With BP taking a well deserved hit on the Gulf oil situation, I won’t recount all of the missteps that have them facing a long-term PR nightmare. For that you can read here the NYT’s summary here and PR social media pundit Todd Defren here. (disclaimer: Todd’s my boss, but don’t hold that against him…he’s a savvy guy)
My initial take away is caveat emptor on green marketing – especially for big brands. This is a clarion call for GE, Cisco, Intel – any multi-national that has been pushing a “green” agenda these past few years is on notice. I experienced something similar in years working in the IT security space – don’t call anyone out, and be careful what you claim since its more than likely something will happen that shines an unfavorable light on YOU in the future.
So, where does BP go from here, and what can other brands learn from this?
* Be prepared – BP has committed over $125 million annually the past few years on its beyond petroleum branding effort. All that effort is now wasted since they were left
* Get online and stay online – Like it or not, brand reputation has moved from mass media to online. BP has been discussing and taking responsibility for issues like the Alabama lawsuit payouts on TV, however why aren’t they responding online to stories like this? BP needs to expand their communication channels to include all media, not just broadcast and their own web site.
* Don’t deflect – There’s some evidence to suggest oil spills “naturally” into the gulf on a regular basis. Nobody will care. BP can’t become defensive in the least. They put themselves out in the public as a sustainable company, and they need to own their role in this situation and any future situations.
* Continue what they started – BP’s main page is almost fully dedicated to the spill recovery effort, as it should be. BP has to own that this is now part of their legacy and culture, and can’t move this from their public efforts any time soon. Establishing a commission on underwater drilling safety with community engagement before any future projects, funneling some of their billions of profit into a foundation for local wildlife – just a few thoughts on long-term commitments BP now needs to consider and execute upon. It can’t be a quick-fix program that runs out of funding or sunsets in a few years. This is part of their culture now and they need to embrace it.
As the culture moves to becoming more conscious regarding sustainable living, brands should absolutely embrace this as part of their culture. The trick is having a plan, understanding your exposure and backing up what you claim. BP is facing an uphill climb in large part because they had no clear plan…is your brand set up for the same fate?