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High time BP reviews the basic rules of crisis communications 10/06/2010

Posted by Corneel Maes in Uncategorized.
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BP keeps working its way through its worst nightmare, no doubt about that. I wonder whether they – or any of their competitors for all that matters – have ever been serious about preparing for the impossible, for the unconceivable. It may sound silly, but isn’t that what crisis preparedness is all about?  Never mess around with Murphy’s Law… And yet, it seems that the ultimate crisis scenario (a leaking well, completely out of control) was not in the crisis preparedness books at BP. Definitely not at the engineering level, let alone in the communications department.

 What we’ve seen over the past 50 days is a crippled organization, as winged as the poor pelicans and seabirds they are accountable for. While struggling to close the leaking well in a tragic trial and error engineering process, properly communicating about it seems an even bigger challenge for BP.

The company’s inability to communicate transparently about the three key questions – What happened? What are you doing about it? How will you contain the impact? – has become the story in the digital media. Twitter took over and BP has completely lost grips on its reputation and credibility by starting crisis communications off the wrong foot. It will take their so carefully built market value and brand value to an unprecedented low for a long time.

The fake BP announcement in Dutch newspapers saying “SORRY” (with an asterisk referring to a footnote reading : “but you wanted to get cheaper oil”), shows that the brand has now been completely hacked.  The world is at war against BP – as a company, as a brand, as a member of the community.   

 To me, these are the top 3 management behaviors that should never be overruled in a crisis:
1)      Be reassuring but only promise what you are sure you can deliver
2)      Say what you do and do what you say
3)      Be perceived as part of the solution, not the problem

To date, my score for BP on each of these behaviors is below average, to say the least. It’s high time BP reviews the basic rules of crisis communications and lives up to them.

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