Last week I had lunch with a prospective client in the Oil and Gas industry who spent a number of years with BP, mainly in their Community Relations department. The topic of conversation quickly shifted to their efforts to install what could be a controversial plant in the Southern Texas area. I asked him what they were doing to meet any “resistance” from the community towards the project. Fully expecting him to say they were hosting a series of “town hall” type meetings, he surprised me by instead saying they were asking local residents to host “dinner parties” at their homes so the company could share information with the community in a less formal setting.
The client said, even somewhat surprisingly to him, the dinner parties were an instant success. Community members felt going to their neighbors homes was a much “safer” forum to meet with the company and hear about its plans than going to the usual civic center or school and enduring through a 2-3 hour meeting and its countless speakers from both the company and local governments.
This individual told me his person on the ground there in Southern Texas simply asked a few local residents if they would be willing to host the meetings and once they said “yes”, she then coordinated having food from a local restaurant brought in and she would then handle all the details regarding setup and cleanup.
Now sometimes the “town hall” is a company’s only choice, but either way, this novel concept of appealing to people’s stomachs sounded like a great way to either supplement or complement a company’s efforts to help inform the community of the benefits of what could become a controversial project.