Tag Archives: ExxonMobil

Joint Information Center–Arkansas pipeline spill adds to uncertainty about government response communications

Most government communicators who need to respond to emergencies need to understand the Joint Information Center (JIC)concept. Private companies,  particularly those likely to collaborate with government response organizations should (but often don’t) know about the JIC (pronounced JICK). As an adjunct to the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System, the JIC has become standard procedure for coordinating public information when multiple agencies or entities are involved.

But, this well-honed and highly effective system was undermined first in the aftermath of Katrina when the Department of Homeland Security came out with Emergency Support Function 15 for External Affairs. Without going into details, as a structure for coordinating communications among multiple agencies, this was a complete joke. As a means to allow the White House to assume complete control of the communications in a disaster, it was and is highly effective.

For 20 years, after ExxonValdez, the oil industry and Coast Guard practiced the JIC procedures in annual drills. So when Deepwater Horizon occurred in April 2010, it was natural that a JIC was established with all parties including BP. At the end of May that year, everything changed. Media and political pressure on the White House threatened another Katrina-like political blowback and they responded with implementing ESF 15 and threw BP out of the communications. Ever since then, the status of the JIC has been uncertain and those needing to know how the feds will organize communications when they are involved in responding has been confusing.

Now the Arkansas Mayflower pipeline spill is adding to the confusion. Not everyone may be interested in the JIC, its future, and how to coordinate communications among multiple government agencies, but if you are, I suggest you have a close look at what is going on. Lots of questions raised, and since I blogged on it over at Emergency Management, I won’t repeat myself.

The good thing here is that ExxonMobil (a former client and user of PIER) appears to be doing an exceptionally thorough job of communicating. But, the position taken (or not taken) by members of Unified Command in the JIC which appears to be completely led by ExxonMobil is what is causing confusion.

The point to me is this: what creates public trust? Does a JIC led by the Responsible Party create trust? No, not when the government is seen as second tier player. Does the JIC led by the government and where the Responsible Party is thrown under the bus lead to trust? No. The only thing that really contributes to trust is good, fast, accurate honest information coming from a collaborative team that reiterates “we are in this together.”

I hope the old JIC concept comes back and sooner than later.

First Shell, now ExxonMobil–the oil industry haters strike low blows

Shell Oil was attacked by Greenpeace and the Yes Men back in early summer in a sophisticated, cynical social media strategy. One of the key features was creating videos and a website that looked so much like the real Shell ads and website that it was bound to confuse.

I predicted that this would not be the last of this sort of campaign. Sure enough, now ExxonMobil is being targeted in this particularly dark and cynical ad-lookalike. It’s called “Exxon hates your children.” It does seem to have the almost redeeming qualities that the anti-Shell campaign had of being first, original, exceedingly clever and somewhat lighthearted despite the very serious intent.

Does it work? If measured by interest and views and people like me commenting on it, it works very well. The Greenpeace website got 4 million views and their fake Shell twitter account got 6 million followers. One Greenpeace staffer said: “It was a way to repackage the issue and to take Shell’s ‘Let’s Go’ advertising campaign and subvert it in a way that made sure our campaign about saving the Arctic reached a wider audience.”

The question of course here is, what are you to do if someone high-jacks your brand, creates spoof ads mimicing yours, and even dupes people into thinking their sites or tweets are from the company? The answer I suggested in my PR Strategist article was: not much. Grin and bear it. Monitor and work to make sure facts are accurate.

I tend to believe that the long term reaction to this sort of thing will not be positive for those crafting these campaigns. Certainly, they will have their true believers behind them–but they’ll be behind them no matter what they do. Battles for public opinion always (or they should) focus on those in the middle, those who can be swayed one way or the other, the saveables vs, the saints or sinners. What will those in the middle think of this approach? That is is unfair, devious, dishonest, lacking in transparency?

Ever the optimist, that’s my hope.

However, if it appears this tactic is successful. I have a suggestion for Shell, ExxonMobil and all others victimized by these reputation hoodlums: do a spoof on them. Hmmm, I can imagine it now. The scripting session would be a real kick.



Reputation crises and political impact–Goldman and offshore drilling

There is almost always a link between major reputation crises and politics as I’ve written about in Now Is Too Late. It certainly was true in the first really major disaster I was involved in, the Olympic Pipeline explosion, and it certainly is of two major crises events going on right now: Goldman Sachs and the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig event. Goldman’s problems will influence significantly the very important national debate on financial oversight. The Deepwater Horizon event will influence the debate on energy independence and expansion of offshore drilling.

