Louisiana just can’t seem to catch a break.
First, there were Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and all of the hulla-ballo that went with it. From not enough supplies to a slow reaction from FEMA and beyond, the state known for its Cajun flavor has had to rebuild and restore itself. Once again, this is not a fun time to be a fisherman on the Gulf Coast shoreline.
Let’s look at BP’s PR effort so far:
Tightly Controlled Message
From their original statement after the Apr. 20 incident and their main appearance on the Sunday political talk show circuit, BP is clearly a company of talking points. On ABC News’s “This Week” the Sunday after the spill, BP’s CEO Tony Hayward stuck to a vague message of “we’re working to do everything we can” without getting into many of the details. The main problem is that the American public didn’t understand what exactly went wrong. There was a large explosion, then lots of oil in the Gulf, then random oil barriers that didn’t seem to hold.
A lack of boiled-down technical explanation hurt BP in the long run – much from the initial moments of their crisis communication plan. The media coverage of the Senate hearings displayed illusive answers and evaded questions – that didn’t bode well for BP’s image either.
“Who You Talkin’ To?”
To their credit, BP does have an extensive resource of content on their website, documenting detailed daily oil spill response efforts. While we can recognize this as a source for transparency, they’re missing the boat, literally. Their key audience, those most impacted by this tragedy are not running to their website for information. They’re relying on their friends, their shrimping partners and local connections to parish police.
However, the full-page ad* in last Sunday’s Post that sealed the deal. First, if their main audience isn’t going to read the website, why would they have a subscription to view the ad in the newspaper? Second, if the real goal was to get lobby efforts behind their cause, they succeeded. Their newspaper, in theory, reached the goal audience, although I’m not sure that was the smartest idea. I really liked Gibraltar & Associates‘s CEO Eric Bovim’s guest post in PRWeek. Two suggestions to take note: YouTube video messages and 20 “exclusive” and “insider” freelance reporters to cover BP’s perspective (Although, I’m not sure many freelance journos will want to cover BP’s side). Hey Eric, what about a co-blog post about comparing the Exxon-Valdez and Gulf Coast spills regarding crisis communication strategies? Interested?
Another one of BP’s pitfalls was the fiasco that is the fake Twitter account @BPglobalPR. It really is every crisis communications PR person’s nightmare to have a phony social media account pop up and bite you. I wrote about this at GenYNetworking.com, but it is worth noting that the Twitter following for both accounts at the time of this post is as follows:
As a person who lived in Louisiana and proudly feels at home there, my heart breaks for what is happening to the culture and livelihood of so many down South. This can be fixed – but it is going to take a lot of time and a great deal of communication.
*Many thanks to ThinkProgress.org for posting the advertisement online.