Tag Archives: oil spill

Goldman Sachs–what to do when in a deep hole

Thought it might be interesting to comment on the efforts of Goldman Sachs to dig out of their deep hole, while about to visit the command center for the spill in New Orleans.

Daily Dog says that Goldman is about to start a PR campaign and maybe even go on Oprah to help communicate what banks do.

One thing for certain, when you are in a deep hole you can be assured that every tiny effort to improve your status will be observed, reported, and attacked. Usually with exceptional venom. I’ve seen Daily Dog do that with regard to BP and the spill but they are not alone. Not sure why some PR publications seem to want to outdo the outrage. By the time such reporting hits the blogs and social media, the effort has been so twisted and trashed that it is hardly recognizable. Just a warning to you, Goldman.

On a tv program I was on with Peter Firestein, a crisis communication consultant with a book with the best title around: Crisis of Character, he said BP should just be quiet. I disagreed but have thought about it alot. Everything that is said is attacked, discredited, and in most cases, turned against them. Same may be true (to a lesser degree I would suggest) of Goldman. Should they just be quiet?

A few key principles I believe in and have promoted in my book and presentations:

1) Credibility is everything. You cannot exist in the public arena, in the marketplace, in the stock market, without it. But what if you completely and unutterably lose it? You must borrow it from those who have it. That is what I have suggested before. Goldman needs friends now, and it is not the only one. Friends trusted by many of its worst critics. Hard to do? Maybe, particularly as deep as some of these holes are, but absolutely necessary. Credibility must be restored and it is likely that few within Goldman will have the credibility needed to do the job, or can earn it by a PR campaign or a trip to the holy shrine of Oprah.

2) Don’t let lies stand. In the current situation I am observing and somewhat involved, I have seen countless lies propagated, many by the most mainstream of the mainstream. I call them lies but sometimes it is sloppy or ignorant reporting, sometimes especially vicious twists on the truth, sometimes repeats with added flavor of misinformation reported elsewhere. Many times the lies are not untrue, they just are presented in a way that does not represent reality. But I see little effort on Goldman’s part to counter what they may consider lies. A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. They cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. But, if you are the one without credibility or with it seriously damaged as in Goldman’s case, you are probably not the best one to challenge the lies. Someone, or some organization, with credibility must be found.

Short of those kinds of game changing, aggressive actions, perhaps it is best to just be silent.

Why media is so distrusted–and yet so believed

There have been well over a quarter of a million stories in the media (mainstream and new) about the Gulf spill. The vast majority of these have provided evidence for the very serious problems I have been complaining about for the past ten years.

I want to pick on just one story and see how it is covered as an example–not a particularly egregious example, but just one of thousands of similar examples every day!

(Again, full disclosure: BP, US Coast Guard, MMS and other agencies involved in this spill are clients through the company I founded, PIER System. PIER is the web management system used for the deepwaterhorizonresponse.com website. Perhaps this involvement affects my judgment about these matters–but look at the story themselves and make up your own mind.)

The story is this: Congressman Markey revealed that a previously unknown BP document revealed that the spill might release 100,000 barrels (4.2 million gallons) vs. the am0unt now estimated (60,000 barrels) and the original estimate of 1000 and later 5000 barrels. CNN last night on Don Lemon’s show told the story this way: BP knew that it was spilling 100,000 according to this document but instead lied and way under-estimated it. After two months of discrediting by the press, the president, the administration and every other politician who managed to get some air time, this new “news” was not going to surprise anyone. It was entirely believable–but was it true?

If you look a little closer at the news stories, things are not quite as they were presented by CNN. The CNN website report is far more careful than Lemon’s brief “headline news” reporting. This report shows that the referenced document was talking about a worst case scenario that might happen if the blowout preventer and the wellhead were removed. In other words, if all the equipment, pipes, and stuff down there were off and the well was left to spew without restriction, the maximum flow COULD BE 100,000 barrels.

The Reuters report on the same issue shows a different and important nuance: when the report was issued. CNN web report says this: A BP estimate made after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon noted that as much as 100,000 barrels per day could leak into the ocean… However, the Reuters report says the document is undated. I looked at the document, and I encourage you to do the same (find the link on the Reuters story).

Having some familiarity with the oil industry over the past ten years, there is little doubt in my mind that this is part of the planning for worst case scenarios for any problem with the well, and that it was prepared WELL BEFORE this event happened. Even if it was prepared after the event as CNN reported (without citing any evidence and in contradiction to the Reuters story), it still describes a scenario that currently does not apply to the event.

Now, let’s take a look at what one of our esteemed elected officials says about this, Congressman Markey. Please note that he was given the incredibly powerful bully pulpit of NBC’s Meet the Press to make these statements based on the “evidence” he uncovered:

“It is clear that, from the beginning, BP has not been straightforward with the government or the American people about the true size of this spill. Now the families living and working in the Gulf are suffering from their incompetence,” he added.

“Right from the beginning, BP was either lying or grossly incompetent,” Markey told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “First they said it was only 1,000 barrels, then they said it was 5,000 barrels.”

This is an extreme characterization based, in my opinion, on two big lies: 1) Any estimates about the spill volume came from Unified Command, not BP. The insistence by the media that it was BP providing the spill volumes shows a complete ignorance of the Unified Command structure. This structure, required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, was implemented in the hours after the event. Any information released after Unified Command was implemented was approved by Unified Command which consisted of all agencies responding including Coast Guard, NOAA, EPA, state agencies, etc. While BP may have provided the technical information at that time, it was Unified Command that was responsible for accepting that information and providing it as the best estimate. It is important to remember that initially the platform was still there, and initially the riser or pipe leading from the blowout preventer was kinked. The wellhead was not bare, the blowout preventer was there, the equipment restricting the flow was there. The initial estimate was based on the best information available at the time.

