In Massachusetts, those who tried to commute, go to school or simply take a walk faced a two-week period like no other over the past 21 days as record-setting snowfall blanketed the Bay State.
Rather than merely bemoan never-ending traffic gridlock, interminable public transit delays and the wearying chore of clearing six+ feet of accumulation from sidewalks, Mills PR decided to look at the PR implications of #Snowdiculous2015.
Endless snow piles create major delays. The messy aftermath includes weeks of longer commutes and no-place-to-park streets. Severe snow-driven gridlock happens where it shouldn’t – to wit, a report of drivers trapped for hours at Massachusetts General Hospital’s garage on February 3rd. These are the obvious takeaways from Mother-Nature-gone-wild.
Of course, there also are some of the important communication implications to consider.
There’s no such thing as over communicating in a snow crisis
During any crisis, the most relevant lesson is to share information quickly and accurately. In a snow-driven crisis, it’s important to add share information frequently—and then share some more. A simple-rule-of-thumb is copy the weather forecasters who spend hour after hour providing updates and revised information.
As you will see below in the “Winners” and “Losers” section, the ability to communicate consistently makes a huge difference when schedules are upended and normalcy is displaced. During snow storms, when weather predictions change suddenly, the best advice is to communicate the present circumstance in real-time.
Talk about your recovery plan (and then do it again)
Anybody who uses public transportation in Eastern Massachusetts will remember #Snowdiculous2015 as the time when the “T” (Mass Bay Transportation Authority) literally gave up when they suspended all service on February 9th and 10th.
The T’s showdown represented more than the inevitable reckoning resulting from longstanding policy decisions. The beleaguered MBTA’s failure belied a failure to effectively communicate.
What could the T have done differently?
For one thing, they could have begun announcing their preparations well before the snow arrived.
Take for example work that Mills PR performed on behalf of former T commuter rail operator MBCR.
Between the fall of 2011 and the end of the 2014 winter season, Mills PR distributed video, pitched media and used Twitter (as early as September) to get in front of inevitable weather related problems.
The message? Unpredictable weather and related failure will cause major delays but MBCR had real plans to tackle any type of failure when and if they happened.
Whether promoting an emergency snow schedule (designed to allow for more crew time on the tracks to clear snow and debris) to highlighting snow removal equipment investments ($500,000 price tag) to unveiling best practices gleaned from other rail operators (such as new silicone sleeves to cover sensitive hydraulic hoses, which dramatically improves recovery time for disabled trains) to the hiring seasonal personnel (to dig out troublesome rail switches and signals,) MBCR sent a clear message that it was ready to take on the worst possible winter conditions – with no excuses
Don’t ask for sympathy – you won’t get any
The MBTA’s failure to communicate its winter plans months before the storms hit was a mistake. The mystifying decision to shovel excuses at the public as delays mounted is quite another.
Here’s a sampling of MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott’s quotes as the weather continued to pummel the Bay State:
- “Just to be candid, we can’t even begin to do the things we would normally do for special events like this” — January 28th
- “There’s not a magic sauce for us so we’re hoping that the weather subsides some” — February 3rd
- “I wish I could wave a magic wand, but I can’t” — February 3rd
- “We haven’t had anything like this” — February 4th
- “We’re not going to make excuses, but that’s just the reality,” — February 7th
The lesson, of course, is that statements like these will fall on deaf ears during crises – always.
SNOW PR WINNERS
A blizzard of blizzards does not conjure up visions of PR wins. Yet the #Snowdiculous2015 events of the past two weeks did showcase a few things in a positive light
The Wall Street Journal touted telecommuting during the late January blizzard while shared advice on technology, etiquette and productivity
American Red Cross
While Red Cross blood drives were postponed and delayed by multiple snow storms, the Red Cross successfully used social media to share weather tips ranging from pet care to assisting elder residents while also promoting season fundraising activities.
SNOW PR LOSERS
Nothing tops the MBTA’s #Snowdiculous2015 public relations disaster. But they were not alone in losing the PR battle. Pity the poor florists whose big business month was buried in the deluge. Valentine’s Day snow is great for romantics who enjoy leisurely walks through charming winter scenery. For the florist industry, which according to the National Retail Federation, stands to generate $2.1 billion in sales during the 2015 Valentine’s Day celebration (including the sale of 257 million roses), delayed incoming shipments of product and disruption of home deliveries is nothing short of a disaster.