While at PRSA I happened to run into Jim Sinkinson, the publisher of Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog online newsletter for the PR industry. It’s my understanding this is the leading online newsletter for PR folks with over 25,000 subscribers. I know I read it every day.
But as someone involved in a number of reputation crises, most recently BP, I have long been troubled by their take on the news coverage about the PR battles these companies face. It struck me that the normal approach was to take all the media reports at face value and then step up the outrage a notch or two. That’s what I conveyed (as sweetly and graciously as I could, which is probably not much) to Mr. Sinkinson. He very graciously said he would talk to his editor about it and I promptly received a very kind invitation to share my views with an op-ed piece.
Not only did they accept it, but today they ran it as the lead. Clearly the story line is and will continue to be that BP completely botched the PR around this event. And I agree they made some serious errors in both strategy and execution. But as I mention in my Case Study and in the numerous briefings I’ve been providing on the spill communications, there are seven major reasons why BP’s reputation has taken such a pummeling. Only the seventh has anything to do with their mistakes. The other six have to do with the kind of environment a company like BP operates in.
There is a great danger in C-suites and in the offices of PR and PA leaders to think that BP’s problems were totally of their own making. It may be comforting to think that way with the presumption that your organization’s leadership, or your decision-making, would prevent the kind of reputation melt-down that BP experienced. But, a head stuck in the sand may feel falsely protected as well. The reality is, the other six reasons would impact you similarly. BP could have done everything perfectly–indeed, they did much that was right–without substantial change in the reputation fix they are now in.
Clearly, the best way to plan to protect a reputation in today’s rough and tumble media/social media environment, is to make sure if you have a well 5000 feet below the surface that it doesn’t blow up, you don’t kill or hurt people, and if things do go very wrong, you have ways to stop the flow and clean up the mess very very quickly.