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June 23, 2010
BP: PR Isn't an Add-On
BP has added social media to its belated crisis-response activities, with the help of the prominent PR firm Ogilvy & Mather. Terrific.

BP resorting tardily to social media is like a nuclear power plant shutting down its visitors center, than having to reopen it in a crisis mode when it has a problem. 

Good public relations isn't an add-on. It's an integral part of doing things properly from the beginning. Good PR starts on a company's operational side and spreads from a conscientious approach to avoiding problems in the first place. That's what we used to think BP's sunny environmental logo signified. The ghastly Gulf spill shows that a logo is meaningless without a culture behind it that does things well from the start. Beginning with a conscientious CEO who makes it clear that right actions are the only acceptable ones.

"The Gulf spill is a tragedy that never should have happened," is Tony Hayward's (or Ogilvy & Mather's or whomever's) way of opening a Hayward YouTube message on which comments are blocked. A great proactive use of social media. Spare us.

We next hear that Hayward attended a yacht race along the oil-free British coast, on his own boat, of course. He's entitled to some R&R time, BP's PR people explained. 

How bush-league (better to mix metaphors than add oil to water) can you get during an epic crisis?

If social media are the new media environment, and increasingly they are, we suspect the public will catch on quickly to BP's attempts to manipulate them. That's not public relations; it's what gives PR a bad name. It's like BP's oil well itself. You can't cap incompetence; it just keeps gushing. Competence means doing things well, systematically so, from the beginning. 

– Photo by Ison, Associated Press

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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