Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week, you have seen the devastating fires that have plagued California. The reports are now that the Northern California fire is the largest in history, and in fact, the ones that have decimated entire times were caused because Pacific Gas & Electric failed to shut off the power lines before the winds got too high. The high winds caused lines to break apart, setting a fire with the very dry brush and the rest, as they say, is history.
PG&E is in a world of hurt, and if they want to avoid additional regulations and scrutiny, the likes of which they have never seen before, they better enact a crisis PR plan and quickly.
In these type of situations, a tug-of-war exists between the corporate communication folks and the legal folks. Lawyers will tell you that they don’t want you to come out and say anything that would give away any culpability because that would only put you at a higher liability risk. I got a news flash for PG&E. Lawsuits are coming. The number of people that are going to be pointing fingers at you wanting restitution for not only property but also the lives lost, which as of this blog post is something north of 40.
Trying to avoid litigation is fruitless at this point for PG&E, and the fact of the matter is, you’ve got a public perception problem and a bigger issue with the court of public opinion. If I was at PG&E for a day, here’s the first thing I would say, show empathy for the amount of devastation that has occurred. Moreover, while you may not understand the full extent of the destruction and the full extent of your potential liability from that, recognize the fact that people are going to expect answers from you. Also, at least convey at the early outset that you will be looking forward to giving them that answers when a full investigation is complete.
The second thing I would do is tell them not to wait to disseminate information until the investigation has run its course. That’s going to take weeks and months, weeks and months longer than California ratepayers are going to be willing to give them. So start disseminating information as you get it, but with the full understanding that you’re going to conclude later.
A third is to be proactive. Don’t let others dictate the narrative at this point. Come clean with all the facts as you know them, and also a solution. They need to act now in a very concerted, transparent, sincere crisis PR plan if they’re going to be able to avoid unnecessary litigation and regulations as a result of this devastating wildfire. It would be my opinion that they should do so, and do so quickly.