BP’s oil may be flooding the Gulf of Mexico but their reputation is drowning there. Since the oil spill began more than a month ago, BP has fumbled their responsibilities to the communities being affected by the national disaster that they are responsible for. News outlets, bloggers, and average Joes have taken to the airwaves, blogospheres, and social media sites to bad mouth the company’s poor choices since the spill began.
Instead of working swiftly and aggressively to find a clogging method to stop the leak, BP’s central focus has been to misdirect the American people from the crisis and have people focus on new ads talking about all the good BP does and will continue to do. Not so fast! Even President Obama publicly reprimanded BP for trying to “handle” the American people, and not the situation. He blasted their $150 million dollar PR budget that is already halfway spent while the oil still spreads into the water and onto the beaches of the Gulf Coast.
BP started their aggressive PR plan after their CEO, Tony Hayward, made multiple unscripted and inappropriate comments about his feelings about the spill. BP shelled out millions of dollars to go viral with advertisements about the hard work they were doing to get the situation under control. They also have taken an equally aggressive attack on the new media world, posting regular videos on YouTube, and constantly updating on Twitter and Facebook in an effort to salvage any reputation they still have with their consumers and shareholders. But the spill still isn’t contained, so should their reputation really be at the head of the agenda?
On a cable news network this weekend, I heard a pundit call BP’s ads “Board of Directors” commercials. And that is exactly what they are. This PR blitz isn’t helping those affected most directly—fisherman, small business owners, tourism driven businesses, and helpless animals. If I were directing their PR, I would suggest, first and foremost, that the PR spending bonanza come to a halt and that money that they have should be filtered into the economies of the affected areas—including but not limited to the environmental clean up, the aid in restoring the health and safety of wildlife, and the depleting tourism in those regions. These are not areas where the fishermen are all throwing back beer and saying “Oh well, maybe next year!” These people need this money to survive and their communities need to flourish. This is BP’s major problem. Tony Hayword doesn’t want to be revered for being the man who killed the Gulf Coast—in every sense of the word.
Next, I would make sure anyone making comments to the media, on behalf of the company, has a script. In days of 24-hour news cycles, snippets of a billionaire CEO saying he just “wants his life to go back to normal” is suicide. Finally, and more importantly, BP needs to adapt the “Don’t tell me, Show me” method. Stop trying to tell Americans that you are a highly skilled company and prove it. BP should be providing the American people with measureable and realistic goals as to when this situations will be taken care of and a specific timeline of the clean up and restorations efforts.