Posts Tagged ‘BP’

Your Generation Gap is Showing

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Your Generation Gap is Showing

Recently I was working on a promotional project and proposed some copy for a related webpage that would notify the target audience that there were some unfavorable conditions related to the promotion (hurdles to jump over to make use of it).

The response I got was “but why would we want to tell them those things – won’t that make them less likely to commit?”

Gut check moment – your response to that question may indicate a great deal about your perspective: Read more…

Unsatisfied With the News Media’s Coverage of Your Disaster? – Create Your Own News Media!

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Scandal-plagued BP has resorted to drilling for its own news in the wake of the tidal wave of negative coverage of its Gulf Oil Spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.  The company has dispatched its “reporters” from its internal newsletter (Tom Seslar and Paula Kolmar) to file reports from the company’s point of view.

As you can see from this hilariously over-the-top bit of fawning praise from Kolmar, the company’s perspective is markedly less critical of the company than the mainstream media:

“Triangles, circles, v-angles: precision shapes at sea executed by shrimping vessels and choreographed by skimming perfectionists to stop any oil from potentially getting close to Alabama’s coast. Though there isn’t oil close to shore, practices and rehearsals occur almost daily in preparation. […] From the relative comfort of a large square deck with a cold bottle of water always in hand, and an air-conditioned TV room with comfy sofas a level below, I witnessed beauty preparing to face the beast. Miss Jasmine, the most experienced local shrimping vessel, beautifully painted with a colourful dragon streaming along her sides, pulled the folded boom in place. Then gently pulling along her side, another vessel took on a rope from Miss Jasmine. With barely a pause, the two boats moved apart at the same speed, spreading the boom into a v-shape just like birds form in the sky. […] A ballet at sea as mesmerising as any performance in a concert hall, and worthy of an audience in its own right.”

If you like Kolmar’s work, you can read some of her earlier pieces like “Musical Interlude: How BP is Helping New Orleans Residents Rebuild, Two Years After Katrina.” Another interesting piece I turned up was “Grassroots Success in Colombia: For the past 20 years, BP and Colombia have grown together through good times and bad.” I was also able to find a reference that may have also written for “Oil Mill Gazeteer” the official publication of the International Oil Mill Superintendents Association.

BP has actually been filing their own reports since May 10th, but Seslar’s report appears to be the first one to make it into the public consciousness where it’s being lampooned by Rachel Maddow, BoingBoing, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos and even the Columbia Journalism Review and Wall Street Journal (which acquired a copy of BP’s internal newsletter “Planet BP”).

This phenomena isn’t actually new for an oil company; Chevron engaged in a similar activity – hiring former CNN anchor Gene Randall to favorably report on the company which was packaged into a 60 Minutes-esque newsmagazine piece.

All of this comes at an interesting time, as the fragmentation of the media is collapsing the old business model the news industry has relied on for decades.  As we’re increasingly able to slip into our own insular worlds, surrounded only by media that confirms our notions of the world – I wonder if this strategy will become increasingly effective for reputation management.

Even if the public knows to be skeptical of content directly from BP, there’s an increasing opportunity this content will be picked up by a third party media outlet where “news laundering” can take place (just like money laundering, news laundering attempts to conceal the original source of information in the hopes of making it appear legitimate).

As staff are slashed from budgets, overworked reporters are increasingly leaning on public relations people to supply them with material for their reports as opposed to investigative reporting (which can be an expensive and sometimes fruitless venture – making it antithetical to the healthy bottom line of a profit-driven corporation).  Translation: less news will be told by objective third parties.

BP’s Social Media Fail

June 15, 2010 1 comment

On YouTube today I noticed that BP has purchased premium access on the front page of the site to promote its flight of videos in response to the mounting Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill crisis.  The videos are well-produced, but the effort is a complete failure because BP is attempting to cram the square peg of the traditional mass media into the round hole of social media.

