Construction is a complicated industry. From securing planning and financing through to final delivery, a range of issues can arise.
The larger a project, the more challenging it is. The supply chain will be extensive, work will be divided into a number of delivery packages, and a diverse group of stakeholders will need to be communicated with.
It’s no surprise that projects sometimes meet with delay. The majority of stakeholders will understand and accept this as long as they are openly communicated with. If this doesn’t happen, the reputational damage can be significant.
Reacting to negative news
It is a problem that Tottenham Hotspur FC are experiencing. Currently building a £800m+ stadium, it was expected to be ready in early September for a game against Liverpool FC. Concerns over safety meant that this was pushed back.
Rather than the club announcing the delay, the story leaked. It wasn’t until the next day that the club responded with its own statement.
With over 3,000 construction staff on-site, the chance of a leak was high. A range of pre-prepared, approved statements covering a range of potential issues should have been ready to go at any time. This would ensure that the club would be in control of the message if anything went wrong.
Problems with messaging
A backlash followed, with many upset that they found out about the problems via rumours in the media. To add further insult, the statement emphasised commercial interests over two other key stakeholders – supporters and the local community. This seems to be an oversight, as the latter two groups would be the most vocal in the event of an issue.
In the days following the announcement, further confused messaging about ticketing for rearranged and delayed matches added to the negativity.
After the initial leak, further games were rearranged. Each was announced by the club piecemeal over a number of weeks; a cup game here, a European tie there. This was often at late notice, causing problems for fans who had booked travel or time off to attend matches.
Again, it’s surprising the club was not prepared for this eventuality, either in the form of contingency planning or proactive messaging. With every delay or change, negative sentiment increased, which was amplified by media.
Trying to regain control of the message
Eventually, the club managed to get on the front foot. Last week, Chairman Daniel Levy apologised to fans and announced that the stadium would not be ready until 2019.
At last, the club has tried to take ownership of the message and attempt to reduce further uncertainty and disruption.
The announcement was reasonably well received by fans and supporters groups. Unfortunately, it does not end there. A pop-up advert on the announcement webpage tried to direct audiences to purchase items in the club shop, before they could read the statement.
Cancel automated posts
In a crisis, one of the first recommendations is that organisations cancel scheduled social posts and updates. Websites should be streamlined so that users can go straight to the information they need. Options include running a limited site or setting up a bespoke landing page. Included within this would be disabling the aforementioned pop-up adverts.
Not doing this can cause more negativity and dilute key messages. It may also appear that you are not considering the issue with the focus it deserves or respecting your audience.
Is it too late to change things?
If the club continue to be proactive with future communications their stakeholders should be more understanding.
They also need to identify potential allies. Early warnings for supporters groups, local businesses, club affiliates and alumni could have helped Tottenham take the initiative. Allowing the news to break via a leak was always going to put them in a challenging situation from day one. Allies can help spread the message on your behalf and ensure that there is consistency.
Progressive companies include reputation on their balance sheet, alongside other intangible assets. It’s easy to see why. Damage to reputation has an impact on the bottom line. Spurs have already seen their attendances (and therefore revenue) drop for matches at their temporary stadium in protest at the handling of the stadium delays. They must avoid making the same communications mistakes again and causing further damage.
Read more about the issues with construction’s reputation here.
Photo by Toni Cuenca via Unsplash