CAMPAIGNS: Community Relations - Alliance realizes a pipelinedream

Client: Alliance Pipeline (Alberta, CA)

PR Team: Padilla Speer Beardsley (St. Paul, MN)

Campaign: Alliance Project

Time Frame: August 1996 to December 2000

Budget: More than $1 million



While physically building a natural gas pipe that extends across four

states is a daunting task, it turned out to be only part of the battle

faced by leading oil and gas provider Alliance Pipeline. The company

also had to address the safety and environmental concerns of residents

in 42 counties in Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Illinois, making

sure they were kept informed during the construction process.



Alliance turned to St. Paul, MN-based Padilla Speer Beardsley (PSB) to

build the pipeline's communications effort. The four-year outreach

program was aimed primarily at ensuring that residents felt their needs

and worries were being heard as the Alliance crews laid pipe through

cornfields and small towns.



Strategy



While Alliance had the law on its side (the pipeline had the right of

eminent domain), both the company and PSB were well aware that local

communities were capable of slowing down the project.



PSB gathered information about the communities along the pipeline's

path, identifying any potential objections. PSB interviewed local

elected officials, held focus groups with landowners, and conducted

1,600 telephone interviews.



Armed with the results, Alliance and PSB began to address the primary

concerns of safety and the environment. "We made sure that any time we

met with members of the public who had concerns, we were all going to

have the same messages," says PSB VP Kevin O'Connor.



Tactics



PSB went into the project knowing there were no shortcuts. Much of the

campaign had to be done community by community, as the PR team reached

out to local government agencies, civic organizations, and safety

departments along the pipeline's path. At any given time during the four

years of construction, half of the PSB team was in the field, holding

open houses (16 total, four per state) where experts were on hand to

answer questions.



"They were able to win over people by convincing them we were doing the

right thing," says O'Connor.



The PSB team also kept 240 local media outlets up to speed on the

pipeline's progress, making sure that stories critical of the project

did not go unchallenged. Whenever a newspaper published an article with

damaging misperceptions, PSB wrote letters to the editor or requested

retractions to clarify any factual errors.



Results



PSB maintained ongoing media relations with the several dozen news

outlets that followed the construction process closely. While coverage

wasn't uniformly positive, the local outlets did not galvanize the

opposition.



In fact, O'Connor says most of the groups that had concerns about the

project were eventually won over, especially those with personal fears

such as compensation for crop damage. But he adds that not everyone

ended up happy. "We were not able to convince the people who wanted to

make a lot of money off of this deal coming through," he says. "They

were paid nicely, but a lot of them were not paid as much as they

thought they would be."



Alliance and PSB also received praise from elected officials at all

levels for their cooperation and skill in managing constituent concerns.

Most importantly, the pipeline, stretching from British Columbia to

Chicago, IL, was completed with no lost money or construction time.

Alliance delivered the first commercial shipment of natural gas to the

US grid on December 1, 2000. It continues to transport natural gas, and

most of the communities near the pipeline remain at least satisfied that

the company is doing all it can to keep the project running

smoothly.



Future



The community relations program put in place by PSB is ongoing, though

it's now handled in-house by Alliance. "Our local operations people have

undergone training to maintain good relations, particularly with our

landlords, but also with all the communities in which we operate," notes

Alliance executive VP and COO Jack Crawford. He adds, "We were

definitely pleased with the work, and have no hesitation of working with

them again."



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