3 Best Practices for Communicating During a Crisis

From jobsite accidents to employee or management misdeeds, no business is immune from crisis situations — including the roofing sector. Contractors, manufacturers, distributors, and stakeholders throughout the supply chain do their best to safeguard against crisis situations and hope such events will not occur. But of course, hope is not a strategy and even the most stringent procedures cannot guarantee a crisis will not damage a business’s operations or its reputation.

As with many aspects of managing a business, advance consideration and planning can help minimize the consequences of a crisis situation. Have you asked yourself, “What would I do if a crisis situation threatened my business and the media/social media were at my door?”

A good place to start is by understanding not all crisis situations are the same. Most crises fall into one of two categories: “sudden” or “smoldering.” As the name implies, a sudden crisis arises without warning. Industrial accidents, terrorism, workplace violence and acts of God are all examples of sudden crisis situations. There is little time to prepare in these events and they are more likely to generate the public’s sympathy. In contrast, smoldering crisis events generally emerge over time and present problems not generally known that could generate negative public sentiment if they become public. Examples of smoldering crisis situations include business concerns such as audit findings, drug use by an employee, board mismanagement or a potential regulatory violation. A smoldering crisis may rapidly evolve into a sudden crisis if the news becomes public on the news or social media. As opposed to sudden crises, smoldering crisis events are rarely viewed positively.

Three Keys to Crisis Communication

Regardless of whether a crisis is sudden or smoldering, communication is imperative. A crisis communications plan can help manage either type of crisis. The plan should outline a central spokesperson to deliver all messages and include specific processes for who within the organization to contact in the event a team member is contacted by the media. While the details of a crisis management plan are beyond the scope of this column, every crisis management plan requires communication. When crafting crisis communications, three “best practices” can be applied to most situations. These practices are:

1. Tell the truth. Rarely are all of the facts readily available as a crisis situation unfolds. Yet members of the media are trained to “demand the facts” as news is still breaking. Obviously, trade secrets, confidentiality agreements and legal issues typically limit what can be disclosed. And the reality is, many times an organization simply does not know all of the details surrounding an unfortunate event. As such, it can be tempting to refrain from making any statement during a crisis situation or uttering the words “no comment.” But evasiveness naturally breeds suspicion. While organizations should never speculate during a crisis, they can share some truths about what they are doing.

A good technique to use in these situation is the “why plus what” approach. For example, “While not all of the facts are clear based on the investigation underway at the site of the accident, we are cooperating with first responders and posting updates on our website.”

The “why plus what” approach is a very useful technique for communicating without speculating or refraining from comment. Using this approach, spokespersons explain why they cannot elaborate and follow up with what they can share right now. For example: “While I can’t speculate about the root cause as research is still underway, what I can tell you is (approved statement).” A classic example of this technique used by reporters covering unfolding stories is, “While the details are still emerging, what we do know is ¼”

2. Tell it fast and with empathy. Not only is it important to tell the truth (what you can tell) quickly, but it is important to be prompt in response and empathetic to those affected by the situation. History provides some unfortunate examples of the damage a company can suffer from delaying its response, or not responding empathetically. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska is a good example of the damage that can arise when timeliness and empathy are lacking. The company waited a full week to address the media following the oil spill. When the executive did speak in a TV interview, he delivered a strong impression that he didn’t really care about the environmental impact of the disaster, committing a huge PR cardinal sin — lack of empathy.

More than 20 years later, after another oil disaster, another oil executive committed a crucial PR blunder. (Google “Tony Hayward get my life back.”) BP former CEO Tony Hayward conducted a number of high-quality media interviews before complaining halfway through a conversation with a reporter, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” His comment demonstrated a lack of sympathy for the many lives lost and the hundreds of jobs lost due to the incident’s aftermath throughout the affected area. Unlike the Exxon leader’s interview, BP’s situation unfolded in the social media era, amplifying the damage of the negative PR as the unfortunate interview went viral.

In any crisis situation, it is imperative for an organization’s leadership to put themselves in the shoes of those affected. This means thinking like a customer — and just as important talking like a customer — personally affected by the situation. Leaders should acknowledge the affected parties’ fears and frustrations. In stark contrast to the corporate speak of a prepared statement, empathy acknowledges that the speaker feels and shares the customer’s pain. Effective crisis messages project empathy and concern while explaining clearly and succinctly what can be shared. The best examples also provide perspective by framing the issue in context. For example, “Each year, our operations produce XX metric tons of product without incident.”

