BP – Practice What You Preach

By Cole Buergi, Senior Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

As the environmental disaster continues to unfold in the Gulf, so does the BP public relations team that is developing, refining, scrapping and then re-developing messages for the public in an effort to save the company’s reputation as well as BP’s existence as a business.

BP is trying to position itself as a caring company that understands the impact of this disaster and what it takes to correct it. However, their actions don’t mirror what they say. For instance, BP is employing local fishermen, displaced from their jobs due to the spill and whose livelihood has been devastated for who knows how long. These fishermen are being hired by BP to help with the cleanup. Yes, it’s a great way to ensure they have some form of income during this time. However, very early on when hiring these fishermen, BP was requiring those accepting jobs to sign an agreement holding BP harmless for any damages caused by the disaster. The federal government had to step in and require BP to remove that clause in their employment agreement.

Another instance is when BP, Halliburton and Transocean were testifying in front of congress regarding the well platform explosion that killed 11 people and created the problem in the first place. During the testimony, it was almost comical to watch these company representatives point their fingers at each other as to who was responsible for problem and the cleanup. It was almost like watching school kids in a classroom when asked who put the gum on the teacher’s chair.

Probably the biggest lapse in judgment was the recent comment by BP CEO Tony Hayward when he spoke to the media regarding the disaster saying, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back…..” Eleven workers were killed during the explosion and thousands, if not millions, more people are and will continue to be impacted by the disaster now and for many years in the future.

This doesn’t sound like a company that means what it says. Instead, it sounds like a company that is willing to say whatever it thinks it needs to say to manage its reputation, what little of it remains.

The fundamental flaw in BP’s messaging is they don’t live what they preach. You can’t say how much you care about the environment and the people impacted by this disaster and then have your CEO quoted as saying all he wants is his life back. A sound public relations strategy means you need to believe in and live your corporate messaging. The companies that live their corporate philosophy tend to have outstanding reputations. There are some companies that don’t practice what they preach and manage to maintain a positive reputation. However, much like BP’s reputation, eventually not living what you preach will catch up with you. In this instance unfortunately, it took a disaster of epic proportions to shed light on it. And, once the world’s microscope is on you, there is no escaping it.

My best advice, live what you’re preaching. Prove you have compassion for the people and environment impacted. Most of all stop the leak and work on rebuilding that area.

Does anyone believe that BP will live up to its promise to compensate for lost damages to everyone impacted by the disaster?