Crisis communications in the construction industry
By its very nature, the construction industry is a high risk industry. Health and safety has improved considerably over the past decade and is now a high priority, if not the highest, for many businesses. Quality, performance and expertise are all a given. But no matter how good your health and safety processes are, accidents can happen. No matter how good your quality control processes are, incidents happen. Some accidents and incidents are beyond the control of a company, others are a result of bad luck or a failure in company procedure or process. What they all have in common is the negative impact they can have on a business. So how should a business go about preparing for a crisis, and in the event of a crisis, what is the best course of action?
Every sector is open to risk and a typical crisis is difficult to define. It could relate to anything from an employee being injured on site through to a failure of plant and machinery; the failure of a specific product to an accident involving a company vehicle. It can also relate to the actions of employees – whether physical, spoken or even written .
The high risk nature of the industry has been reinforced by the tragic news that has made our headlines – from the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower to crane collapses. It has shown that all companies (small or big) – whether you are an architect or contractor, manufacturer or supplier – can be drawn into an incident that can have a negative impact on a company’s brand and reputation. So how should companies best prepare themselves?
All too often we find that organisations don’t have a crisis management plan, or if they do, it is invariably something that has been created and forgotten about. A crisis management plan is something that every company should have – no matter how big or small. It is something that should form a key company protocol that is reviewed and communicated to stakeholders on a regular basis.
A plan will outline risks that your company may be susceptible to. It will also put in place the necessary steps that your business should take in the event of an incident. This will run right through the business from the person who answers the phone to your sales team on the ground. It will provide measures to communicate internally, as well as externally, to customers and other stakeholders as well as the media.
 Reaction time
Once a crisis happens things move very quickly so it’s important to know what to do. Part of the crisis plan will include key contacts and details of initial steps – who to contact, what to say (or not to say) and what initial steps to take.
Social media has added a further level of complexity to crisis management. Any incident that is in the public domain, or to which the public has access, has the potential to be posted on social media.
For example, one of our clients recently had a fire in their yard, caused by plastic pallet wrapping being blown by the wind into overhead power lines. Whilst a private site, the yard runs parallel to a main road. Within minutes passers-by had posted video of the fire on social media.
A crisis management plan needs to take into consideration the impacts of social media. This could be by the general public as well as staff. It should put in place a process for monitoring what people are posting on social media and it should give guidance for staff as to what to do, or not do - i.e. no personal social media posting relating to the incident.
 Find the right tone
When it comes to making a statement, it is important to find the right tone and appropriate language. Be considerate, thoughtful and respectful. Get straight to the point and don’t try to hide facts in confusing statements. It is better to be honest and open.
We were involved in an incident where a delivery driver was tragically killed on a client’s premises by a pallet of material falling from his own vehicle. The driver had a family and it was important to remember this. It would have been easy to put out a statement distancing our client from the incident, but this would have been callous and thoughtless. A statement that was considered and respectful ,and conversations with the media to explain the situation, was much more appropriate.
 What not to do
There are a number of things you shouldn’t do.
You shouldn’t panic – this will help no one. I would also advice not publicly apologising before you have the chance to think and take appropriate advise. All too often – whether it is your fault or not – people’s initial reaction is to say sorry. Saying sorry can be seen as an admission of guilt. In a similar way, not responding can also be seen as an admission of guilt.
 Additional support
In some instances, additional support may be required. This could take the form of a communications agency or legal representation. A communications agency would be ideally placed to advise on internal and external communication protocols and procedures as well as messaging and timing. Legal representation would be able to provide advice and guidance from a business risk and best practice perspective. In our experience, joining the loop and having a team that includes senior management, legal representation and a communications agency is the most effective, especially in the case of major incidences.
It can take a lifetime to build a brand but minutes to lose it. Some would argue that a high-risk industry like construction is used to dealing with negativity, but people always remember the bad before the good so it’s vital that construction brands know how to manage and minimise any negative impact that may be caused from a crisis of any level.
With real time communication tools such as social media, it’s never been easier to communicate – within minutes a social post could have reached thousands. Construction companies need to know how to respond and be confident in their responses.
It’s also no good thinking ‘it will never happen to us’. For many that may be the case, but ask yourself the question, is it worth the risk?
As a construction and property marketing specialist, we deal in messages and communication so we know how crucial it is to manage a crisis. We know that with the right strategy, a brand can be saved and even strengthened following a crisis. Our advice: create a crisis management plan – review it and communicate it internally on a regular basis; make sure you have the appropriate support on hand – this could be a PR agency and/or legal representation; make sure senior management is aware of the appropriate first steps – these first steps matter; but above all, keep calm.
If you would like help with creating a crisis communications plan or need support managing a crisis situation, please contact our Managing Director, David Ing on 01622 754295 or at [email protected] and he’ll be happy to help.
--Fabrick 16:11, 07 Apr 2021 (BST)
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