3. Tell your employees first. Despite all the efforts companies invest in developing messages for their website and official statements, a company’s people are usually the most sought-after and trusted source of information. Thus, in crisis situations, it is a company’s people who will receive questions from customers, friends and family about what’s “really” taking place. Employees must be a key audience in any crisis management plan. The plan should educate employees on the issue and provide clear information on how to direct inquiries to the appropriate spokesperson.

Whether it’s a sudden or smoldering crisis, the crisis communications best practices outlined above coupled with a crisis management plan can help members of the roofing community navigate the challenge.

About the author: Susan Miller is director of public relations at 5MetaCom, a marketing agency for companies selling technical and scientific products, including building products.

Working With Homeowners Associations Means Taking on Big Challenges

Glenwood Townhomes in San Dimas, California, includes 185 residential units, a clubhouse, standalone garage and park restroom building. The re-roofing project encompassed 250,000 square feet of shingles. Photos: La Rocque Better Roofs

A quick glance at the numbers reveals that Glenwood Townhomes in San Dimas, California, is not your everyday residential re-roofing project. Featuring 185 units plus a clubhouse, standalone garage and park restroom building, and requiring the installation of 250,000 square feet of shingles, the project is expansive in scope, to say the least. But for nearly 40 years, La Rocque Better Roofs has enjoyed taking on challenging roofing projects, and the team put a plan in place to take on a very ambitious and complex assignment.

With literally hundreds of homeowners impacted by the re-roofing project, the Glenwood Townhomes Home Owner Association (HOA) board of directors through its property management company, Personal Touch Property Management Company, actively sought a roofing company that had been in business for 20-plus years and, most importantly, was experienced in working with HOAs. Doug McCaulley, owner of Personal Touch Property Management Company, has managed Glenwood HOA for several years and knew he needed a company that was large enough and had the proper labor force to handle the size of the project — and would also be around to honor its warranty.

La Rocque Better Roofs has served customers throughout Southern California since 1981, and approximately 80 percent its business is focused on HOAs. The company has developed a process for effectively managing the multiple parties and considerations involved in HOA remodeling projects. Beyond the HOA board, other parties commonly involved in re-roofing projects include property management companies, roofing consultants, and maintenance and service organizations. From a project management perspective, challenges involved in HOA remodeling projects include dealing with any structural or code-related discoveries that arise once the project begins and minimizing inconvenience to residents.

The HOA board selected the Owens Corning TruDefinition Duration shingle in Desert Tan. Members desired both the aesthetics and the benefits of solar reflectivity. Photos: La Rocque Better Roofs

Labor availability is a key consideration for HOA projects, as such projects require a sizeable labor pool to be available for an extended period. Rory Davis, vice president of HOA Sales at La Rocque Better Roofs, says a readily available roofing team was a key factor in the selection of La Rocque Better Roofs for the project. “We do not subcontract our workers and work with a team of 75-110 people, depending upon the time of year, so that the project stays on schedule,” says Davis.

While project management skills, logistical know-how and labor are all required for HOA projects, the most important element in a re-roofing project is satisfying the homeowners living in the community. All these considerations went into La Rocque Better Roofs’ approach to the re-roofing of Glenwood Townhomes.

A Customized Approach to Roof Removal

The design of the Glenwood Townhomes community presented some structural challenges. Detached garages adjacent to each building blocked access for workers during the removal process. La Rocque Better Roofs found a way to resolve this challenge, investing in customized, extra-wide, sturdy walk boards to bridge the distance between the homes and garages. The walk boards allowed roofers to remove roofing from the home and then walk the removed materials directly into the truck. “Walking the debris right to the truck was a big plus, because materials didn’t touch the ground and didn’t come into contact with mature shrubs and landscaping,” says Guy La Rocque, president and CEO. “It was reassuring to homeowners to know that nails and debris wouldn’t be dropped in their yards and exterior living areas.” The system also supported efficiency. La Rocque estimates the walk boards reduced tear-off time by four to five hours per building.

“Safety and efficiency on all of worksites are key factors in being a successful and sought-after company,” La Rocque states. “The rules and requirements are constantly changing with OSHA, and it’s our responsibility as the management team at La Rocque Better Roofs to make sure all our employees are always up to date with the latest information. Our weekly Tailgate Safety Meetings as well as our monthly safety and education meetings help us maintain a level of awareness. It’s one thing to be educated in OSHA’s safety requirements; it’s another thing to implement and monitor these safety procedures on our jobsites.”

Surprises are not uncommon when remodeling mature properties. During the re-roofing project, some fireplaces in the community were found to be unstable. La Rocque Better Roofs worked with city permitting officials and engineers to retrofit the fireplaces so that they remained safe and functional without requiring a complete tear-down and rebuilding of the fireplaces.

