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.
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.
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
"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.
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
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
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