What do you think–should BP defend itself?

BP’s new CEO Bob Dudley has taken a number of strong steps to try and rebuild the oil company’s shattered reputation. Those steps include firing some senior executives, creating a new unit focused on safety, announcing that bonuses near term will be based on one factor alone–safety performance. All of these have been generally positively received.

But last week in the UK at a presentation to a business group he did one other thing that has been widely criticized: he suggested media coverage of the event wasn’t entirely accurate. Wall Street Journal wrote about this in a pretty balanced way, but others, including Daily Dog seemed shocked and appalled that the company would dare defend itself or, in their eyes, try to shift blame for this on the media.

What do you think? Clearly BP has to work hard at rebuilding public trust and clearly they face an uphill climb. It is right for them to point out some of the erroneous reporting that contributed to their problem or should they continue to focus on their own failings and keep quiet about how others may have contributed to their problems?

Juan Williams, NPR: PC run amuck or racism?

NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller was quoted in USA Today that the “network’s reporters and news analysts should not express opinions.” Excuse me? News analysts are not to express opinions? I really don’t think that is what she meant as it seems to me rather obvious that news analysis consists of nothing but opinions. I think she meant to say that reporters and news analysts are not to express opinions contrary to what she considers appropriate. If Mr. Williams had said that he thinks anyone who says they are afraid to ride on an airplane with passengers in Muslim garb is a racist I’m quite certain that opinion would have been perfectly fine with Ms. Schiller.

The political correctness of this reaction and his firing is really quite stunning. The fact that Fox now turns around and hires him with a handsome contract is a sign of the continuing polarization that is poisoning our public discourse. For every action, a reaction–so I must pin the blame for the action on NPR and the reaction on Fox.

As the USA Today article about Williams points out, CNN fired Rick Sanchez and Octavia Nasr for voicing personal opinions in other forums other than CNN. You may be free to speak in this country, but that freedom is certainly not free and may be very expensive. It’s part of the openness and transparency in our hyper-connected world that makes what you do or say in one part of your life so connected to all of your life. It’s kind of ironic that this kind of transparency is forcing people to be ever more cautious about expressing opinions, particularly if they violate current standards of political correctness.

Broadcast coverage in the age of social media

For years there has been talk of convergence–how various media channels come together. There are all sorts of examples in recent coverage, but this “breaking news” story of coverage of a realtime shooting shows just how far we have come in convergence:


Open Leadership, Admiral Allen and Public Participation

I’m writing this from our nation’s capital where I was a speaker at the Public Relations Society of America International Conference. I’ll share some of what I presented on the topic of Reputation Resilience in a later post. But right now I want to share an interesting convergence of thought leaders.

I just finished listening to Charlene Li, a well recognized expert in the transformation that social networking is causing in all our lives and structures. Her book “Open Leadership” demonstrates that leadership today is of necessity much more participatory with a great many people.

If I had a chance to talk with Ms Li, I would say one of the greatest examples of Open Leadership and public participation was just made evident in the Gulf Spill. Admiral Allen absolutely demonstrated this kind of participatory leadership in the remarkable job he did. If the media and public only knew the kind of difficult waters he had to navigate through, their admiration for him would be off the charts. He talked about this issue of public participation in an interview with Harvard Business Review, an interview that in edited form will appear in the November issue.

Here is one of the most telling quotations from that interview: “We all have to understand that there will never again be a major event in this country that won’t involve public participation. And the public participation will happen whether it’s managed or not.”  The Admiral draws an equation between the profound changes in the public information environment with the Internet and social media and the changes brought by climate change. He refers to John Holdren, the science and technology adviser to the president who says our response to climate change will be adapt, manage or suffer. Allen says that when it comes to the role of the Internet and social media in public participation, we have to adapt, manage or suffer. He is clearly committed to managing and adapting, and demonstrated that when he was Commandant of the Coast Guard by being an early adopter of social media himself and mandating widespread use of it in the Coast Guard. That paid off very well by the early social media use in the Deepwater Horizon event.

