No doubt, anticipating and preparing for PR events is not only worthwhile, but also smart business. Any marketing/public relations team needs to have something ready to go should an unlikely disaster strike their company.
Seems that BP did not have such a plan in place, based on how they have reacted to the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Even today, Day 60, BP does not seem to be proactive in countering any bad news, nor even making a case for what they might be trying to do to to plug the hole and clean up the mess. Granted nothing like this has ever happened before, but isn’t that always the case?
The Tylenol poisoning case of 1982 stands out in terms of marketing and public relations. It is a classic case study on crisis communication. Then Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, James Burke, formed a seven member strategy team with the mandate to address two questions: 1. “How do we protect the people?” and 2. “How do we save this product?” Notice the order – People first, Product second. J&J could never imagine something like this taking place and yet, in the first days of the crisis, they came to correct conclusions to address both questions and ultimately came out of the situation with a stronger company and trusted brand.
While the current crisis in the Gulf has come to an end, several missteps have already taken place by high ranking BP officials.
Early on BP did not seem to be too concerned about the oil in the Gulf as it was “only a small amount in a very big body of water.” The general public certainly would not buy into such an argument. Oil in the Gulf is a serious thing no matter the amount and especially if it continues to flow.
Then there are the BP TV ads touting how BP is doing everything possible and will make things right in the end, while everything does not seem to be going well with daily oil leak projections rising to astronomical levels.
Next, We hear the Chairman of BP talk about caring for the “small people.” Can I say there was a “big whoops!” Small people? Excuse me, but even the chairman puts on his pants the same way I do and for many of the people that work hard to make a living on the Gulf, this was another poke in the eye.
Then yesterday, the CEO is hauled before a Congressional Committee (don’t get me started on the politics of this nor how inept our government has been at protecting our shoreline) and basically has no answers for any questions. Of course this was nothing more than political theater for the benefit of the politicians. It is not that investigations should not or do not need to take place, rather let’s address the problems at hand’ plug the hole and clean up the mess.
It seems evident by the actions of BP that they did not have a crisis communication plan in place to help the C-level people through this oily mess. Handling the crisis is costing BP more than just money. In the end there will be even a larger cost in terms of image and also to the industry in how oil drilling in our waters will be perceived for years.
My recommendations to BP include:
- Marshal all forces within your company and those of the industry to help cap the well. Right now, it looks like BP is out there alone without any help from the other oil producers in the world. If the other companies think this oil leak will not impact them, they had better consider their lack of visible action real quick.
- BP needs to request and get help from around the world to contain and collect the oil before it impacts other beaches. Quite frankly the U.S. Government needs to be active here as well, but the current crisis shows how inept government really is at solving any problem.
- Get out and be visible and “real.” Your marketing team needs to be communicating directly with people. Engage and converse. Your current BP America Facebook page does not allow for any “conversations.” You are using a social media tool for traditional marketing and PR – pushing information out. The BP Community page is not pretty with the collection of Facebook postings collected and visible for all to see.
- For God’s sake, give your C-level people talking point documents and make sure those that cannot speak in public are banned from talking to reporters.
It certainly will not be easy for the BP or the Marketing/PR team at BP. It is easy for everyone, including me to sit back and do some arm-chair quarterbacking. Bottom line, your message that is getting out to the public, is all wrong and negative. The longer it goes on, the worse it will be.