Hydro Ottawa – An Example of Crisis Communications Done Right

On Friday, September 21st two tornadoes devastatingly hit our nation’s capital, and left most of the city without power in their wake. Hydro Ottawa immediately stepped up to the plate, and not only had crew members out at all hours, but it was clear their communications team were called in as well. If you followed Hydro Ottawa on any of their social media platforms, you were likely well informed about the events that happened, and how they took care of our city.

Here a few ways that they set a stellar example of crisis communications:

Before the Outage

  • Before the storm even hit, Hydro Ottawa was proactive about tweeting tips about preparing for a power outage, and photos of their trucks ready to respond.
  • Although these posts received low levels of engagement, it demonstrates that the team was on the ball and ready for the chaos that was about to ensue. They took the weather warnings seriously, and made sure that they were ready to go on all fronts.

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During the Outage

Kept the community informed

  • It seemed that as soon as the tornadoes hit, the Hyrdo Ottawa social media team made it their goal to keep the community informed. They continually posted as many updates as they could, particularly on their Twitter account, to let Ottawa know that the crews were out working hard to bring power back to the city.

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Shared a mix of media

  • In a crisis, we will take any updates we can get, but the Hydro Ottawa seriously raised the bar on this one. Not only did they provide a healthy dose of real time photos, and video messages from the Hydro Ottawa team, they even posted drone coverage of the affected area. This showed their audience that they were on scene, that they were up to date, and that they cared about informing the community in the most modern way possible.

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Established realistic expectations

  • The Hydro Ottawa team was realistic in how many people they could get back to via social media, and what information they were able to provide. They weren’t giving out power restoration timelines if they couldn’t ensure that they could meet them. They provided as much information as they could, and it was clear the entire time that they were doing the absolute best they could. They really showed the human side of the company, and gently reminded people that they were real people too.

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Let people know they were being heard

  • This is probably one of the most important things you can do for your audience anytime, but even more so in a crisis. Our community was in devastation, people tragically lost their homes, Hydro Ottawa made sure to say hey, we not only hear you, but we see you. And that is some powerful stuff.

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Shared key information more than once 

  • In the fast paced world of social media, particularly with Twitter, it’s quite easy to miss things. The Hydro Ottawa frequently and consistently shared helpful tips and information, and wasn’t afraid to reuse important messaging. This is critical in a crisis, if you already have the messaging don’t be shy to share it consistently and reserve your organic responses for live updates, addressing queries, and answering questions.

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After the Outage 

Continuing to keep the community informed 

  • Even after the outage is over and most of the city is restored, Hydro Ottawa is doing a fantastic job of letting people know what else they can expect, and how they can facilitate the process. There are still parts of the community that are in the dark and it is clear that Hydro Ottawa won’t be slowing down until power is restored everywhere.

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In any type of crisis, communication is key. The more information people have, the calmer they will remain. Hydro Ottawa struck the perfect balance here; providing updates and support consistently and frequently, while also establishing realistic expectations (that they often exceeded, in many instances I heard of power being restored before the expected restoration time). It’s not surprising to hear that in 2017 they were recognized by both CS Week and the Electricity Distributor’s Association for their social media efforts.

If you’re not already following Hydro Ottawa on Twitter, I highly recommend doing so. This is a company that is leveraging the power of social media in a meaningful way. They are using it to connect with their audience, and take care of their community. THIS, my friends, is what social media is all about.


Just a PR Girl in a Startup World

Let’s start this in typical confession fashion.

Hi, my name is Darcy and I’m a public relations professional in a hot, mad love affair with startups. That’s right, startups. Tech startups, social good startups, any kind of startup really. When you think “startup” images of Zuckerberg, Uber and Silicon Valley probably flash before your eyes. You probably envision web developers, maybe even hackers. UX designers probably run a close 2nd, and throw in a little biz dev (a startup’s fancy way of saying “sales”) for good measure and you have the quintessential startup team. But what about public relations (PR)?

In a world where sincerity and job security are on the decline, startups give me a new sense of hope. To be a successful startup, there is a certain level of passion, dedication and sweat equity required. You can’t fake it to make it, because you simply won’t make it. The concept of creating something from scratch, out of an uncontrollable desire to make the world a better or more efficient place, is what I find so irresistible. I have yet to meet someone involved with startups that is not a genuinely good person, and the successful ones are usually kind with their time and paying it forward to the next generation of movers and shakers.

That being said, the female – male ratio in the startup world is already low, the PR girl one being even lower. And the fact of the matter is that PR is a female dominated industry. The startup industry? Not so much. The irony isn’t lost on me. Having a PR person on your startup team can make or break your business, but there seems to be a real lack of it in the industry. Attention is more on technical skills and getting your MVP ready, but who’s going to gain the exposure necessary once it is? These facts don’t turn me off of startups, but do single me out.

Here are some of the reasons why startups are so appealing to the PR professional in me:

  • Building Something from the Beginning

In PR, we’re always trying to find a new spin (pardon my French) on things. To be given a completely clean and blank slate, is like Christmas morning for us. The opportunity to create a logo, branding, voice, and everything from scratch is like a loot of gold to a passionate PR professional. Creating an online presence from nothing is hard and long work, but you know what? We don’t have to undo anyone else’s mistakes. It’s like a breathe of fresh air in a sometimes stuffy industry, and I absolutely adore breathing it in, slowly and repeatedly.

  • Creative Challenges

The problems and issues you are going to face with a startup are probably going to be new ones. They might be varied, random and diverse, but never boring. They will get your mind working in ways it probably hasn’t in a while, and you have to factor in a lot of things you might not have had to before. It will be challenging, but the rewarding kind of challenging that will make you a better PR professional because of it.

  • They Need Our Help the Most

The downside to having so many technical people on one team is that you can create an amazing product, but how are you going to get the word out? PR is crucial to startups, especially in the initial phases. There is so much more at stake and you feel your successes more when working with startups. Gaining that traction and a prominent feature can make the difference in interest from investors and VCs, and from working out of your parent’s basement to an actual office. The stakes are high, but when you do win, there is nothing like seeing the real value of your work on a startup’s brand and bank account.

I don’t only think that the startup world can learn a little something from the PR industry, I daresay the tables could also be turned. I apply a lot of my startup personality and passion to my PR work. It allows me to have a much more raw and genuine approach to my business. As I mentioned earlier, you can’t fake it to make it in startups, and in PR there unfortunately is a huge stigma for just that.

3 things PR professionals can learn from startups:

  • Harness your raw passion: in PR you have to be the #1 cheerleader for your brand, remind yourself of the initial reasons you got excited about that client and what they are doing and let that shine through your work. How will they believe in something if you don’t believe in it yourself? Your audience will respond to sincerity.
  • Bootstrap, bootstrap, bootstrap: pay more attention to where you are actually spending your budget vs. where you should be. Clients will appreciate your understanding of their finances. Remember, PR is about cultivating relationships with your audience; it’s not marketing or sales so traditional marketing means (and dollars) may not be necessary.
  • It’s all about the team: many would agree that a great team far outweighs a great idea when it comes to startups; This applies to PR as well. If your team isn’t on the same page or has the same goals for your client, it is impossible to work in unity, and therefore impossible to strategically achieve your goals. If there isn’t consistency behind the scenes, how can they expect consistency and harmony in their branding and with their audience?

Communications is usually the name of my game, but I’ll gladly hang up my hat, or at least wear a more creative one, to play in the startup world for a while, and hopefully convince more PR girls (and boys) to do so as well. The relationship between public relations and startups may not be an obvious one, but it’s an important one.