A streamlined comms effort becomes increasingly crucial when issues linger

We are all familiar with issues management.

We are all familiar with issues management. A typical issue lasts two or three days. A lengthy one may stretch to 10 days. At Trans-Canada, it's more than 500 days into managing the issues surrounding our Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and there are still nearly three months left before we experience any daylight. 

I have never seen anything like it in 25 years.

Phase one of the pipeline began delivering oil to the midwestern US in summer 2010 with little fanfare. Then came the BP oil disaster in the Gulf and a large oil spill in Michigan. Pipeline safety was scrutinized more than ever. At the same time, the environmental review process for the Keystone expansion was ongoing.  

But another dynamic began to take hold. Environmentalists saw this as an opportunity to push forward their message that North America needs to get off, in their words, "its addiction to oil." They believed stopping Keystone was their ticket to success.

Over the next 17 months, there was a full-out assault by all major US environmental groups opposing this project. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and many others have issued dozens of news releases, thousands of tweets and blogs, and launched protests in Washington - all with the goal of killing our project.

We have reacted by developing a war-room mindset, with all disciplines - media, stakeholder and government relations, communications, third parties, and company leaders - working in partnership toward the common goal of getting the approvals we need to move the project forward.

Daily meetings are held to discuss strategy. We have used polling to frame our messaging and measure results; liaised with earned media to tell our story; engaged in the social media sphere and debate; integrated paid media to correct the facts; coordinated grassroots support to highlight the project's benefits; leveraged connected lobbyists to bring politicians to our side; and posted stories internally to arm employees with the right mes-sages and to boost morale.

The volume of interaction with our stakeholders has been immense. A quick snapshot reveals more than 1,800 interviews with reporters and 7,000-plus first-run stories written about our project since June 2010.

This truly has been a strategic monolith and an experience that will help frame the path forward for TransCanada as we deal with future projects and the challenges they will surely bring.

James Millar is manager of corporate communications and media relations for TransCanada.

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