Which means, of course, that the crisis managers involved in working these two humongous issues right now, will have a very significant impact on the long term decisions that elected officials will make in these two arenas. We talk about the importance of Supreme Court nominations because they will affect big decisions for years. Have we ever thought about executive and communication leadership in that way, thinking about how well they do their jobs may influence public policy on issues as important as what are the constraints government should put on greed, and how aggressively should we pursue energy independence?

A few thoughts on Goldman Sachs. Would they be aggressively pursued by the SEC if they had not had the gall to be so stinking successful in an economy and political environment that suddenly sees huge profits and executive payouts as a form of treason? I don’t want to downplay any illegal activity and it sounds like they may very well have done some things quite wrong–particularly related to providing disclosures to investors. That is serious stuff and if guilty I hope they receive the full measure of the law. But the Economist headline was right: Greedy until Proven Guilty. Greed is out. Frugalness and self-sacrifice when it comes to earnings is in. Part of this is because we love those who work hard, try to get to the top against insurmountable obstacles, but no sooner do they stand on the mountaintop alone and we start throwing stones, eagerly awaiting their fall. (I’ve blogged on this about Toyota long before they fell from the mountaintop.) Goldman’s problems with public opinion and reputation emerged well before the SEC investigation. They may go the way of Arthur Andersen who died not because of legal problems (which they won) but because they became so tainted in the public’s eyes that the stink attached to them infected anyone they did business with. It was the loss of customers that killed them. Goldman faces very much the same risk. If they don’t aggressively remove the stink, no one concerned about their reputation will want to get too close.

Stories are emerging now about BP’s reputation as it relates to the Deepwater Horizon event. (Full disclosure, BP is a client) Whether that is fair or not will be for the media and the public to decide. BP leased the drilling rig and is working exceptionally hard, as a member of the Joint Information Center for the response, to communicate aggressively, quickly and effectively. But, BP’s reputation, the reputation of the oil industry, the sentiment of people impacted by this event and the environmental damage will all factor into the discussion to come about the risks and benefits of deepwater drilling. Obama has announced his support for expansion. That support may be at risk if the outcry rises about this event. That’s why what those people involved in the response and the communication about the response are doing is so important. It’s also why it is important that the entire industry be involved in open, honest, rational debate about this event and its results. The tendency of the industry is to duck and hide and say, well, we produce oil and whether people like us or not they keep buying it. There are those in the industry who point to Exxon and say despite the reputation hit they took, they continue to be one of the most profitable, respected, investor-preferred companies around. No question that ExxonMobil is exceptionally well run. But there is no question that the reputation hit they took continues to cast a pall over the company and the industry. The cost to all of us as consumers of fuel products is much higher directly as a result of the careless attitude Exxon exhibited during the event and in the years following it. Higher because of regulation, because of lack of public support for anything perceived as favoring the industry, and because the industry continues to be a favored target (certainly in Washington State) for punitive taxes. All those add to energy costs which you and I pay. So I get angry with the industry communicators who say, see, it didn’t matter that Exxon’s reputation got hurt. Wrong.

I hope if you are an organization leader or a person charged with crisis management and communication responsibility, you will think about the link between reputation crises and politics. Because what you do to build or destroy trust will likely impact all of us. You have a heavy responsibility.

Why communicators need to be worried about fake Twitter accounts–ExxonMobil fake

I’ll be sharing with Crisisblogger readers (as well as readers of my new Emergency Management blog) results of the survey I am doing on Twitter in Government Communicators. But one thing I have found already is many are very worried about fake Twitter accounts. There is no way currently to stop someone from signing up a Twitter account that sounds just like you or your organization. It is keeping quite a few from taking Twitter seriously and for very good reason.

ExxonMobil is facing a pretty serious fight over a fake Twitter account. This account by blogger Jeremiah Owyang chronicles how a Twit (maybe Twitterer) called Janet has posed as an ExxonMobil employee and grabbed the ExxonMobilCorp twitter account.

Despite being advised by Jeremiah and I’m certain others that she is violating one essential creed of internet ethics and that is not to pretend to be somebody you are not, Janet has decided to ignore this advice and continues to pretend that she is somehow affiliated with the company.

As I mentioned in a previous post, everyone now needs to have in their communication plans and crisis communication plans a strategy for dealing with fake Twitter accounts. The damage they can do in short order is considerable. Twitter has promised to offer a premium Twitter account with verification that you are who you say you are and have authorization to represent an organization. So far this seems to be about their only thought on how to make money with the opportunity they created. But they seem remarkably slow in getting this going. I suspect it is because the use for official communication or emergency management where I am interested is a pimple on their backside compared to how most are using Twitter–telling others what kind of coffee drink they just ordered for example.

On a related note, Jeremiah’s blog has one of the best lists of companies and brands that have been “punk’d” by social media I’ve seen. I’ll keep following this one.