PG&E will inevitably come under considerable fire following the gas explosion in San Bruno. In an editorial in the Huffington Post, for instance, Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,  asked why the company spent $45 million in support of Proposition 16, which would have curtailed the activities of government-run power providers, when it could have used the money to improve its crumbling infrastructure instead. And the questions are only just beginning to be asked.

Several local PR firms have taken up the case of PG&E, and are advising them on how to relate to the public, especially in the wake of the BP PR disaster in the Gulf. All of them are advising PG&E to be as transparent as possible as they communicate the facts with the public, and to show sincere sympathy for the victims. Elisabeth Handler of San Jose-based PRX Inc. warns that even the best crisis management plans tend to get waylaid in times of genuine crisis and cautions PG&E that they must not let that happen here. “A company can have a swell plan,” she says, “but when a crisis occurs, it’s the first thing that goes out the window.”

Marianne O’Connor of Sterling Communications insists that the company should confront hard questions directly and avoid appearing evasive. This was a major problem with BP, which revised its story and appeared to be misleading the public throughout the oil spill. She also suggests that PG&E do whatever it can to help the victims, even if it is eventually ruled that the accident was not their fault, so that “they will continue to have a halo in the mind of the public.” Of course, “continue” means that they currently have a “halo,” but Ms. O’Connor could be mistaking a halo for a noose.

Another San Jose firm, Coakley Heagerty, is focusing on what Silicon Valley does best, and advising PG&E to use social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to communicate with the public. Most of all, they suggest that the number of spokespeople be limited to ensure that everyone stays on message. Given the seriousness of the situation, it is a message that people will be scrutinizing carefully.
Read More at the Business Journal.