Some Practical Examples
Advanced Rapid Transit System
A local government authority conceived an ambitious project to design and build
22 km of light, intermediate capacity, rapid transit system through densely populated
areas. Innovative features included light driverless cars, magnetic traction,
steerable wheels, and fiber optic based communication and control systems. The
cost of the project in 1986 was about $800 million (Canadian).
With such a high profile project, a decision to establish a public relations
function was taken at an early stage. At the outset, the cost of the system was
thought to be exorbitant. However, figures were developed and shown graphically
in the display center to show that the estimated cost was realistic when compared
with similar systems built with similar capacities elsewhere.
Safety of the automatic driverless trains was another major concern. A major
strategy in the project implementation plan was to fast-track a one kilometer
test section of the permanent elevated part of the line through to complete temporary
operation, at a very early stage. This section provided invaluable design and
construction experience. In addition, it was used for five months to give free
rides to more than 300,000 visitors from all over the world, while construction
of the rest of the system continued.
During construction, the alignment community was recognized as the most important
stakeholder. All homes within each area were kept informed of progress by a local
news letter. In addition, a construction "hot line" was established
to receive complaints day or night, with someone available to visit the scene
at the earliest opportunity. The practice worked well and paid dividends. Perhaps
the most satisfying evidence was to be seen in the shift of attitude on the part
of the local newspapers.
These strategies undoubtedly did much to build confidence, assuage stakeholder
concerns, and enabled the project to be completed early, within budget, and to
a high performance level. The cost of the PR effort amounted to approximately
0.6% of the total project budget.
Proposed Liquid Natural Gas Facility
A private company planned to build a facility to export liquid natural gas.
The project would include 800 km of pipeline, a liquefaction plant, a marine
terminal and a fleet of ships to deliver the product to the company's customers.
Planning approval required environmental impact and socio-economic benefit studies,
and to succeed would require the majority support of all those impacted by the
Assistance with public relations was obviously required, and a local public
relations firm was hired. Their major asset was in knowing local dignitaries
and media representatives and in being able to provide quick and favorable access
to them. Very positive relationships were established with local authorities
and the local populations.
World Class Fair
The local government authority conceived the idea of a five-and-a-half month
long transportation fair to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding
of the city of Vancouver. The site, which is within walking distance of downtown,
had to be expanded several times to the final size of 70 hectares to accommodate
the 41 countries that finally took part.
The financial success of the project was heavily dependent upon exhibitor participation
on the one hand and attendance on the other. A major promotional effort was therefore
obviously a necessary part of the project. However, to be successful, the project
also needed the support of the local communities, who initially viewed the whole
enterprise with considerable skepticism.
Therefore, a public relations effort was established quite separate from the
hard-sell marketing effort. The basic philosophy of the program was to create
public interest, awareness and excitement, establish a sense of ownership and
thereby increase the number of local visitors. Particularly with publicly funded
projects, it is worth bearing in mind that the stakeholders who stand to gain
the most are not necessarily those who are impacted the most. In practice, they
are likely to be the "vocal minority", while the former sit on the
side lines as the silent majority.
In the early stages of the project, the construction site became embroiled
in a major labor dispute. It became a test case for retaining closed union shop
conditions on government work. The government, on the other hand was determined
that every company should have an opportunity to participate. The project organization
tried to negotiate a compromise with the unions and the government threatened
to cancel the fair.
Fortunately, the public relations communication with the media had been steady,
open and honest. Through the media, the issues were taken back to the public,
and the majority public opinion eventually prevailed. Except for the original
four or five days lost, there were no subsequent labor interruptions. In due
course, the fair was opened on time, within its prescribed budget, was very well
attended and highly successful. The cost of the PR effort was of the order of
0.4% of the project cost.
Water Storage Barrage Construction
Further afield, and some years ago, a well known national construction company
secured the first major water retention barrage construction project in Bihar,
India. At the time it was the longest barrage in the country. However, the entire
area was known for its local labor problems.
The local village heads and leaders were invited to meetings in which the project,
and particularly the arrangements for employment were explained. Even though
by law the company must employ its own men first, the local elders were pleased
to be consulted, and work was found for their people by subcontracting. Certain
tribes expected special recognition and treatment, if peace on the site was to
be maintained. This too was carefully nurtured.
The company also gave great attention to the facilities needed by its employees
and their families. Necessary schools, shops, tailors, hair dressers, a butcher,
dhobi, atta grinding shop, and so on, were all provided. Similarly, necessary
buildings and facilities for messes for vegetarians and non-vegetarians sections,
South Indian and North Indian and Punjabi were also provided. Transportation
was provided to the local school, and outsiders were admitted to the project
hospital facilities, which provided free medical attention. An activity club
was established where all levels of the project staff could play and relax together.
As a result of these and many similar considerations, the project was completed
on time and in peace, including the periods of seasonal retrenchment and at the
end of the project. This was a considerable achievement given the time and place.
Even though the project was built some years ago, the need for cultivating a
favorable impression amongst the native tribal groups was well recognized.
Clearly, the project management of the day understood the importance of managing
the project environment.