Worldcom Wednesdays: Five Years Later – How DEVENEY Helped Louisiana Recover from the Deepwater Horizon Crisis
Five years ago this month, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico led to a gushing oil leak that threatened the economy, environment and culture of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. By July 15, 2010 the leak was capped, but the polluted perceptions continued to decimate Louisiana’s $9.4 billion tourism industry. New Orleans-based marketing firm DEVENEY developed a comprehensive crisis response and reputation management campaign within 24 hours of receiving the call from Louisiana Office of Tourism to lead the response.
Ward sat down with DEVENEY President John Deveney to hear about the agency’s experience managing crisis communications and mitigating brand damage due to the largest oil spill in history.
Q. Describe the immediate objectives and challenges you faced in developing a strategy to quickly respond and educate/inform target audiences.
A. The immediate turnaround by our team was a necessity because the client needed to present the strategy to the legislature and other state leadership. The strategy was developed and implemented amid a media maelstrom. We needed to disseminate accurate information and proactively preserve the state’s tourism industry despite powerful imagery propagating misperceptions.
Objectives for the campaign focused on: 1) securing the proactive communication leadership position on the situation, 2) managing the reactive communication demands in a way supportive of the proactive strategy, 3) correcting misperceptions, 4) placing accurate information about and persuading the public opinion regarding the positive reality, 5) diminishing the ongoing economic impact, and 6) measuring against “comparable” campaigns.
It was imperative we reach the tourism industry, potential travelers to Louisiana, the general public, media and legislators.
Q. What was the media response you faced immediately and over the course of the crisis as it continued?
A. Initially, response to media was vital and was the focus of our proactive messaging strategy. Misconceptions and misreporting were widespread. DEVENEY developed and executed a “one-voice” strategy statewide in which consistent messaging was delivered in combination with the exchange of timely information. We continuously monitored the situation, conducting research and updating strategic messages to address issues as they arose. Findings and updates were reported to tourism industry partners and stakeholders regularly.
Q. From your perspective, what do you think was done well from a crisis communications point of view? What proved to be a challenge or misstep? What lessons were learned as a result?
A. In a crisis response and reputation management campaign of this magnitude, effective communication and collaboration among all the various stakeholders and groups involved is extremely challenging—and often the source of additional spin-off crises. We were able to manage and keep on message more than 1,100 strategic partner organizations and nearly 100 experts because we had credibility. They trusted us and relied on us.
Each strategy and campaign was carefully developed as part of an integrated approach to meet each objective. To quantify the program’s overall impact, a formula for calculating the number of media impressions and the publicity value of earned media placement was used. Some highlights of the many, many results achieved:
- A 1,991-to-1 return on investment (5,672% over objective);
- More than 667.3 million impressions (1,026% over objective);
- Some $658.5 million in targeted publicity value (2,743% over objective);
- Perceptions regarding the length of time Louisiana would be affected by the oil spill were shortened significantly (49% in 6/10, to 30% in 3/11), establishing a prevalent understanding that Louisiana and its statewide tourism assets were recovering more quickly than anticipated;
- Efforts reversed the economic impact remarkably fast, e.g. hotels boasted a nearly 13% increase in occupancy in 2010 compared with 2009, and New Orleans grew to the eighth highest hotel occupancy rate among the top 25 markets.
Q. What has been the greatest achievement to date as a result of your crisis communications counsel and efforts with the State of Louisiana?
A. Overall, the greatest achievement in our efforts is tied to the fact that truth, transparency and authenticity were at the heart of our work. Louisiana prevailed and its reputation was preserved – these outcomes are the most meaningful.
Q. What else should Ward to the Wise readers know about working in a pressing crisis communications situation?
A. One of the reasons our strategy and response was successful can be credited to our team being prepared ahead of time. It truly is a matter of when, not if, a company will experience a threatening situation.
Many thanks to our friends at DEVENEY for graciously sharing their insight and expertise. If you need help with crisis communications planning or need to extend the global reach of your PR, contact