Account Director Thomas Mc Hugh shares some insight into community relations stories making US headlines.
I spent some time in Washington DC last week with a pharmaceutical client. It’s a fascinating place to be as a team of busy workers construct the staging for the presidential inauguration at Capitol Hill. Updates of Trumps cabinet and advisory team battle with an exciting NFL season for news coverage.
In the midst of this high-level paradigm shift in everything from international relations to the programme for Air Force One, I was most struck by Monday’s publication of USA Today. This national paper gave its key headlines to two community relations issues. One took the front cover headline. The second took the Money section cover headline.
I’ve been monitoring the issues around the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock for a long time now. The developer of a 1, 172 mile oil pipeline is at loggerheads with local native Indians around the construction of a pipeline near their reservation. There is concern that the pipeline could destroy local water supplies if it leaks. There is angst around the natural heritage of the area. #NODAPL been used almost 500,000 times on Instagram. Artists, celebrities, environmentalists and numerous others have rallied around the cause. Police have been deployed in heavy duty riot gear and there have been unsavoury altercations.
I would suggest that had the pipeline developer engaged proactively from the outset this situation could have been avoided. The company is losing millions each day the project is delayed. One of the calls from activists is for an environmental impact assessment. I would suggest that this should have been present from the outset. The community should have been engaged around issues of concern. Reassurances and additional measures to allay fears could have been built into the environmental assessment, construction programme and subsequent operation and maintenance plan. Ultimately, the route could even have been modified as a final gesture.
That this issue has become worthy of intervention from President Obama and the main headline in USA Today serves to underline the ramifications of failed stakeholder engagement.
Facebook to invest in social housing
In the wake of Brexit, the disconnect between the views of the people and those of the majority of businesses has become quite marked. There is much talk of how to build a bridge between the two. Many are drawing parallels to the statement that has just been made in the US Presidential election.
In this context, it is fascinating to see Facebook set to invest $20 million in a local social housing scheme in its back yard. It is partnering with a coalition of local community groups. The programme is tied to the construction of Facebook’s new Frank Gehry designed 513,000 square foot campus. It is clear that Facebook now sees the benefits both to the communities in which they operate and their own reputation as a socially responsible company.
In terms of the USA Today editorial, what happens next is fascinating: a quote from the community rather than the corporate.
“I laud Facebook and am glad they’re doing something. But we’ve reached out to all businesses in the community over the years. There needs to be education among them about housing.” Tameeka Bennett – Youth United for Action in East Palo Alto.