However, public participation in major responses is not without its problems. The National Oil Spill Commission working paper which I referred to in an earlier post pointed out that many decisions about boom placement were not based on where response leaders determined they could do most good in protecting beaches, but instead were placed for political reasons. I am aware of some that were done to support photo opps for major dignitaries, but the Commission working papers shows that the very noisy and incessant rants of the likes of Billy Nungesser had much to do with boom placement. They call it the “boom wars.”

It is a sad commentary on the public participation process that Anderson Cooper and the producers of CNN can directly and negatively impact response management through the irresponsible use of highly entertaining but extremely negative and distracting influences such as Mr. Nungesser. They would of course say, it’s not our fault, we just are the messenger. Yes, but the messenger that insisted on giving Mrs Nungesser, Carville and various other nay sayers an inordinate amount of their precious air time.

Admiral Allen also mentions in this interview the challenge of working with the Responsible Party in a major response: “Our biggest challenge in dealing with BP was that the public did not understand how the company responsible for the event could play such a large role in the response. But because they’re going to have to write checks for buying booms, buying skimmers, to catering companies, and all that other kind of stuff, they have to be on location with you if you’re going to be effective. We’re used to working that way—it’s how the U.S. has organized oil spill responses for 20-plus years—but I don’t think that was well understood by the public or a lot of the political leadership.”

In the audio interview he refers to the “social and political nullification” of response plans that had been well practiced for 20 years. He has an outstanding way of putting these things in very politically acceptable language. Let’s be clear however: the media’s complete ignorance of Unified Command, NIMS, ICS and the JIC led to often ridiculous reporting and very serious misunderstanding among the public as to how the response was handled and the best way to handle it. Also, the highest leadership of the land had little to no awareness of NIMS and, as the National Commission working paper on “Decisions in Unified Command” made clear, they ran completely rough-shod over the National Contingency Plan, the Area Contingency Plans and the Regional Response Teams.

What the Admiral does not say is what this media and public ignorance plus action by the administration has done to our nation’s ability to respond in the future. I continue to believe it is an issue that needs much more in-depth study and a way forward that preserves the ability of agencies plus private parties to cooperate and collaborate in an atmosphere of trust in the future.

PRSA Conference–a few observations

The first day of the PRSA International conference is over, about to head into day 2. A few quick observations. The change in booth content is stunning. Just two years ago there was a wide variety of products and services on display. Today, social media dominates the scene. All these tools and systems aimed at helping you monitor and take advantage of the social media world.

I’m a bit bothered by it. There is a hype and frenzy about it that reminds me a bit of the business trade shows I went to in the late 1970s and early 1980s when business technology was rapidly emerging. Fax machines were big news, the earliest sign of small business computers, copiers, printing machines (OK, carbon paper was still in vogue but was on its way out.) I look back now and see the tremendous transformation. But I think what bothers me is the loss of focus on fundamentals when there is such hype and excitement about something new and, for now anyway, a little mysterious.

When all the hype and hyperbole died down and computers were installed, copiers were killing trees by the forest, and faxes were beginning the information transfer revolution, business people discovered that business was still about selling and producing quality products and services and most importantly about building long term relationships.

Social media, for all its wonders, is no business panacea. Build a Facebook page and they will not necessarily come. But provide quality products and services, do innovative things to attract attention, and most importantly work on building and sustaining high value relationships and success will follow. Oh yes, the hype will go on and “experts” of all stripes will come forth to proclaim the new magic, but when the show is over and we go back to work, it is delivering and serving and listening that matters most.

Excellent presentations by Bettina Luebscher of the UN World Food Program and Jim VandeHei, founder of POLITICO. Key learning from Bettina–the power of celebrity, in this case in fundraising, is something that should not be forgotten. From Jim–three key points he made about today’s news world: diffusion, niche and fickleness. Absolutely right, and in that there are huge opportunities for entrepreneurs and huge risks for established operations. Nimbleness is the name of the game.