Communication and the “Contractor Bubble”

Among the many steps La Rocque Better Roofs employed to simplify the process, Guy La Rocque says communication with residents was especially valuable. “We scheduled after-hours meetings with the residents to keep them informed about the project, answer their questions and let them know what to expect,” he says. “Over the years, we’ve found the best thing you can do is get homeowners involved. You can never communicate enough, so we let residents know what time our crews would be on site, where the crews would be working and what we expected to accomplish. “

Crews from La Rocque Better Roofs made sure to protect the landscaping as the project progressed. The company has made working for HOAs its primary focus. Photos: La Rocque Better Roofs

From La Rocque’s perspective, too many contractors operate in a “contractor bubble,” losing sight of other opportunities to add value to both homeowners and the contractor’s business. Listening to homeowners helps open up opportunities that may exist for additional work. “When you get homeowners involved, you get a different perception of what needs to happen,” La Rocque says. “The majority of us are homeowners, but many times we forget the most important thing we want from a contractor is communication.” He adds that the construction industry has suffered from a perception that too often contractors show up and leave whenever they want, leaving the customers in the dark. No one likes to be surprised. Keeping the homeowner informed can go a long way toward achieving more satisfied customers and generating more referrals.

Davis says that communication has never been more important than today, in the era of social media. “Yelp has become the new Better Business Bureau,” he says. “Social media provides more opportunities than ever before for consumers to either pat us on the back or criticize us.”

 Changing it Up

The Glenwood Townhomes community was built in 1973, and the roof replacement provided an opportunity to introduce trending colors and technology improvements to residents’ roofs. The HOA board wanted to select a color that would lighten up the overall look of the community and also take advantage of solar reflectivity. The HOA selected the Owens Corning TruDefinition Duration shingle in Desert Tan.

Asked about the shingle manufacturer’s involvement in the project, Davis says manufacturers’ reps can make a big difference. “Availability is key, and a willingness to bring samples onsite or address any problems that come up is critical. You learn a lot by how a manufacturer deals with any problems that arise. We may go years without a problem, but when something happens, we want someone who will step up,” he says. He also likes the Owens Corning Sure Nail technology and says the strip that ensures optimal placement of each nail is a plus.

HOA projects are not for every contractor. But through planning, establishing strong relationships with engineers, permitting organizations and other partners, thoughtful approaches to on-site challenges and most importantly, listening to customers, HOAs present an opportunity for contractors to take on projects of size and style.

Community Service Initiative Celebrates America’s Heroes

Habitat for Humanity identifies veterans who are in need of a new roof, and Owens Corning donates the materials. Platinum Preferred Contractors donate their team members’ labor to install the roofing systems. Photos: Owens Corning Roofing

Combine the expertise of a global humanitarian organization with roofing system materials donated by a manufacturer. Add the generosity and community-minded spirit of roofing contractors across the nation. Apply the parties’ collective efforts to honor and protect unsung heroes. What is the outcome? For veterans served by the Owens Corning Roof Deployment Project, the results are safer, more comfortable homes. This article shares the story of how one manufacturer connected its relationship with Habitat for Humanity with the expertise of roofing contractors already active in community service to create an integrated program serving American heroes.

An Idea Is Born and Contractors Collaborate

As the grandson of a veteran who proudly served under General Patton in World War II, Brad Beldon, CEO of Beldon Roofing in San Antonio, Texas, has long respected the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans. In fact, his grandfather’s selfless service inspired Beldon Roofing Company to develop a strong legacy of community outreach. When Brad broached the concept of a community service initiative honoring veterans during a Platinum Contractors Advisory Board meeting in San Antonio, his idea was met with broad enthusiasm. Beldon Roofing completed the first “trial project” which served as a model for the national Roof Deployment Project.

Leveraging the humanitarian spirit of Platinum Preferred Contractors across the nation, the Owens Corning Roof Deployment Project is a multi-stakeholder initiative bringing together Habitat for Humanity, members of the Owens Corning Platinum Preferred Contractor Network and the Owens Corning Foundation to support American veterans. The program fuses Habitat for Humanity’s experience building and restoring homes with the expertise of the network’s members to provide veterans with new roof systems. Each partner in the program plays a distinct role. Habitat identifies veterans who are in need of a new roof but are unable to replace the roofs themselves. Owens Corning donates the roofing system materials including underlayment, shingles and other materials needed to replace roofs in disrepair. Platinum Preferred Contractors donate their team members’ labor to specify materials and install the roofing systems.