The second lie is that by digging up technical documents that describe conditions that do not apply, that were most likely provided well in advance, and that instead show that BP was realistically assessing conditions were worst case scenario might apply, and to use that to say they are lying is extremely dishonest. It is Congressman Markey, clearly one of about 500 or so national legislators right now trying to make as much political hay as they can out of this disaster, who is lying, not BP and, more importantly, not Unified Command who remains responsible for estimating spill volumes.

(Later add: it’s interesting the way the LA Times dealt with this story–there is just a hint that maybe it was Markey who was incompetent and out of line here, and note the headline about politicians making waves.)

I described in my book, Now Is Too Late, now nearly 10 years old, how enterprising politicians, looking to leverage off public fear and outrage work in concert with the press. The press is fighting for audience. CNN leads its newscast last night with another story of how BP is evil incarnate. And it is “proven” by this Congressman who wants to show his constituents how tough he is on this horrible company.

Does this kind of thing tick me off? Sure, and not just because my clients are being harmed by it. It should tick off every American who is interested in the truth and what is fair and right. As I mentioned, this isn’t an isolated example–this is what is happening every day. BP and to some degree MMS and other federal agencies, including the president, are victims of it today. I am as sickened by how Fox News is trying to pin this event on the president as I am by the kind of coverage and political attacks that I described above. But this is our system, folks. We have it because apparently we want it. They deliver the news we want because the ratings tell them all they need to know.

I’ve made numerous presentations to other oil companies in the last few weeks. I point out to them that they, like BP, start out a horrible event like this in a deep deep hole. They do not have the trust of the public. In fact, I point out that there is only one industry that has less public trust. Ironically, it is the media business. If Congress were considered an industry, I’m guessing they would be even lower than that.

Pre-emptive strike regarding upcoming blog story

I’ve been interviewed by a major political blog about the Gulf Spill communications and have become a little nervous about how the story as it evolves keeps taking unexpected twists. So this is a sort of public pre-emptive strike in case I feel that I have been misquoted or that I might have mis-communicated my intentions.

The issue is about the growing independence of BP in the communications about the event. It is now quite common knowledge that BP was uninvited from an active role in the Joint Information Center and since about June 4, it has not participated in joint press conferences. In fact, there aren’t joint press conferences. There are BP press briefings but Admiral Allen stands alone on the podium for Unified Command press conferences. I understand the reasons for this and they may be valid and this may be necessary and I won’t judge whether it is good or bad.

And let’s be clear–Unified Command continues on, the partnership exists in the response. It just no longer exists in the public communication about the response.

But my point is this–what does this mean for the National Incident Management System that still mandates collaborative response? What does this do for OPA 90 where ICS and the JIC were a requirement for an effective response and effective communication? Will the Gulf Spill mean that agencies won’t cooperate–particularly when the media blame game is as rampant as it is here and the political reaction is to throw anyone else under the bus? BP is doing nothing wrong, illegal, or unexpected. The first variance away from the JIC came from federal agencies, not BP. They began aggressive and independent communication about the spill and response long before BP started going its own way. But when every JIC release is primarily about the antagonism between the federal government and BP, it is both right, fair and understandable for the JIC to no longer operate as it has for 20 years.

I just hope the blog writing on this gets it right.

Swire Shipping "Pacific Adventurer" oil spill shows still a ways to go in crisis management

I’ve been commenting in the last while about the marked improvement I have been seeing in how many agencies and companies are responding to crises. Then one comes along like the Pacific Adventurer oil spill in Australia, that demonstrates there is still much work to be done. First, my thanks to Neil Chapman for tipping me off to this.

I encourage all crisis watchers to take a good look at the struggles (and some triumphs) of Swire dealing with this major disaster. The spill occurred on March 11 as the ship was fighting Cyclone Hamish. The Pacific Adventurer lost 31 containers containing fertilizer, one of which apparently ruptured a fuel tank causing a fuel spill. The large slick soon landed on some pristine beaches.

Swire provided an estimate of the lost fuel that did not correspond with the size of the slick. The news media attacked the government for its slow response and “outraged” politicians jumped on the company like wolves on filet mignon. There were accusations of lying. This was followed by the company categorically denying the lying charge.

Then comes the turnaround. On March 20, five days after Mr Lucas from the government lit into the company, he was now gushing over the response and trying his best to turn lemons into lemonade by suggesting the spilled oil could be converted into energy for the national grid.

But, on March 19 clearly Swire was struggling with dealing with the communication load of the response. Here is their very lame statement of March 19:

In a regrettable incident on 11 March 2009, there was a discharge of heavy fuel oil from the vessel “Pacific Adventurer”.
Very shortly, we will post here instructions to facilitate contact with people and companies who consider that they have suffered loss as a result of this incident. We hope to have these posted to this site by Friday 20 March.

We understand that there may be a considerable number of people wishing to make contact about this issue and we are keen to have facilities in place ready to handle enquiries appropriately.

“We are keen to have facilities in place ready to handle enquiries appropriately?” Come on people, it’s now 2009. This is the age of social media. This is the time of transparency, direct communication, high levels of interactivity, of actually responding not just to the oil on the water but to all those people whose lives you have impacted.

It’s much the same–too slow response. Inaccurate information. Media on the attack. Politicians go on the attack to protect themselves. Responsible party fights back but now way back on its feet. And then admits it can’t keep up with the demands for information. There is a better way. The country that brought us the great media training tool “The front of the ship fell off” had better learn from its comedians.