“Unending Flow” Gulf Spill Communications Case Study Now Available

For those interested in taking an in-depth, behind the scenes look at the massive communication effort during the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill, I have written a 60 page analysis of the communication activities. A 7 page executive summary is also available.

The case study is organized into three sections: Internet communications including use of the PIER System, media coverage analysis, and organization structure. (Full disclosure for new crisisblogger readers, I’m the creator of PIER and founder of PIER System.)

The section on organization structure will be of special interest to those using the Incident Command System, the Joint Information Center and the National Response Framework’s ESF#15 External Affairs construct. Many of the most significant challenges in the communications related to the inherent differences and conflicts between these organization structures.

For those interested in the Internet communications, the numbers will be impressive: estimated 500 million hits to official sites providing info about the response including 155 million on the primary Unified Command website. 67,000 inquiries responded to personally. 35 million plus emails distributed to audiences seeking information. Intensive social media use and engagement. Background behind the live video feeds and the set up of “Turtle Talk,” the integration of live webcasting with live chat and Twitter.

Here’s the link for a copy of the case study.

Also, if you’d like to sit in on a free webinar briefing on Gulf Spill Communications, I’m doing a series of them and would love to have you participate.

Here’s the link to register for a briefing.

Please feel free to send these links to others involved in crisis communication who would appreciate a more in-depth understanding of what happened in probably the biggest crisis communication challenge in recent memory.

See you at PRSA? Speaking on Reputation Resilience

If you happen to be going to the PRSA International Conference in Washington DC this coming weekend, I’d like to cordially invite you to my presentation on Sunday afternoon. I’ll be speaking on Reputation Resilience–why some companies are destroyed by crises and why others come through just fine or even in better shape than before. This topic was submitted and accepted prior to the gulf spill which started on April 20, but having been involved in the communications of that event I’ll be discussing BP from a reputation resilience standpoint as well.

Also, during the exhibit hours I’ll be hanging out around the PIER booth so please do stop by and say hi.

Replying to William’s question–Goodwill and Reputation Management

Frequent Crisisblogger commenter William Cummings (vacation lane blog) asked about the relationship between the accounting of “Goodwill” and “reputation management.” I started to answer but decided to make it a post. Here’s to you William:

Not  being anything resembling an accountant my understanding that “Goodwill” is sometimes shown as an asset on a financial statement as a way of capturing the intangible but very real value related to the company’s image, brand value and/or reputation. The reality is that a business is or should be made up of much more than its physical assets. In fact, I argued in a much earlier book, that the real value of a business ought to be measured by its relationships–the number, quality, and potential revenue and profits they and those they connect with represent. There are a number of companies today that measure “brand value” by looking at these things and making some financial determination of what the company is worth based on its position in the market.

Reputation management can be seen as those things that management does to protect and enhance its brand value. Company executives do lots of things to protect and enhance their revenues and profits and these are traditionally seen as the primary and appropriate focus of management. But brand value goes beyond sales, costs and margin. While you may be able to increase net margin by sourcing a better supplier, or increase sales by a more effective marketing strategy, enhancing and protecting brand value is a little more complex.

Interbrand does a good job of analyzing brand value. But one of the most useful stories and analysis I’ve seen of this is from 24/7 Wallstreet where they present the 15 most hated companies in America.

One thing that will become clear from looking at these ways of measuring brand value is that it does not equate sales and profitability. In fact, it is quite possible to be ungodly successful in sales and profits and have a really bad public reputation. The two often go together as I’ve commented here several times–look at what happened to Microsoft when they became totally dominant in the software business. They had a terrible time until Google showed up and started competing–now Google faces some of the same problems because of their dominance in their sphere. When Toyota approached and then passed GM as the biggest carmaker in the world I warned (in 2007) that they should watch out because they were susceptible to reputation attacks based on their leading role. Success can really hurt.

William, I’ve gone far beyond your question–but reputation management obviously is a big deal. As the article that prompted your question points out, it is now CEO’s biggest concern. Ultimately, however, the solution is simple. Be trustworthy yourself, and make certain every day that your organization does all it can to earn trust from those people on whom you depend for your future.