The P.R. Kiss of Death
Our continued look at recent P.R. crises made worse by stupidity turns today to BP. We’ve already written extensively about BP, so we’ll refer back to the recent New York Times article for the most important point–there’s only one thing you absolutely must protect in a crisis–or all is lost:
Putting aside the limitations of crisis management, those in the trade generally share a sense that the companies at the center of recent events committed grievous errors. At the top of the list is BP.
“It was one of the worst P.R. approaches that I’ve seen in my 56 years of business,” says Mr. Rubenstein. “They tried to be opaque. They had every excuse in the book. Right away they should have accepted responsibility and recognized what a disaster they faced. They basically thought they could spin their way out of catastrophe. It doesn’t work that way.”
“BP lost a lot of credibility when it turned out they weren’t being forthright about how much oil was spilling out,” says Lucio Guerrero, who, as former spokesman for Rod R. Blagojevich, the impeached governor of Illinois, has intimate knowledge of the art of trust management. “Once you lose credibility, that’s the kiss of death.”
Of course, CEO Tony Hayward spilled what little credibility the pitiful oil giant had left with his lack of sensitivity and epic foot-in-mouth disease:
On the highlight reel of BP’s missteps, strategists cite its effort to deflect blame for the spill by pinning responsibility on contractors. That made BP appear callous, as if it were focused on avoiding legal liability rather than doing right by those whose lives had been upended — the families of the 11 rig workers who died in the explosion, and communities that draw their livelihoods from the gulf. (BP declined to comment on such assertions.)
The company had to contend with a classic corporate quandary of balancing advice from counselors with starkly different considerations, according to people familiar with BP’s deliberations who requested anonymity because the advice was confidential.
That poor balancing act was also apparent in their use of two spokespersons at once. Never a good idea. Credibility score: zero.
But what about when the lawyers battle the P.R. pros behind the scenes in the fight for control of the situation? We’ll look at that tomorrow.