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Can BP’s PR be salvaged?

June 24th, 2010

In a word, No.

Now that international buffoon Tony Hayward has his life back, I’m sure the company hopes it’ll start to turn around its dreadful public image.

But here’s reality – they won’t.

You can’t spin your way out of a disaster this big, especially not when you’ve created such a monumental level of distrust with the public by lying , obfuscating,  and yachting. Just because the quotes and soundbites will now be attributed to BP Managing Director Bob Dudley doesn’t mean the public is going to start believing what the company says.

The cardinal rules in any crisis communications scenario are 1) Validate Concern and 2) Show Action. This is easy to say and hard to do, especially for a corporation with business interests and legal concerns. Executives too often shrink from responsibility in times of crisis. Lawyers tell them not to say anything that could be used against them. So they never admit responsibility, which makes it rather difficult to validate concern.

Throw in the fact that BP’s efforts at action, while frantic, have been bumbling, and the company’s image is just about unrecoverable.

So, as hopeless as that seems, the company has to begin rebuilding the image. This will be an incredibly hard long slog – we’re talking a decade, if they survive. The company needs to double its efforts, and I mean that literally. They need to double the $20 Billion Disaster Fund President Obama demanded they establish. They need to double their efforts at transparency. And more than that, they need to double their efforts at decency – it’ll take several years of truth telling to begin to build back BP’s credibility.

More than all this, BP obviously needs to plug the leak and not worry about the PR – they need to prove their competence and – even though that will likely be a heroic effort – not expect to be treated like heroes.

Without some level of competence, there’s only so much public relations folks can do when the company keeps compounding the crisis, and not even the highest paid consultants can’t polish this turd.

Posted Under: Public Relations
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