By Michael Hayman, Seven Hills
It sticks in my mind. A few years back a leading agency chief told me that if you wanted to see a crisis command centre that was beyond the public relations capabilities of any of its competitors then look at BP.
Today, I think BP is beyond public relations for very different reasons. No modern communication techniques or thinking can save the giant from the enormity of the reputation storm that it is in.
For the corporate Goliath is dwarfed by the sheer size of the challenge. From a reputation point of view the front line is turning out to be social media, which is contaminating the BP brand almost as irreparably as oil is decimating the Gulf coastline.
If you can stand back from the awful tragedy for a moment you can see that new rules for communication are being created. The game is changing for everyone in business from major players to start up entrepreneurs.
Take a look at Leroy Stick, the man behind @BPGlobalPR. He has emerged as a giant of the streets, using social media to devastating effect.
He says the name came from Leroy, a dog who used to terrorize his neighbourhood. “Stick” refers to the stick his father gave him to beat back the dog if he threatened to attack.
“Do you want to know what their PR strategy should be? They should fire everyone in their joke of a PR department,” Stick writes, ” BP seems to only care about maintaining their image so they can keep making money…”
In a matter of weeks Stick has gained over 100,000 followers and his impact on the already shattered reputation of BP has been devastating.
I am not sure that BP could have done anything right facing an issue of this enormity. But let’s just say that they won’t be using the company’s CEO, Tony Hayward, as a best practice exemplar in the way that British Midland’s Sir Michael Bishop is referenced as the modern face of leadership in crisis management following the M42 plane crash.
The initial responses from BP of not our rig, not our equipment and not our people, was an unacceptable message for the US public. Since then it has scrambled to find a position it can defend with little effect.
In a crisis there are three golden rules; concern, action and perspective. You have to empathize through concern, show leadership through action, and only then can you ask for perspective.
BP’s mistake was to ask for perspective before it had earned it through concern and action. As its reputation is undone by the consistent pumping of 24/7 news media there are salutary lessons for those whose watch includes the protection of brand reputation.