Most people would agree that BP is going through a hard time at the moment. Whatever the reasons behind the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf, the way the company has handled its public relations has made things far far worse. Every day brings a new own goal and fresh load of criticism in the media.It seems beyond belief that a company as rich and powerful as BP doesn’t have an army of public relations advisers – and indeed in their UK press office has six people manning it. One can only feel sorry for them – whatever they say do now, no-one is going to listen to any positive messages.
The important thing is for them to learn lessons for the future – and these are lessons for everyone who runs a company or organisation.
The first lesson
How important it is to lay the groundwork for handling a crisis in advance. Keep your reputation squeaky clean, behave responsibly, and reach out to the communities in which you work so that when crisis does hit, you can, as much as possible, retain public support.
The second lesson
Have a crisis management strategy in place, which includes crisis communications. Rehearse any potential crisis scenarios and work out your response to each, making sure your key messages are clear and simple. Don’t try to hide things, shift blame or downplay their significance. If the crisis is your fault, show genuine sympathy, hold up your hands, and demonstrate how you are making amends.
The third lesson
Any executive who is going to be giving interviews must have some intensive media training. One stray word can be disastrous, as BP has learnt to its cost. Executives must know how to prepare for an interview, how to take control of it, how to stick to the key points and, extremely importantly, how to keep the audience on their side.