BP: A New Standard for Crisis Communications?

Well, I may have to change the name of this blog to PR on the ellipitical trainer. I’ve been able to chase the belt on the treadmill a couple times in the last few days. But hitting the concrete. Nada. Sore foot. Sore foot. Oh, my. Oh, my.

Oh, well. More important problems facing us these days — the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico certainly among them, if not topping the list. And I wonder what BP can say at this point to restore public trust and confidence?

Maybe nothing.

I was thinking about that yesterday when I was tethered to an exercise machine and watching the broadcast version of an ad that BP is using to apologize for the spill, take responsibility and convey the image that it is in control of the situation.

That ad should be effective. Hey, it’s classic PR strategy for crisis communications and management: apologize, get senior management involved and on the scene quickly, and take responsibility. That’s been pretty much textbook advice for more than two decades — ever since the Exxon Valdez catastrophe and the inept response by that company’s management.

So, is it working for BP? Doesn’t look like it.

Here’s from an interesting Associated Press story as posted on The Huffington Post, “BP Ad Backfires, Spur Criticism, Not Sympathy“:

The ads began appearing last week and have been criticized by President Barack Obama, who said the money should be spent on cleanup efforts and on compensating fishermen and small business owners who have lost their jobs because of the spill.

The ads also don’t thrill residents and visitors of the Gulf Coast, where the oil has blackened some beaches and threatens others. And others say the sentiments come too soon and insincerely.

“Their best advertising is if they get this cap (in place) and they get everything cleaned up. All you’ve got to do is do your job, and that’s going to be plenty of good advertising,” said Grover Robinson IV, chairman of the Escambia County, Fla., Commission, referring to BP’s efforts to place a cap over the gushing pipe and capture the oil.

BP spokesman Robert Wine said in an e-mail Saturday that “not a cent” has been diverted from the oil spill response to pay for the ad campaign. He didn’t know its cost.

BP management — and that of any organization in this kind of situation — has to convey a message that it cares, that it understands the scope and severity of the crisis, and that it takes responsibility for the fix today and as the situation evolves in the weeks, months and maybe years ahead.

But when you come down to it, results matter.

And today — in an era of Twitter, Facebook, and 24/7 news — that may well be the new standard for crisis communications and management.


7 responses to “BP: A New Standard for Crisis Communications?

  1. After reading Mr. Jewell’s blog it reaffirmed my stance on the BP Oil Spill Crisis that has been going on. I feel as though the recent advertisement that BP released was in response to the CEO’s comment he made about a week ago. A lot of backlash has been made about the comment, that he wanted his life back. BP is getting such negative media attention right now because they are not releasing all the information and not allowing many people to come help with the efforts in the Gulf. It is just surprising that BP had such open and good communication during their 1990 Oil incident, but not today, in 2010.

  2. Often underestimated is people’s ability to forget. Crowds in LA continue to chant “MVP” for Kobe after his infidelity, and I find myself trying to remember the last time I thought about the earthquake in Haiti – until now, that is. If you asked anybody about the BP tanker that spilled oil off the coast of Southern California a few decades ago, most would have no idea what you were talking about. The best thing for BP to do is clean up the mess, pay their fines and take their well-deserved heat from the public. While the event will always be remembered, they may be able to at least stay in business.

  3. I agree that BP needs to focus on fixing the problem more than what kind of advertising they can use to make them look better than they are at the moment. Advertising is good to let people know what is going on and how they are going to fix it, but they should be putting more time, money, and effort into actually fixing the problem first than telling people what they think can fix the problem.

  4. Thanks for all of the comments. Years ago when I was working at Goodrich I learned that you had to respond quickly, take responsibility and then demonstrate results to fix the problem. Words mattered — but performance really counted. Sometimes I think that point is lost in the discussion about crisis communication and crisis management.

    And I agree that the statement of the BP CEO about getting his life back really hurt from the standpoint of establishing trust and credibility. Given that, it’s surprising to me that he continues to be the “face” of BP during this crisis.

  5. In my opinion, I feel that BP was not prepared for such a major problem, and the corporation was lacking in the public relations department. Instead of being five steps ahead of any issue that might take place, BP was ten steps behind. The company’s “sympathetic” advertisement, that has become so popular in conversation through the past week, was a huge bust. The public is angry and an advertisement will not suppress anger. People want to hear a plan to put into action, not a statement read from a teleprompter by the CEO. The only thing that BP can do at this point is to be HONEST.

  6. I definately agree, I really think that BP has really lost all credibility and the only way that they are going to gain that back is faster results and less words. BP has really discredited themselves by witholding important information from the public. I agree that today’s society is very different with all of the technology and social sites such as twitter, facebook and 24/7 updated online newsrooms. People expect the news when it happens and to be updated constantly. Although that may not be possible for BP with this crisis, the definately should have done a better job of offering and communicating all they new with the public.

  7. Plenty of insightful comments here. Thanks. In this — and other crisis situations — you must demonstrate that you have a plan to solve the problem and then achieve results. The fact that BP has not been able to stop the spill is a huge problem and it gets worse as the days and weeks go by.

    From a communications/public relations perspective, credibility and trust are the important considerations here. And you don’t establish or maintain trust and credibility without open, honest and truthful disclosure and a willingness to share information. That’s really the foundation for ethical — and effective — public relations. And it’s important — as BP and others are learning virtually every day now.

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