016: Combating PR Crisis with PIO Pro Mike McGill, WaterPIO


Mike McGill has spent his entire career as a communicator, having served as a leader in journalism and public relations.  Before founding WaterPIO, a communications firm specifically aimed at helping water and sewer operations, he served as a Director of Communications and Customer Service for water utilities for a dozen years including  Chief Communications Officer for Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in Wilmington, North Carolina; Director of Customer Relations and Communications for Loudoun Water in Loudoun County, Virginia; and Public Affairs Coordinator for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), a utility that serves nearly two million people in the Washington, DC Area. Mike is a graduate of Syracuse University and began his career as a news producer in CNN’s Washington bureau, and as the News Planning Editor for WUSA-TV in Washington, DC.

Top Takeaways:

  1. [57:48] Capture your “gee-whiz” moments. Mike talks about how he turned a main break into a positive front page highlight of employees.
  2. [19:24] The 2018 JD Power Water Utility Residential Customer Survey showed that even a modest commitment of time and resources will get you an exponential benefit.
  3. [52:52] The importance of building relationships doesn’t only reside with the water provider/customer relationship. The most important relationship is between the communicator and the water provider staff so they understand what your ultimate end goal is–to protect the integrity of the invaluable service they provide to the community every day.

Resources:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – By Chip and Dan Heath

Power of Moments  – By Chip and Dan Heath

Rogue Water’s open letter to Erin Brockovich

Sponsor:

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Show Notes:

[5:30] The story how Erin Brockovich brought Water PIO and Rogue Water together

[11:00] “We’re the defenders of public water.”The good people who work in water, they’re public servants and they don’t do it for the glory. They deserve to have their stories told and their actions defended.”

[18:00] How communication is the key building block to establishing trust.

[19:24] JD Power 2018 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Survey insights. “It’s not rocket science. It’s about building relationship with your customers through communication.”

[20:36] “A modest commitment of time and resources will get you an exponential benefit.”

[21:25] Using your SWOT to plan your communication strategy.

[24:21] Using communication as a tool to gain support for what needs to be done in the future.

[24:40] “You really do have to explain that water is a product. You don’t just drink what falls from the sky.”

[25:50] Educating your elected officials is vital for them to understand rates.

[28:48] On treating the press like an ally and not the enemy. “It’s basic human nature. If you make my life easier for me, I’m probably going to give you the benefit of the doubt when something comes up down the line.”

[29:07] Even if the press doesn’t use your story, you’re still winning because you’re building a relationship and that you’re there with information and will be responsive.

[29:40] “If you run and hid and go dark, especially during a crisis, you’re only hurting yourself because people will fill in the gaps themselves.”

[31:00] Create the situation where your customers and the press are coming to you first because you have an established presence.

[34:00] If you’re communicating regularly you’re going to be in a much better place when a crisis hits.

[34:35] George Hawkins as a case study on how being available to the press was a key part of the rebrand.

[36:30]Perception vs Reality based on the Corona Environmental Study presented at the 2018 Utilities Management Conference.

[39:20] Tips on how to get more eyeballs on your messaging to be the primary source of information.

[40:05] Bill stuffers–an oldie but goodie.

[41:30] Mixing digital communication with traditional face to face public engagement and outreach.

[45:45] Using mail house targeting technology to get the most bang for your buck with direct mail.

[46:30] Journalists are doing more with less. The bureaus are bare boned. Utilities need to capitalize on this by providing compelling stories journalists may not have previously considered.

[48:10] Annual reports are your opportunity to show what you’ve been doing to your stakeholders which may be very important when the time comes for capital improvement projects.

[50:35] “Communication is an operation just like a water or sewer operation in your shop.”

[52:52] The importance of building relationships doesn’t only reside with the water provider/customer relationship. The most important relationship is between the communicator and the water provider staff so they understand what your ultimate end goal is–to protect the integrity of the invaluable service they provide to the community every day.

[54:35] Combating the “You don’t know anything, you’re just the PR guy.”

[56:18] Train your field staff to be on camera. Secret insider: Sometimes the press will be more lenient with a person that isn’t in the communication field.

[57:48] Capture your “gee-whiz” moments. Mike talks about how he turned a main break into a positive front page highlight of employees in the Washington Post.

[1:02:20] “We’re so immersed in what we do we lose touch with what will be impactful to our audience. You have to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.”

[1:05:00] Your biosolids may be on fleek but your customers won’t care unless you make it about them.

[1:06:40] How to overcome communication fears when you’ve been burned in the past. You would never let other areas of operation stop improving, don’t stop improving in your communication efforts.

[1:09:24] Your customers perceive water quality differently than you do.


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