Con Edison's PR budget better spent on recovery

There are many ways in which specific elements can invalidate a company's PR campaign, but Con Edison has to be facing one of the more unusual ones.

There are many ways in which specific elements can invalidate a company's PR campaign, but Con Edison has to be facing one of the more unusual ones.

Con Edison, of course, suffered under mounds of criticism for acting slowly to solve the massive 10-day power blackout in New York's Queens borough last year, while failing to communicate its progress.

The utility company apparently remedied the communications part, according to recent statistics that showed Con Ed spent $581,000 on a four-month-long marketing campaign months after the blackout occurred.

PR is obviously vital in any crisis situation. Not only does it get valuable information to all necessary stakeholders, but it also gives a company in peril ample opportunity to address how it will improve the situation.

But, noted Queens assemblyman Michael Gianaris, Con Ed forgot another pivotal expenditure.

"Con Edison spent hundreds of thousands of dollars burnishing its tarnished image instead of helping merchants recover," New York Newsday quoted Gianaris saying at a news conference.

In a statement, Con Ed said it has spent about $90 million for various initiatives since the blackout, and Martha Liipfert, a Con Ed spokeswoman, told Newsday that its outreach efforts were "an important means of communicating our concerns to those customers."

Liipfert has a point, but Con Ed's math undermines it to some extent. At first, it claimed the blackout affected just a few thousand people, when the final tally was 174,000 people who lost service or experienced low voltage.

Con Ed did indeed help many blackout sufferers, but it won't get away with spending a cent on PR if there's a critical mass of affected businesses counterbalancing its efforts. No amount spent on PR - not $581,000, or even $581 million - can cast a positive light on that.

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