PRSA members can access exclusive video content with Bryan Garner and Sandra Ericson, APR, offering further insights on crisis communications at this link.
When Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast last Sept. 28, the Category 5 storm brought 155-mile-per-hour winds and a water surge that killed more than 150 people in the state and left millions more without electrical power.
The Florida Power & Light Company supplies electricity for 12 million people in the state. Working with rbb Communications in Miami, the company had more than 100 communicators “step up to assume a storm role and help our customers,” said Bryan Garner, Florida Power & Light’s senior director of marketing and communications.
Garner and Sandra Ericson, APR, executive vice president of rbb Communications, were the guests on July 12 on Strategies & Tactics Live, PRSA’s monthly livestream on LinkedIn with host John Elsasser, editor-in-chief of PRSA’s award-winning publication, Strategies & Tactics.
For their communications campaign “A Sound Response to a Record-Setting Storm: FPL Gets the Lights Back On After Hurricane Ian,” Florida Power & Light and rbb Communications received PRSA’s 2023 Best of Silver Anvil Award. The awards recognize the best strategic communications campaigns of the year and showcase organizational excellence.
Hurricane season, which runs June 1 to Nov. 30, “is part of living in Florida,” Garner said. “And that’s why we make a concerted effort to communicate throughout the year, every year, about the importance of preparing for hurricane season.”
Every April, the company simulates a hurricane to help it prepare for a real storm. During the week-long training, communicators write social media posts and press releases about the hypothetical storm and imagine the visuals they would provide to the news media and the public. That way, Garner said, “When an actual storm comes, we’re ready.”
As Hurricane Ian approached, the communicators tried to anticipate and deliver the information their customers would need at every stage.
Florida Power & Light serves about half the state, in eight different media markets, “and we have to make sure that we’re communicating through each of those markets, through lots of different channels,” Garner said. “The important thing is the consistency of message,” which included dispelling false rumors and other inaccurate information that the public might have heard on social media or elsewhere.
Ericson, who as part of the crisis-response team helps provide information to the news media, said, “We’ve had situations where a storm comes in one area of the state and out the other, so you really have to be timing your communications and targeting them to what’s happening in the various markets.”
To tell the story through photographs and video footage, which is then made available to the news media and on social media, “We deploy members of the communications team and contractors to be safely wherever the damage is and capture those visuals” of the company’s efforts to restore power to its customers, she said.
Daily news briefings “help build a cadence of communication and educate folks about the different stages of the storm,” Garner said.
Year-round, Florida Power & Light has to communicate the nuanced message that “no matter how much we invest in our power grid to make it resilient, there are still going to be power outages,” Garner said. Those communications shouldn’t scare people, he said, but “you do want to point out that we’re on top of it” and will restore the power.
You can watch the playback of the conversation on LinkedIn.
[Photo credit: The Florida Power & Light Company]