Communication as marketing is not designed to create actions or to sell a specific solution, but to promote the project. Here the important questions are around what can we do that is likely to be well-received by those stakeholders that matter, and how will this support the long-term positive reception of the project and its outcomes?
In Case 5.6, the Chevron project team really put themselves into the shoes of their stakeholders. How would they feel if a massive oil drum blocked their roads for hours? What could be done to mitigate the risks of poor public perception of the project, and ultimately, the company itself?
|Case 5.6: Chevron Gets Creative to Address Public Concerns
Back in 2009, the aging of the refinery’s coke drums began jeopardizing Chevron’s ability to meet the region’s fuel demands. Some of the industry’s oldest, the drums, which heat crude oil up to 920 degrees Fahrenheit (493 Celsius), had been in use since 1968. Cracks were upending the refinery’s operations, and the organization knew it was time to go beyond stopgap repairs. The drums were “very unreliable, and they were impacting refinery economics,” says Greg Roos, PMP, the project’s engineering manager.
Replacement was the only way forward, so the organization green-lighted a US$150 million project to produce, ship, and install new drums. But replacing the massive equipment came with massive obstacles. The project team needed to deliver the drums on a compressed schedule while keeping safety on top of mind. And it had to move the drums, each the size of a three-storey apartment building, through a densely populated urban area without destroying the refinery’s relationship with the community.
None of us were enthusiastic about dragging the drums across 22 miles [35 kilometers] of Los Angeles over the course of four nights. We knew we had to do better.
Building Public Support
To ensure there were no surprises on the night of the big move, the project team rolled out a public outreach campaign. Newsletters and media reports pushed people to a website that shared information about the project. But the team wanted to make sure every home got the message. So it also canvassed in individual neighborhoods, particularly those along the coke drum route, going door-to-door to pass out fliers and speak directly to residents about the project.
People remember a face-to-face encounter usually much more clearly than they can recall something they read or something they’ve seen.
Lessons learned from similar moves also helped pave the road for the project team. For instance, Mr. Roos volunteered to help with crowd control when a space shuttle was transported through Los Angeles to the local science museum in 2012. He watched how the police and project staff worked together to protect both people and the shuttle—and how much the crowd seemed to enjoy the show. The Chevron team even hired some of the same contractors so it could benefit from their expertise.
Careful planning and execution turned what could have been a high-risk situation into an opportunity to build stakeholder support. Intrigued by the unusual event in their neighborhood, some residents stood along closed roads to watch the drums pass by.
We turned it into a really positive experience. It really does become a parade. These giant things that are fully lit up at night, it looks pretty cool.
Most projects benefit from positive positioning. However, in some projects, the power of certain stakeholder groups to influence the perceived success of the project demands more than normal attention. In the Chevron project, the engagement with the public inevitably added to the costs and time. However this additional effort was justified by the risks the project could expose the company to.
This is the fifth in a series of blogs published on purposeful communication in projects.
These are based in the book: