Telling the pipeline safety story
I recently participated in the closing panel discussion of the 12th Pipeline Technology Conference (PTC) in Berlin. The topic was Safety and Communication, chosen in response to a comment made during the 2016 PTC by Cliff Johnson, President of the Pipeline Research Council International, in which he observed that the industry has a great story in terms of pipeline safety, but needs to get better at telling it.
However, in today’s digital world, on the rare occasions that pipeline incidents do occur they remain forever accessible for anyone to search and share. In that regard one company’s incident soon becomes the whole industry’s problem, potentially to be used and re-used by those who oppose pipelines to support their version of the story.
“Be your own content creator not a content chaser”
Jeff DeMarrais, former Chief Communications Officer of both GE and IBM, reflecting on the differences between the traditional approach to public relations and the 21st century world of social media, maintains that it’s no longer effective to wait for someone to take a shot at your reputation and hope you can fight back and clear it up. The new way is to be proactive … tell your story, your way, before the need to defend yourself.
How to put that advice into practice? If this is a challenge affecting the whole pipeline industry, then surely it calls for an industry wide response? How exactly do you pull together the diversity of stakeholders that makes up the pipeline industry, AND reconcile each of their potentially competing priorities into a coherent message? Who is the audience for any resulting communication strategy? Stakeholder groups such as citizens living near a pipeline right of way, politicians and environmental groups each have differing concerns, and each require a different approach. No wonder this issue of communications sits on the ‘too difficult’ pile!
Trying something is better than doing nothing
I’m fortunate to know many great people across the industry who work diligently every day to keep pipelines safe. I can see that for each of them the goal of zero pipeline failures is something they hold dear, not just pay lip service to. I also observe how they constantly strive to use technology to improve the engineering practices they use. Their efforts to improve the safety performance of the industry is a story worth telling.
Even if we’re individually unable to solve the entire communication issue, each of us can get engaged within the community to which we belong. Everyone in the pipeline industry has a story to tell … whether something we do directly, a technology we are working on, or something we have seen done by others that works. As someone who leads a company that supplies in-line inspection technology used by pipeline engineers to help keep pipelines safe, I’ve chosen to write about what I know via LinkedIn posts such as this.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions about how we can better tell the pipeline safety story. What have you seen that works?