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Even though BP has paid for premium access and set the controls for their site to their specifications, their efforts to cap the gushing negative public sentiment is about as effective as their efforts to cap the gushing flow of oil have been:

  • Ratings:  Comments are disabled, but Youtube users are still able to rate the videos – all of which have dismal ratings that hover around one star as well as “dislike” ratings that vastly overwhelm the “like” ratings.
  • Response Videos: The recommended or related videos that appear on the right menu next to BP’s videos are overwhelmingly dominated by negative content about BP.
  • Website: BP doesn’t even have full control over its own web presence; Google Sidewiki (currently underutilized, fortunately for BP) allows the discussion about the oil spill to take place on BP’s site unabated (to say nothing of the myraid other venues people have for connecting and sharing opinions).

The bottom line is that social media is a democratic meritocracy in which we have only the illusion of control.  Trying to crowd out public opinion by buying up search terms or premium placement is ultimately ineffective because as John Gilmore once said “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

The question PR pros should be posing to their clients is: “If it ALL were to come out – what would you do differently?” – that’s the new reality.  It’s mind-boggling to think that BP’s leadership actually thought they could conceal the repeated violations, the damning internal reports, and the scientific data showing other leaks and massive underwater plumes of oil – all of which are made far worse for BP’s having attempted to conceal them in the first place.

BP is literally facing the spectre of dissolving as a corporation – what’s the harm in allowing the public to have its say?  Could things possibly get worse than they are now?

More PR Trouble for BP: Great Case Study in the Filters of the Web

June 1, 2010 Leave a comment

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I wrote a while earlier about the impact of the new era of transparency on BP’s continuing public relations crisis.  Since then, a couple of other new phenomenon caught my attention:

  • Google Sidewiki: This somewhat-forgotten tool created by Google to accompany webpages and help contextualize them with user contributions has a bit of content that isn’t exactly kind to BP.
  • The Black Oil Firefox Plugin:  Designed by design agency Jess3, this add-on to Firefox makes the pages viewed by your browser look like a redacted document from the CIA as it blacks out references to British Petroleum (the blacked out portions eventually animate and drip ala crude).

These two items may seem like frivolous distractions, but they’re not.  They’re exquisite reminders of how little control we exercise over the web, particularly as the content that populates it and the tools that browse it become more and more sophisticated and oriented toward individual control.

You can spend all the time you want tweaking your website until it’s just the way you want, but what you create may not at all be what ends up being delivered to the end user.

The Remote and the Real: Shopping for a BP Oil Spill Thong

May 25, 2010 3 comments
A Selection of Thongs Related to the BP Oil Spill Available for Sale on CafePress

In his 1922 book Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann noted:

“The incidence of policy determines the relation between leader and following.  if those whom he needs in his plan are remote from the place where the action takes place, if the results are hidden or postponed, if the individual obligations are indirect or not yet due, above all if assent is an exercise of some pleasurable emotion, the leader is likely to have a free hand.”

I think about that in the context of the oil spill currently underway from the BP Deepwater Horizon rig and how different the crisis would have unfolded in decades past.  Even in the past couple of years, technology (particularly social media) has stripped leaders of their ability to keep such phenomena remote and abstract, shielding them from the public.

Google Maps Mashup Depicting BP Oil Spill

Now, we can look in directly on the results and feast at an all-u-can-eat buffet of related information:

In crisis situations, we tend to look to past crises for insight on how a new one will unfold.  The problem is, all of the technology and the rapid adoption of social networking platforms has made those past comparisons obsolete.  This is true for virtually all fields, but especially public relations which has borne the brunt of the upheaval from the communications revolution.  Trying to downplay crises with euphemistic language is deadly, as BP CEO Tony Hayward found out after comments made in past days have come back to bite him.

Anything you can imagine could be a facet of the next crisis your organization faces (even a video game based on your crisis; just wait – some programmers are likely downing cases of Red Bull feverishly coding a BP-themed oil spill video game right now).

Anti-BP Merchandise on CafePress

One would be hard pressed to make case studies older than a few  years relevant today, and yet most PR textbooks still teach the Tylenol recall scare from 1982.  If your playbook is older than 2007 – it’s time to get a new playbook.