18 Jun 2010

I care about the small people too

Could the media handling of the BP oil spill get worse?

Most media-management and crisis management books (particularly in the US) highlight the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill as a textbook example of how not to do it. For twenty years media schools have been telling their students that when a crisis hits ignore the lawyers because the lawyers in the US are scared of litigation and will recommend silence as the best response.

But of course it's actually the worst response so the media books will tell you to acknowledge the problem, apologize immediately, admit fault and show that you're doing everything you can to fix it.

When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in 1989 spilling thousands of barrels of oil into Prince William Sound, the company was criticized for doing too little, too late. The measures being taken were shown not to be working and the Chairman of Exxon was noticeably absent from the media during the crisis.

Sounds familiar? Add to the fact that in today's environment people talk with more people in more places and at a frenetic pace.

BP's chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg usually does a pretty good job when he's handling the media but the "we care about the small people," quote is going to haunt him and I'm not really sure that the 'lost in translation' excuse was so good either. A direct translation into Swedish would not be suitable for a Swedish audience either.

And during all this time, more than 5 million people have been watching this recently released parody on YouTube and a mash-up has been done which shows you how the oil spill would affect your part of the world.

If it was imperative to ignore the lawyers, admit fault, be visible and act immediately back in 1989, then the need for acting fast in 2010 is business critical.

The BP Communications team has a big job ahead. The spill alone was a PR disaster. The handling itself is now turning into another one. Ideas anyone?

Colm O'Callaghan is JG Communication’s Head of Operations so when he’s not blogging he’s looking after the day to day business at this wonderful communicaitons agency.
So, who’s JG Communication? We’re Sweden’s largest and, we think, ‘leading’ communications agency in Sweden. We help our clients have conversations with the people that matter most to them using the tools that matter most to us, words, sound and vision.

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1 comment:

Kris Walmsley said...

There will always be lessons to learn. What did communicators learn from the relatively insignificant, but brand-damaging, video by musician Dave Carroll last year?

BP's communication team - and anyone else working on the front lines of (social) media - might want to check out these sites:

Social Media Crisis Communications Case Study – United Airlines Breaks Guitars (http://harbrooke.com/2009/07/social-media-crisis-communications-case-study-united-airlines-breaks-guitars/),
United Airlines: How to Handle the Dave Carroll Baggage