Thursday, January 06, 2011

BP, issues management and 150 million adverse internet citations

Shares are holding up well after BP and its partners were accused of a series of cost-cutting decisions that ultimately contributed to the oil spill that ravaged the Gulf of Mexico coast over the summer, the White House oil spill commission said on Wednesday.

What is coming out in the aftermath goes much wider than the loss of life, an unprecedented environment disaster, threat of being taken over and the loss of some top executives.

Over and again, we hear criticism of poor communication. BP might expect some criticism in PR Week but is now in the spotlight as a poor communicator in the Wall St Journal, Financial Times, and BBC and has been associated with poor communication over 30,000 times online in a week.

The Monthly report will be un-nerving with critical coverage in news sites (5,000 articles this month), blogs (50,000 posts), Twitter (11,000 times), Facebook (14,000 times) - yes they have all be there. This mountain of criticism is now online and will not go away any year soon. long after the beaches are pristine again, the online aftermath will be there.

I am not going to criticise whoever was the manager in-charge of PR at BP (it could or perhaps should be among these people). I am going to offer a view of the two million online citations that have been generated in this last terrible year for  the company.

Crisis management is about preparation and the PR industry does have some very good tools to help in this regard. Planning and managing for crisis is hard work but not hugely complicated (compared to other areas of PR management). BP did not have much of a crisis communication plan in place according to the US commission report.

Recovering from a crisis is much harder and often one crisis sparks another (death - oil spill - share price fall - top executives desert - takeover threat - pressure on other operations - cost of being in the spotlight - legal costs/management disruption). The level of added distraction for the Board, cost and range of threats is now significant and for some organisations such pressures can be crippling.

What is to be done?

Well, after the PR crisis management plan has been put in place and the complete review of how BP and its industry moves towards improving transparency (oh no! not another TV series about the oilmen)  and next shuffle of the Board, there will have to be a change of structure (retail separate from exploration and production for example) name and identity.

Why change of name and identity? Basically BP has to find a way to escape from the mountain of adverse online content that will follow it round like a bad smell for years.

The question is what is the timing for all this.