It is of course far too late to have any real impact on BP’s shattered reputation, but we are starting to see a whole different kind of story emerge about the spill. One that is far more complete, comprehensive, nuanced and–accurate.
The best of all is the story in this issue of New Yorker (yes, the New Yorker.) If I was voting on Pulitzer Prizes I’d award one for this article, in part because it so flagrantly violates the conventional wisdom built by months of media madness and political posturing. I urge you to read it. You have to subscribe to get the whole story, or buy it on the newstand, but here is an abstract.
I’ve also just become aware of a story in PR Week, unfortunately also only available completely by subscription, that focuses on the reputation issues. While I disagree with some of the comments of others, I of course agree with myself and my comments as quoted in this. For example, one commenter talked about the question the media raised about who was in charge, BP or the government. The comment was that the government took a stronger hand once BP’s gaffe’s were made. Not true. The administration (vs. Coast Guard who was initially running the response) initially removed all government agency logos from the website and insisted on calling it BP’s spill, that BP was to clean it up and it was their job to hold their boot on the neck. When the blame thus shifted to the federal government for this kind of “it’s not our problem” response, there was an about face and they then strongly took the position they were in charge. Per ICS and NIMS, they had full authority all along. It was all part of the politics.
But the article overall highlights the sea change in crisis communication brought about by the spill and BP’s (and Unified Command’s) use of digital technology:
Many observers have said digital communications truly came to the forefront as a response tool during this crisis. According to O’Brien’s Response Management, whose PIER (Public Information Emergency Response) system was used by BP to manage daily public affairs operations, the Deepwater Horizon website generated more than 150 million page impressions from April 22 to September. At the height of the crisis, from late May to mid-June, it sustained an average of more than 3 million impressions per day.
More than 60,000 comments were submitted to the Deepwater Horizon website, the Facebook page connected with 40,000 “fans” by mid-August, and the Twitter handle connected with more than 8,500 followers by mid-August during the peak of the response. Baron says five to seven staffers were focused on managing and responding to inquiries.
“BP did raise the bar in crisis communications,” says Chris Gidez, US director of risk management and crisis communication for Hill & Knowlton. “Show me a company that did or invested as much in communications. Its website was incredibly substantive, very interactive, immediate, and dynamic. I don’t know if this is part of their decision process, but clearly they didn’t want any comparisons to the passive response of Exxon Valdez.”
This article in PR Week, actually came out before the Orlando Sentinel blog post which similarly highlighted BP’s level of preparation and their use of technology in helping communicate.
Similarly, Financial Times post by David Bowen highlighted the difference between BP’s (and the government’s) communication efforts to the poor performance of the government of Japan in their current disaster. Here’s the lead:
How important is your website in an emergency? The Japanese earthquake has jolted me into looking at this again, though it is something I spent much of last year pondering. BP’s online response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster should make every company rethink the role of its online presence; and quite possibly of its press office too.
I’ve had conversations with others who have gained their impressions about BP through the media and they note BP’s woeful lack of preparation. Bowen quite correctly contradicts that:
BP has long had a ‘dark site’ ready to launch in a crisis. It used it when the Texas City refinery exploded in 2005, and during a number of hurricane emergencies following that. The site is notably robust, and is set up to handle queries and channel them to the right place for response. It was launched after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank, but not under the BP brand: instead it was a shared platform with the US government and other companies. I noticed that after a while the group was shifting emphasis away from it, towards bp.com and other sites it owned.
By the way, Mr. Bowen, the reason for the shift which you astutely noted, is that BP was “disinvited” from the JIC, or government communication function, effectively ending the collaborative communication that has marked all spills since 1990. That “disinvitation” hangs as a cloud over the plans of all companies preparing to respond to spills not certain if in the future the federal government will turn on them, the Responsible Party, or return to the much better path of collaborative response.
Still, it is very heartening to see that finally some recognition is forthcoming, and some challenges to the overwhelming picture that was so incomplete and in many ways so falsely presented about this event.