Even the most hardened anti-environmentalist would be hard pressed to not be moved by the disaster that has taken over the Gulf of Mexico. BP has, for the past six weeks, been fighting fires on every front as the world questioned: how on earth could this have happened? And how is it possible that the flow of oil can’t be stemmed sooner??
Now, I’m not an engineer and I can’t answer those questions. But what I do know is that BP has done no favours for itself by the way in which it’s handled the PR around the oil crisis.
The company’s failure to manage expectations and its tendency to claim premature victories have brought into question any credibility that it had to start with. The speed at which the global community has picked this up and gone to town on the oil giant has been instant. Within hours, an anonymous Tweeter set up a fake ‘BP Public Relations’ account, quoting gems such as: “Try our cap operation at home! Hold a funnel over a firehose, sell what you catch and proclaim victory!” and “We’re having an internal debate at the office. Is the Gulf of Mexico one of the Great Lakes?” Greenpeace also jumped on the bandwagon by launching its own version of the BP logo , while infamous US site The Onion summed it up in a very tongue-in-cheek blog: ‘Massive Flow Of Bullshit Continues to Gush from BP Headquarters’.
In short, BP’s speed of response at controlling the messaging around the crisis – across every channel – has been too slow. It demonstrates the power of a good crisis management plan and importance of being able to control communications from the outset, when things go wrong.
Now, the question has to be asked: with a disaster of such a magnitude, can any amount of PR help protect BP’s reputation? Well, not in its entirety. What PR can do, is retain the company’s credibility as an honest source of information (if not a responsible oil provider!) and ensure that you’re communicating in a clear and consistent way.