Sunday, 20 June 2010

BP oil slick shows reputation cannot be driven without action

Ever since the explosion off the Gulf of Mexico, BP has been in a 24/7 battle to rescue its reputation in the wake of an environmental disaster the President of the United States has compared to 9/11.

The BP Chief, Tony Hayward, has famously made several high profile PR gaffes - the most recent visiting a yacht race off the Isle of Wight this week days after a poor performance in front of the Senate

Despite this, BP are of course no fools when it comes to PR. Of course they aren't. The company has employed a rapid response unit to deal with the constant flow of criticism (excuse the pun) and some of this has been successful - the purchase of Google adwords such as 'oil slick' for example - and the use of video and social media shows the company is using every modern method to try and repair the damage.

So why does the negative PR persist to the extent it does? Firstly, the fact is reputation must be built on actions and trust and until the spill is stopped, BP is always going to be on the back foot. That rule applies to any organisation in the world.

The next problem is that BP seems to be trying to control the messaging, rather than enter in a true dialogue. Web 2.0 techniques falter when used outside a conversation prism, they simply don't work when a business isn't prepared to listen.

So with every Twitter parody forced to admit it isn't part of BP, for every protest video pulled, BP gives the impression that it is trying to silence freedom of speech; thus alienating the local communities affected by the spill, not mentioning the US political elite.

To turn  the situation around the company needs to start listening more and talking less. Mr Hayward simply must use any upcoming appearances to reflect a humility, a sorrow, an empathy with local communities - not just the President.

Most of all, it needs to stop the spill before attempting to turn the tide of publicity, more 'Mea culpa' and less 'it's not me, bruv'.