It’s been five years since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and last week, BP and the Gulf states finally reached a mammoth settlement
The US Attorney General has said that the sum agreed, an eye-watering $18.7 billion, is the largest to be paid by a single company in U.S. history.
Never mind the cost in financial terms, though: Will BP ever truly recover the cost it caused to itself in terms of its questionable PR handling? For years, pundits and college lecturers have been citing the poor public relations management in the face of the Deep Water crisis
as a textbook "how not to do it.”
Remember those comments from the disgruntled CEO who said: “I’d like my life back”?
Here’s five ways in which BP got it so wrong, and what can be learned from those mistakes:
1. Failure to prepare.
One of the comments made many times by analysts was how little the company seemed to be geared up to handle a crisis of this nature.
Given the type of industry, one would have thought that even the simplest analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats would have pointed to this such disaster as a possible
scenario, around which the comms team should have always been prepared to respond.
However big your company, knowing your areas of crisis susceptibility is vital.
2. Manipulation (or lack of true knowledge) of the facts.
In the first stages of the crisis, the company went to the press saying that the spill was only to the tune of around 1,000 barrels a day. It turned out the stat was five times the amount, but even then, company spokespeople downplayed the figure.
Knowing the facts and taking time to confirm them is imperative if you’re going to face the press to speak about your crisis. It ensures credibility
from the outset.
[Keep your cool in a crisis with these 13 tips.]
3. Lack of compassion.
The comments of CEO Tony Hayward have certainly gone down in history. Lives had been lost in the crisis and the implications environmentally and
economically were huge for many – but he wanted his "life back."
This comment garnered disgust and annoyance from the press and the public. Choose your messaging and your spokesperson wisely.
4. Deflection of blame.
BP made a big point of the fact that the rig was owned by Transocean, and in so doing, came across as trying to deflect responsibility.
Sure, mention other parties, but in so doing, provide a shared collaborative message around how you are all doing your best to resolve matters swiftly.
For BP, it came across as if the company was trying to buy wriggle room.
5. Being angry and unavailable.
Many felt that BP came across as annoyed with the press interference, and that leaders were much much less available in terms of updates and commentary
than they might have been.
Keeping your audience in the loop, at regular intervals, helps to no end with credibility. It shows you are keeping communication going and that you have not forgotten your level of responsibility or the fact that so many are now relying on
you for answers.
Deborah Watson is a strategic communications consultant at Deborah Watson Consulting. For more PR and marketing input, or to task projects, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.