s left up to our people function to deal with a potentially messy brand catastrophe. And, since we’re all aware that even the slightest organizational scandal can completely total a company’s reputation, it’s essential that we know how to act quickly and effectively to minimize all gossip.
We spoke to Ben Bazinet, Vice President, Strategy & Development at Horizon North Logistics and speaker at our HR Leaders Summit in Calgary, who talked us through how a grisly PR nightmare led to a total revamping of their communications strategy.
“This is actually a really interesting topic for me – mainly because we ran into something like this around three years ago,” prefaced Ben.
Ben explained how Horizon North Logistics supplies workforce accommodations and camp management services across Canada. They deal with remote locations, where there’s no hotels for the employees working on a new site – meaning it’s all very isolated away from the public eye.
“We basically build accommodation in the middle of nowhere and take care of all the workers whilst they’re building a new site,” he added. “Essentially, what ended up happening on this occasion, was somewhat of a nightmare. There was an altercation, and ultimately a death, at a remote location. Thankfully, as we’re not the only company in this sector, the site wasn’t one of ours.”
But, as Ben revealed, that doesn’t really matter when it comes to media speculation.
“All of a sudden, we were fielding calls asking if the site was ours, what we knew about the murder, how we planned to proceed. And we had no clue what to tell them, what to say. At this point, we didn’t even know if it was at our site – but if we said ‘no comment’ then the media would start speculating.”
Ben admits that this was a very scary time for the organization. They had no contingency plan or guidelines in place to handle a situation of this magnitude.
“Luckily, as I said, it wasn’t our site. But it was a massive wakeup call that we need to implement some sort of plan in case it happened again.”
From here, Ben spent a lot of time implementing an emergency communications plan for Horizon North Logistics.
“We already had an emergency response plan, which is rather common in many organizations, but ours was pretty bare regarding external communications beyond who could talk to the media. After this event we spent a lot of time building up the emergency communications plan complete with holding statements, key messages, possible scenarios and outcomes. It allows us to wrap our heads around any situation that could unfold – meaning we’re prepared for any potential future issues before they happen.”