by Lauren Shapiro*
British Petroleum has been making front page news since April 22nd as approximately 800,000 gallons of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico each day. BP was once an organization thought to be a “friendly brand in the oil business” – despite its previous disasters. But as the oil continues to spill into the summer months, and according to government officials into the fall, BP is being scrutinized now more than ever.
One might assume that companies that specialize in goods/services, particularly those that could potentially wreak havoc on the safety of the world’s inhabitants, would have a well prepared protocol for crisis situations. Furthermore, if the company had a predecessor that experienced a similar crisis (i.e., Exxon Valdez, 1989) they would sculpt this protocol by learning from the mistakes previously made. It’s highly doubtful that BP did not have a crisis communication procedure in place, but was and is it a good one?
According to Chris Lehane, Newsweek’s master of disaster, “One of the rules of thumb of crisis management is that you can never put the genie back in the bottle in terms of what the underlying issue is. People evaluate you in terms of how you handle things going forward. And obviously doing everything to be open, transparent, accessible is the type of thing that the public does look for from a corporate entity in this type of situation.”
As the situation in the Gulf continues to unfold, BP has promised one solution after another with no success – in other words, they over promised and under delivered, a cardinal “no-no” in business or any crisis resolution. Lehane states, “If you tell people what you are going to do, and you suggest it’s going to be successful, you need to be successful. Because once you create those expectations and you don’t fulfill them, when you already have a significant credibility problem, it further degrades your credibility.”
BP’s inability to implement a successful solution to fix the spill isn’t the only thing affecting its credibility. BP came under fire during the U.S. Congressional hearings when executives from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton took turns blaming each other for the incident coined “the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.” And BP’s executives continue to make one public relations faux-pas after another: (more…)