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What Whitefish Energy Can Learn From Their Twitter Dispute With Puerto Rico’s Mayor

When Whitefish Energy, a small utility company based out of Whitefish, MT with two full time employees, was awarded a $300 million contract to repair Puerto Rico’s electric grid after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, eyebrows raised immediately. The deal was signed by Ricardo Ramos, the chief executive of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, despite recommendations for changes to the contract from PREPA’s legal team that would have protected Puerto Rico.

Soon after the deal was signed, the FBI and media outlets launched an investigation into how Whitefish was awarded this large, emergency contract work. How was a small, two person company going to mobilize to repair Puerto Rico’s electric grid and essentially be tasked with saving the lives of people on the island? Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló and San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz began speaking out publically about the contract. 

Twitter Feud Ensues

Mayor Cruz took to Twitter to express that the contract should be voided immediately and called for a new process so a company capable of handling the task of repairing the island’s grid could be brought in. 

Whitefish’s Twitter account responded that Cruz’s comments were “misplaced.” 

Mayor Cruz quipped back, “If @WhitefishEnergy feels that asking for transparency is ”misplaced”, what are they afraid we will find.”

The situation escalated with Whitefish’s response to Cruz, which essentially read as a threat:

"We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?"

Canceled Whitefish Contract

The following day, Whitefish Energy tweeted an apology to Mayor Cruz and backtracked on its comments. 

"@CarmenYulinCruz and everyone in Puerto Rico..."

"Mayor Cruz and everyone in Puerto Rico - on behalf of our employees, we would like to apologize for our comments earlier today, which did not represent who we are and how important this work is to help Puerto Rico's recovery. We have a strong team on the ground, we are working hard and making good progress. Our goal is to continue to do all we can to help everyone in Puerto Rico in this time of need."

However, despite the apology and many other factors surrounding the controversial contract between Whitefish and PREPA, Gov. Rosselló called on Ramos to cancel the contract. 

Long-term Effects for Whitefish

Currently, any search for Whitefish’s name and even searching “Puerto Rico” returns negative results and sentiment around Whitefish’s brand. Unfortunately for Whitefish, neither Twitter nor the internet forgets a crisis. While we can’t be sure of what the future will hold for Whitefish Energy, one can be sure that their online reputation will suffer in the weeks to come

Beyond their inefficiencies in handling a national recovery effort following a natural disaster, this situation proved Whitefish wasn’t equipped with a crisis management plan to handle suddenly being thrust into mainstream media. Whitefish’s situation may have unfolded under a national spotlight, but it illustrates the digital witch hunt that can happen to brands at any time if they are careless with their brand presence. 

An infographic created by Reputation Management highlights the four key pillars of crisis management. As Whitefish finishes out their 30-day contract in Puerto Rico, they should begin to focus on the Review and Learn pillar to begin the long process of recovering their online presence. 

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