Tag Archives: Neil Chapman

Former BP communication manager shares important lessons learned

Neil Chapman is one of the world’s true gentlemen. I got to know him about ten years ago when I was just starting to sell PIER and Neil, in his role as a lead for BP in crisis communication, became one of our best clients, and one of my most valued friends. (It’s one of the great benefits of almost any business, to meet people who come to mean a lot to you.)

Neil, unfortunately, found himself at the forefront of some of the events for which BP is now infamous, including the Texas City Refinery accident, pipeline leaks and corrosion issues in Alaska, and of course, Deepwater Horizon. Neil retired from BP and is now a consultant to primarily industrial companies looking to protect their reputation in the challenging public information environment we find ourselves in. If you believe in the value of experience, married to a genuinely smart communicator who is also someone deeply in touch with the human element involved in crisis events, you cannot do better than listen to Neil Chapman.

Neil lives in northern England these days and I live in the Pacific Northwest so we are on near opposite sides of the globe. But, I took the opportunity that Skype provides of talking with Neil about some of his experiences and recording that conversation for you to share. There is a 14 minute edited version and a 50 minute unedited version. I’ve heard from other communicators, including Jim Garrow, whom I respect greatly, that Neil’s comments are eye opening. I hope you get a chance to review them. If you do, I’d love to hear if you find this kind of Skype interview with leading lights useful. If so, I’ll be happy to continue.

Neil Chapman 14 minute discussion

Neil Chapman 50 minute discussion

Former BP crisis comms leader, Neil Chapman, provides some of best crisis prep advice

I’m very pleased to share Crisisblogger with my good friend and associate Neil Chapman, with Alpha Voice Communications. Neil recently left BP where he served in a number of communication leadership positions, including leadership roles in the Texas City, Alaska corrosion and Deepwater Horizon events. Few people on earth have been on the frontlines of communication during so many major events or crises, which have also included natural disasters such as Katrina. But it is also true that few have the ability to turn those gut-wrenching experiences into practical lessons learned that can help others prepare and respond. As they used to say about a major investment firm, when Neil Chapman speaks, crisis communicators listen.

Goodbye 2010.  Last year saw different crises –the horrific Haiti earthquake, the ash cloud air chaos and snow muddle, both in the UK and US. Along with scores of communications professionals, I was caught up in the BP oil spill for too much of 2010,

Both a human and environmental disaster, the event was complex and extremely expensive in its emotional and economic toll. Any organisation facing an emergency or crisis would be wise to learn lessons from the incident, without the costs that befell BP.

Reports and inquiry testimony are readily available to study. BP has produced its own investigation report and a technical lessons learned document with accompanying DVD –  http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/incident_response/STAGING/local_assets/downloads_pdfs/Deepwater_Horizon_Containment_Response.pdf

Many pundits have shared opinions about where BP went wrong and what it should have done. Here are some observations, that can point to where organisations might start to look for lessons relevant to them:

Readiness – an every day investment

In a crisis, time is precious, priorities key. Whatever the world thinks, BP was readier than many organisations. Meetings need a purpose, priorities established, decisions taken efficiently, communications clear and concise. All good skills and habits worth cultivating for every day business. But it takes training and practice.

Know the system

If outside agencies, especially emergency services, respond to a corporation’s incident, it will likely be managed using an established response system with tried and tested procedures and protocols. Corporate responders – including senior management – need to be familiar with the system.

It’s an on-line world

On-line is where most of the conversations and coverage about a crisis now occur. Corporate communicators who believe they should focus solely on traditional, mainstream media during a crisis – however demanding they are – will miss most of what is being said about them by default.

Social media smart

A crisis is not the time to learn the challenges and opportunities of social media such as You Tube, Twitter, Facebook etc. These channels can hurt and help at the same time. Corporate communicators need to be social media savvy, knowing when and how they can use these channels in a crisis. And tomorrow there will be a new one to learn about …

A mobile world

As well as being on-line, the world carries the internet on its hip or in a purse. To reach key audiences on the go, corporate communicators cannot be hidebound by the technology they are permitted or know how to use.

Information discipline

To provide timely, accurate on-message information to the outside world as soon as possible across an organisation requires discipline to ensure it is shared effectively inside too. Information discipline gets harder over time, as people shift in and out or they are spread over geography and time zones. Has your organisation got a system other than email?

Plan for help

Chances are a corporate communications department will need extra people to cope with the tremendous information demand during a crisis. To bring them on-board takes time and effort, just when you need both for other priorities.  Learn how to integrate extra resources quickly as well as how to coordinate with other agencies.

Communications processes

A corporate communications manual provides clear ‘how to’ instructions that save time and help integrate the ‘new hands’ an organisation needs. Have you got one?

Leaders – be hard, be soft

A crisis tests any leader’s people skills. Responders need honest feedback, positive and negative. If something or someone isn’t working, the problem has to be fixed quickly to keep the response on track. But at the same time, people need to be ‘nurtured’ when the going gets tough for them.

Beware of the toll

Crises wear people down. The strain can show up at work or at home. Relationships may break. Any corporation that sees its people as an important asset needs to provide effective employee support in a crisis. The first step is to make sure they are trained.

Think strategic

It’s hard to see the writing on the wall with your back to it!  It’s too easy to get trapped into focusing on an immediate challenge – and not to look far enough ahead. A team, or someone, needs to be thinking long term from the outset.

Don’t make it worse..

Until the world thinks the crisis is fixed, there’s a lot an organisation can say to make things worse for itself. Stay on message and talk ‘actions, actions, actions’.

BP’s crisis was the first energy industry disaster of the social media age. The result was that information – good and bad – travelled at an exceptionally fast rate, was dominated by digital and saw demand for it go through the roof. But some of the most effective communication took place face to face.

The communications landscape is now much, much broader than it was. Organisations – particularly corporate communicators – should take note and learn because 2011 will bring its own crop of crises.

Neil Chapman worked as a communicator for BP until last year. He has 25+ years experience dealing with crises and difficult public affairs issues around the globe. He founded Alpha Voice Communications consultancy to focus on crisis communications readiness, presentation training and issues management. Go to:www.alphavoicecommunications.com to find out more.

BP’s Neil Chapman and I discuss spill communications with Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson

I was pleased to be invited to discuss the Gulf Spill communications with BP’s Neil Chapman. And particularly pleased to have a discussion with two top-notch communication thought leaders–Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson. Their long-serving podcast (didn’t Shel invent the idea of podcasting?) “For Immediate Release” is a great place to learn from communication professionals about what’s going on and best practices.

I’ve had the great privilege of working with Neil Chapman for many years, starting back in about 2001 or 2002 when he was a lead crisis communicator for BP in Houston and I was trying hard to convince him that he needed this new tool I had created called PIER. Somehow, with the help of the Coast Guard really saying good things about it, I was able to convince him. Since then, we’ve walked through a few major events together. Neil is not only one of the most experienced crisis communication professionals anywhere he is one of the wisest and most gentlemanly people I know.

The hour went by too fast. Shel and Neville had great questions, of course, and Neil as usual was insightful, open and eager to share lessons learned. I hope you have the chance to listen to this podcast. There is no doubt that the Gulf Spill will change crisis communication for many years to come. I was interviewed by PRWeek this morning specifically on that topic, as to how it will change things. Listening to this podcast will help give you some ideas as to how much and how far reaching those changes will be.