Since its inception in Spring 2016, the National Roof Deployment Project has installed nearly 60 roofs, and the program’s momentum continues to grow. The practice of giving back is a time-honored tradition for Platinum Preferred Contractors. Owens Corning Contractor Network Leader Jason Lewinski says the program builds upon Platinum Contractors’ rich history of giving back to their communities. “When we rolled the program out at our Platinum national conference in San Antonio, we saw lots of hands go up and heard contractors say loud and clear, ‘I’m ready and willing to participate,’” said Lewinski. “Not one contractor has ever said, ‘this is new to us’ – as many of our contractors are already so community-minded. And many of them don’t stop at the roof. They often want to provide gutters, soffit, fascia, siding or whatever it takes to make the needed repairs.”

Platinum Contractor Tripp Atkinson, owner of ContractingPRO in Memphis, Tennessee, is a good example of a roofer who is also a community servant. He and his team have donated roofing and siding labor for Brinkley Heights Urban Academy, a Christian missionary organization serving at-risk youth. In addition to ministering to the kids, feeding them or just listening to the kids, ContractingPRO finds opportunities to apply its remodeling expertise to the distressed homes of these under-served youth. Remarking on his involvement in the Roof Deployment Project, Atkinson says, “We’re not just putting on roofs, but giving back in a way that is changing lives and helping these veterans enjoy their homes more.” He adds that community service provides an opportunity for his team to make a difference that extends beyond the business. “It’s very important for us to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves and our company,” he said.

Contractors Give Back to America’s Heroes and Communities

The National Roof Deployment Project’s focus on supporting veterans has been especially appealing to contractors, notes Matt Schroder, communications leader at Owens Corning. “Many contractors have shared that they either served in the military or have close members of their family who are active service members,” Schroder said. He added that the Roof Deployment Project has also opened up opportunities for Owens Corning to partner with veteran-focused organizations such as Purple Heart Homes.

The Owens Corning Roof Deployment Project brings together Habitat for Humanity, members of the Owens Corning Platinum Preferred Contractor Network, and the Owens Corning Foundation to support American veterans. Photos: Owens Corning Roofing

Jon Sabo, owner of RoofRoof in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a good example of a Platinum Preferred Contractor who can relate to the program as a veteran. “As a former Marine myself, I’m personally honored that we’re able to partner with Owens Corning and Habitat to relieve a big stress,” said Sabo, following the donation of a new roof to a veteran. “One of our core values has always been to give back to the communities we serve, and we jumped at the opportunity to be able to give back to someone right in our own back yard.”

Military members’ time away from home can mean maintenance on the home front is neglected. Nick Yadron, owner of M&M Remodeling Services in Crete, Illinois, says that the Roof Deployment Project is an opportunity to say thank you to veterans and help their families. “We all see so much value in this program as a way to say thank you to our veterans. All the Platinum Contractors were really excited when the program was announced a few years ago,” Yadron says.

While he is active in the Chicagoland area, Yadron’s commitment to service goes much further. In 2013 and 2016, he traveled to India on a mission trip where he helped a team establish water wells and build schools. Closer to home, M&M supports Habitat for Humanity. Over the years, his company has also “adopted” a family experiencing hard times and provided new windows, siding and gutters.

Employee and Community Engagement

Even those not directly impacted by the Roof Deployment Project are engaged by the program. According to Don Rettig, Director of Community Relations and President of the Owens Corning Foundation, the Roof Deployment Project has resonated with both Owens Corning employees and the communities served by Platinum Contractors. Rettig says one welcome outcome of the project is the amount of conversation on Owens Corning internal communication channels and social media. “We’re always excited to see our people take pride in our community engagement,” Rettig says. “This partnership with our contractors to help our nation’s veterans has certainly been well received.”

“We know from surveys that some 93 percent of our people appreciate working for a company that provides opportunities to be involved in supporting the local community,” Rettig notes.

Communities have also taken notice of the contractors and veterans involved in the program. In multiple local markets, media outlets ranging from broadcast television stations to daily newspapers and online news sites have shone the spotlight on this program. In several markets, media have come out more than once to report live from veterans’ homes as contractors replaced a roof. “We’ve seen TV stations return to neighborhoods to produce stories about additional projects — even in the same market,” Schroder says.

Making an Impact

A November 6, 2017 article in The New York Times noted an emerging trend in corporate philanthropy is the desire by companies to show both customers and employees that their interests extend beyond making profits, and that companies today are determined to show an impact. As the National Roof Deployment Project illustrates, when roofing contractors, communities, and corporations align with non-profits to engage in service, the results can literally make an impact, one shingle at a time.