LIPA's PR storm

      5 Comments on LIPA's PR storm

Jeff Morosoff, Assistant Professor, Hofstra University

Three days after Hurricane Irene, I received a four-page newsletter in the mail titled, “Hurricane Readiness in Nassau County.”  It seemed like a good public relations effort gone bad–valuable information that came too late.  I later found out that most residents received the newsletter before the storm hit and the post office was to blame for my late delivery.  In reality, Nassau County and most local governments did a pretty fantastic job of keeping their constituents informed.  From mandatory evacuations to post-event clean-up, they used print, broadcast and social media very well.  As the storm approached, we knew what was coming, what to expect when it got here, and how to deal with the aftermath.  And except for quite a bit of pre-storm hype, kudos to the media for also shining during and after Irene.

Not so much for the Long Island Power Authority.  LIPA’s COO Michael Hervey admitted mid-week that the utility was giving itself low grades for communication.  As hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders wondered when the power was going to come back, their anger increased because no one was telling them anything.  As it struggled in the rush to get electricity to its customers, LIPA dropped the PR ball big-time.  Its leadership seemed to forget that people truly felt powerless because they couldn’t get information about what to expect.

The moral of this case study: In a time of crisis those in charge must keep people informed quickly, honestly and accurately.  We all want to know what’s happening and what to expect next when faced with challenging situations.  It’s the PR professionals’ role to make sure this happens.  LIPA, somehow, forgot this obvious rule.  Your thoughts?

5 thoughts on “LIPA's PR storm

  1. darrahrachman

    I completely agree! As a Hofstra commuter living with other students off-campus, it was extremely frustrating not knowing when the power would return to our street. It was even more frustrating that when we finally did call LIPA to get an idea when we would be receiving power, we not only were re-directed several times to different numbers but we were left with no answers. In my opinion, the coverage before the storm hit was obnoxious and over the top. However, afterwards was a different story. The PR in my opinion was very poor. There was obviously no way of watching the television or tuning into the radio (besides in your car) to find out what was going on. Because of this, LIPA should have had a crisis plan in place and should have been available to answer questions regarding the power outage–or even provide an estimate– instead of redirecting people to numerous numbers. Hopefully LIPA learned from its mistakes and will be better prepared next time (if there ever is a next time!)

  2. samwilbur

    I was very upset with LIPA after the storm. It wasn’t that I didn’t have electricity for four days. It was that they didn’t communicate at all to us until the last few hours. Only general statements were made about “hopefully by friday.” It was incredibly frustrating and a poor PR job in my opinion.

  3. Melissa

    I think that the COO made that statement as a PR tactic. He even coordinated a forum with local officials to determine how communication can be improved in the future. I think as a PR person you have to “listen” to what is being said about you and your customers should be able to see that you are trying to address their concerns. He bit the bullet and apologized to customers. Whether he truly felt there was a communication issue or not, at least LIPA customers can feel like their sentiments have been heard.

  4. Melissa

    I have to disagree. I believe LIPA did very good job keeping customers on Long Island as up-to-date as they could. They updated their website several times a day stating that they were working around the clock to do whatever they could to get power restored.

    I think the problem lies with impatient and information driven people who never expect to skip a beat. Let’s face it, this was a major storm. I think it is unfair to blame their PR people. The truth is, they had no idea when each and every customer would get their power back and they stated that many times through their web site and through various new channels.

    We tend to focus too much and when we are getting answers and when and if we receive answers that we don’t like, we become angry for the wrong reasons and blame others for not communicating properly. It was amazing looking down the block to see all the kids out walking and riding bikes instead of sitting inside with luxuries of TV, air conditioning and microwaves. Let’s take it back a few notches and take our eyes off the TV, off the computer and learn how accept the fact that not everything has an explanation.

    With a little under 2,000 people without power only one week after such a storm hit and with service trucks that were brought in from half-way across the U.S., I think LIPA did a remarkable job.

    1. jmorosoff Post author

      I’m willing to concede to your points, Melissa — somewhat. I suspect I did wind up buying what the news media was selling, which is to say that they emphasized and continue to emphasize the stories about those without power who “couldn’t get answers.” So perhaps LIPA did a very good job with its communication efforts in some people’s eyes, but then again I still have to wonder why its own COO felt the need to apologize for communicating poorly.


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