a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PR industry takes a hit with BP disaster

The petroleum industry won't be the only sector to be worried about its credibility when the BP crisis in the Gulf of Mexico finally ends.

Ten years ago BP spent $220 million U.S. on an award-winning image makeover. The campaign recast its brand as a leading socially-responsible and green company.

The "Beyond Petroleum" campaign was so effective that as recently as 2007, customer surveys ranked BP as the leading environmentally-friendly oil company.

No doubt BP's current troubles will lead people to conclude the campaign was just so much green washing by PR flacks. Corporate image makers should be just as worried about the aftermath as the overall energy sector.

In the PR industry's defence, it is the client's responsibility to live up to its brand. BP wasn't doing that, according to media reports in the two months since its deepwater well blew out.

Last year, for example, it cut investment in alternative energy by 28 per cent.

In addition, had the company been willing to spend an extra $550,000 on its deepwater rig for something called a remote control acoustic trigger, the Gulf of Mexico disaster might have been limited.

Such technology would have allowed company workers to close the well by remote signal after the rig was destroyed by explosion and fire on April 20.

American regulators considered making such technology mandatory early in the past decade. But BP and other oil companies lobbied against it because of cost. That $550,000 must now seem like chump change.

Of course, BP's current communications problems in the Gulf go well beyond a gaffe-prone CEO. Documents are now surfacing that show the company had been withholding material information about the extent of the catastrophe. BP will have far more trouble than a toxic brand to worry about for years to come.

As for professional image makers, the PR and ad industries will likely huddle soon to discuss how they can force clients to live up to the hype they created for them. Perhaps there should be some sort of liability code for spin doctors.

What remains is astonishing is this: why would any corporation risk an environmental disaster to save a few bucks? Have they forgotten lessons learned over the past 30 years -- Exxon Valdez, Bhopal, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?

Perhaps simple human nature is also toxic.


There was much in the news last week about Quebecor's plans to set up a Fox News style infotainment channel in Canada. What didn't get much attention was how Quebecor's Sun Media trashed one of the best reporting bureaus on Parliament Hill because of a format change.

The Sun's predominately female bureau had been leading much of the parliamentary press gallery for months in breaking stories and asking tough questions about government spending. Reporter Elizabeth Thompson, for example, won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for revealing how heritage silver from Rideau Hall was accidentally sold.

Kathleen Harding as been replaced as bureau chief. Thompson and fellow reporters Christina Spencer and Peter Zimonjic have been simply dumped.

Quebecor is free to make whatever changes it wants. And those who follow Parliament Hill will be free to judge whether Sun Media's new predominately male bureau is an improvement or not.

1 comment:

  1. Pinpointing BP’s Pitfalls: Eight Ways to Reconnect After a Disaster

    Read the full article here: http://www.connectture.com/pa-393.aspx