It’s not too often public relations is visibly on the frontlines of a national crisis. When the client, BP in this case, is less than transparent and is deep into a situation (since April 10, 2010) with no immediate resolution and none foreseen until perhaps August, it is imperative public relations does everything possible to position a solution as genuine, train the spokespeople to be genuine, and execute action-oriented and timely response.
In the June 7, 2010 Advertising Age, the story “Brunswick put to ultimate test as BP grows increasingly toxic,” references a global public relations firm that is most comfy as a financial communications agency and not an environmental- disaster crisis-communications shop.
Reporter Michael Bush references the good relationship with an early start in London 23 years ago between Brunswick and BP while suggesting the Washington D.C. office of the former is ill equipped to manage the crisis and perhaps its New York office would fare slightly better.
It was only a matter of time before the finger pointing began to swing in PR’s direction.
The work we public relations practitioners do on behalf of clients indeed includes counsel for behavior on the frontlines of a crisis. (Not sure why BP President Tony Hayward forgot his media training half of the time; was it due to pure exhaustion?)
No PR firm the size of Brunswick with HQ in London should manage a crisis of this proportion independently, regardless of the D.C. politicos on staff from the U.S. Treasury and White House who have foreign policy expertise.
This situation is similar to what happens to a past president of the United States. With all the earned expertise, he is relegated to the back burner to build a presidential library and author books rather than aid and abet the new admnistration. There are public relations agencies galore on the global scale with crisis communications expertise who can help the current situation with a fresh approach.
I am not one of these agencies nor am I a crisis communications expert who would even consider tackling a situation of this magnitude. (Levick Strategic Communications is doing a bang-up job with its own PR about this debacle; I’m seeing the firm quoted in a number of stories proffering counsel to BP on how it ought to manage this crisis.)
You can bet, however, that were I in the shoes of a Brunswick and internal BP corporate communications department, I’d scramble to invite illustrious public relations leaders to the boardroom to propose high-level solutions to this never-ending crisis.
It’s ludicrous local public relations firms in Texas at command central and the Gulf states have not been invited to the table to strategize strictly about regional people affected by this calamity who have lost their generations-old livelihood. How do you elect politicians? Karl Rove knows. You erupt the grassroots machine, one vote at a time.
Now that the pendulum has swung into anti-BP mode and it’s sticking, public relations is going to suffer trying to make change in this ever non-transparent debacle.
For what it’s worth, BP and Brunswick, at this late date:
- Call in the PR experts for some fresh ideas and begin to repair the damage that will take 10 times as long because your public face has been under water.
- Invite regional PR expertise to the table to develop a Gulf States public relations campaign directed at the locals who live day to day off the sea for food and tourism.
- Swallow your pride, cough up the dough, and tap the global PR community who work with oil companies on a daily basis. In fact, contact the Exxon-Valdez PR team for counsel on this situation. They’re still out there waiting, I’m sure.
And, if you’ve already done all this and I just don’t know about it, well, forgive me. Glad to hear it.