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The Construction Summit Blog Post: When I arrived on the Boone Dam project in September 2015, someone had just threatened to blow up the dam. My office was in a doublewide trailer with two armed guards at the intersection of two country roads in rural, Northeast Tennessee. I was about a half mile from the project site. The idea for the location was for me to gain easy access to the public and the public to easily access me. I was the Community Relations manager for the $400-million infrastructure project with an open-door policy. Here are three takeaways that I learned along that seven-year journey that you can use when communicating any major project: 1. Consistency: Always have a communications plan! Your key messages will develop from that and follow you through the project. Be consistent in your messaging. Transparency and Consistency go hand in hand. When you go before the local media, stakeholders and civic groups, be consistent! In our case there were three key messages: Safety (of both the people downstream and the workers) Quality Repair - do it once and do it right On time - Within a 5–7-year timeframe We never varied. We never wavered. Those key messages were put on a poster, carried with us as we went out to civic groups and public meetings, and repeated over and over. Not only were the key messages stated over and over by the project manager, but they were also on posters, in the newsletter, in all Public Relations and media updates, and on our website and social media feeds. Sequencing will change on a major project but having those consistent, key messages will not. Consistent messaging will help you as you keep people informed of your project. 2. Confidence: Remain Confident and Calm Be confident in the fix! When I told a friend this story, she said, “Have a surgeon's mentality.” Great analogy! Have you ever seen a surgeon who did not think they could succeed? Furthermore, would you want a surgeon who is unsure whether or not they will succeed? When you're a project manager and subject matter expert for a major project like Boone Dam you have a target on your back. The media will jam mics in your face and ask, "Are you confident in the fix? Is this repair going to work?” Our PM’s answer: “Absolutely, I am confident in the fix.” (Repeat this over, and over and over.) The more you share your confidence, the more the message gets taken out through the community. Be Prepared The best way to remain confident, particularly in front of the media is to rehearse...and rehearse. Have your communications team prepare you well before any major media or civic club event. As my former crisis communications instructor taught me, have an answer ready for the "Oh God, please let them ask me that question." And, most importantly, have the answers ready for the, "Oh God, please do NOT let them ask me those questions." Remember, when you're with the media there is no such thing as "off the record." Be Safe. Research your groups and target audiences. Be prepared for hostility. When heading into large public meetings with potentially hostile audiences, our project manager made sure an armed guard was always with us. Preparation and safe planning make a project leader more confident. 3. Community: This is a tip for community relations, and life in general and it's just two words: Show Up! Show up to support your community as we did in countless ways. We showed up to support the local lake cleanup association on their annual lake cleanup day. Bring volunteers from the project and their families. Bring crews out in boats to help tote the junk off the lake. Show up through active listening. I attended the lake association's monthly meetings. By showing up each month I had the opportunity to listen in to the conversation and hear that vegetation management was about to become an issue. This gave us an opportunity to proactively address vegetation management head on and begin a clearing and mulching program. Show up for the media: Host a creative media update! We took the media out on a pontoon boat. Our senior construction manager drove the boat, our project manager narrated, and the media got a completely different perspective of the project from the water. They were also able to see all the work we were doing in terms of vegetation management. To this day, when I bump into reporters who were on that boat ride, they tell me that was one of the best media updates ever! They got a sunny Saturday boat ride and we had a captive audience! It was a win-win! Show up for Local Charities: We formed a committee to support local charities. The committee was comprised of top representatives from across the project. Our senior construction manager volunteered to lead the charity committee adding weight and importance to it. The committee decided to support two charities in a big way: The US Marine Corps Toys for Tots and Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. The onsite team of 200 people went all out to support them. Second Harvest Food Bank brought in 18-wheelers to pick up all of the food collected onsite. We loaded the school bus we used to transport workers to the dam, full of toys. We also stuffed two pick-up trucks with toys and drove them to the Marine Corps Reserve Center in Gray. We invited the marines to our holiday luncheon celebration and they always wore their dress uniforms. It elevated the significance of what we were doing for both the Marines and local children. We were the largest corporate donor to both of those charities throughout the duration of the project. To sum up my job as PR pro for the Boone Dam project, and my final piece of advice to you, build connections by showing up. Relationship building is ultimately what PR and effective project community relations is all about. Ultimately, the project had a happy ending. It finished safely, on time and under budget. It also won numerous international awards in which community relations was always a key component. Through Consistency, Confidence, and showing up for your Community you too can build connections!


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