Adding to my outrage about the BP oil spill is my amazement at their incompetence at managing the PR crisis. It makes me think that if they run their oil operations the way they have mishandled their public messaging, no one should be surprised that this disaster happened in the first place. How clueless are these people?
A week or so ago, I published a posting about their ridiculous banner ad campaign. But this week we get comments from BP’s Chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg on how much BP cares about the “small people,” and CEO Tony Hayward’s “wanting his life back.” Wow. Just wow.
Over the last few months, BP could not have created a more compelling image as an incompetent, uncaring corporate behemoth if they wanted to.
I just read an interesting interview on the Mother Jones site with one of the many “PR experts” the media has trotted out to discuss this mess. Here’s the link. He nailed it as an “unspinnable” crisis and points out what I have felt all along. They need to just provide transparency for the media, shut up and stop managing this like it’s a legal problem.
An analogy that comes to my mind is that PR crises are like waves at the beach. If the wave is of a reasonable size, if you are reasonably skilled and you get out in front of it, you can ride it safely into shore. But if it’s too big, you better dive underneath the wave or just get to the high ground and do it in a hurry. In this case, it was tsunami. They never had a chance to spin this thing. Their best plan was to be completely open with the media, focus on solving the problem and leave the brand reclamation work to the new team of executives who will undoubtedly be brought in after the dust settles.
Bringing it back to the theme of my blog, BP out-thought themselves on this. I can imagine a team of marketing and PR people in a very tense conference room saying to themselves, “Hey! This is is an unparalleled PR disaster! We need an unparalleled response. People think we’re bad. We’re not bad people. Let’s get a campaign going that tells the world we’re not bad people.”
Wrong. They needed someone in that room to say, “Guys…there’s nothing we can say that will change people’s opinions of us right now. They don’t want to hear a peep from us that doesn’t have to do with getting this thing plugged. We need to shut up and keep our heads down.”
That’s what I would have said.