I’ve been watching the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis unfold. And it is a crisis of mind-blowing portions. This is an environmental disaster threatening precious ecosystems such as wetlands and fisheries. Communities still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina are under siege again, but this time by a man-made disaster.
Since the late 90s/early 2000s, BP has positioned itself as being a “green” company. BP has been supportive of environmental programs and alternative energy. However, this crisis is blowing apart their well-crafted image. If a company talks the talk, they have to walk the walk now. Green washing is no longer acceptable since green is now mainstream and more people are educated about environmental issues.
As a public relations professional, I’ve got different lenses on when looking at this crisis. I’m looking at how BP is responding publicly. I don’t like to play Monday morning quarterback and I’m sure they have good PR professions on staff or at least on retainer who are advising them.
I’m pretty sure those professionals are giving solid advice to build trust and credibility by communicating:
•    Empathy and caring (acknowledge people’s fears)
•    Competence and expertise (explain the process in lay terms)
•    Honesty and openness (don’t over reassure)
•    Commitment and dedication (tell people how it is going to be resolved)
And I’m pretty sure those PR professionals are banging their heads against the conference room table when interacting with legal counsel and senior executives. The natural reaction often is to shutdown and get defensive instead of truly communicating. A crisis of this level, it is so important to communicate in a truthful, meaningful, respectful manner. It is OK not to have the answers due to the situation being so fluid (and no pun intended there), but it is not OK to say nothing or start the blame game. Let’s not beat around the bush here, we know there will be fines and lawsuits. Legal counsel is trying to protect BP from unnecessary actions, but at this point they are hampering efforts to get correct information out and setting a tone of collaboration. People want to know how this oil spill is going to be stopped and contained then they will want to know how it happened. Lastly, folks will want to know who is responsible.
BP is made up of people not just employees. I bet they truly care and are concerned about what is happening in the Gulf. That needs to be expressed at all levels. There needs to be an internal team effort between PR, legal, and science driving the response. Let the PR professionals do what they do best: communicate and connect.
One of my hopes is at their PR team is actually at the table being the conscience of the company while providing solutions.

breach crisis communications

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