In my last blog I said that no amount of PR would help BP if, indeed, they were not safe and environmentally sound. Their brand is certainly damaged, particularly because they built it to be green. BUT crisis communications are still essential, regardless of what the brand stands for. And man, is this a crisis.
Here’s the problem, from a communications point of view. The first rule in a crisis is to tell the truth. And if the truth isn’t good, tell it anyway, express sincere remorse and then explain how you’ll fix it. Well, the leak continues, and as long as it does, BP is in the spotlight.
So it’s not a finite event. You can’t just say ‘mea culpa’ and move on. You can’t promise it will never happen again when you don’t even know how to stop it from happening now.
To BP’s credit, they are admitting to mistakes. They are taking some responsibility. They are offering to pay all legitimate claims. (Although you immediately wonder what BP’s definition of “legitimate” is.) But in a catastrophe of this magnitude the normal rules of crisis communication, even when applied properly, may not be enough.
Perhaps that’s why I saw this headline in PR trade press a couple days ago:
BP Launches Lobby and PR Blitz
These efforts are mostly to respond to Congressional hearings as well as reporters.
The article mentioned that the company has also hired another PR firm, Brunswick Group, specializing in “critical communication challenges.” (So says their web site.) But to bring in new people at this stage of the game? A couple weeks after the initial incident? What about BP’s existing firm? What about the existing crisis communication plans that every company should have in place?
We can only hope BP knows how to stop leaks better than they know how to handle crisis communications.