BP Cleaning Its Image While Cleaning Oil

I was interviewed by WBTV, Charlotte's local CBS affiliate, regarding how BP was handling the oil spill crisis from a PR perspective.  You can watch the interview below.  There were parts of the conversation that were edited out of the conversation between myself and reporter Derrick Rose (he's a gem), but they were very important parts to my opinion on how BP is handling the crisis.

First, BP didn't follow the first rule of crisis communication - tell it all and tell it fast. We discussed this during the Toyota recall crisis. Companies must learn that they need to take the reigns on the problem before the media and the court of public opinion.  Once that happens, it is very difficult to keep from being viewed as on the defense (mainly because when you finally do speak you are defending yourself against what everyone has said).

Second, instead of truly building relationships, BP started spending a lot of money on advertising and community relations efforts.  While I can appreciate some of things they are doing (hiring unemployed workers to assist with the clean up and conducting community service-related projects in the communities impacted) their efforts seem self-serving, not authentic. As long as BP stays on the defense any effort put forth will appear disingenuous.

Additionally, they aren't making real investments with the projects in the impacted communities.  The programs they are establishing aren't long-term; they are one hit wonder programs that will be gone as sooner than they started.

Third, BP is spending money on tourism advertisements for the Gulf States.  While I understand the Gulf States' desire to have these advertisements and BP's desire to provide them, I think the money could be spent better in other places.  The reality is, many people will not vacation there because of what is happening right now - ad or no ad.

Fourth and final, BP hasn't done much to support the independent contractors who own gas stations that carry BP fuel. As this article points out, they are the ones who ultimately are hurting when we boycott BP.

I will, however, give some credit to BP.  There are a few things I can appreciate in their PR campaign, including:

  • Setting up sites for each state impacted. BP is working to communicate directly with the people in each impacted state.  To that end, they have launched several microsites to help communicate with trying to communicate with each impacted state.  They have set up websites for each state that details their efforts in that area. This is a great way to control the message, dissemiante information and get it directly to the people who need it.

Visit microsites:

Alabama - http://www.alabamagulfresponse.com/go/site/3051/

Florida - http://www.floridagulfresponse.com/go/site/3059/

Lousiana - http://www.louisianagulfresponse.com/go/site/3047/

Mississippi - http://www.ms-response.com/go/site/3055/

  • Giving money back to those impacted the most. BP has stepped up and is making payments to business owners  who have been negatively impacted by the oil spill.  Additionally the company has reached a preliminary agreement to place $20 billion in an escrow account to be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, a White House official said. Feinberg also oversaw payments to families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The funds will be distributed to Gulf spill victims. Read more about BP's financial contribution to those impacted by the spill.

The lesson. When in crisis situations you must tell it all and tell it fast and your efforts to recover need to have impact and be authentic.