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August 2, 2010
Culture Is Key for BP Media Relations
BP is looking for a new spokesperson to serve as its chief media contact for its Gulf Coast cleanup efforts. CNN says the job description is "essentially to minimize the harm done to BP's reputation by overseeing company press releases, talking points and interviews with the media related to the oil spill."

It adds that the position "could quite possibly be called the worst job on Earth." That sort of challenge, however, could make the post highly desirable for a PR person who loves being tested and expects to profit from it as well.

Except this isn't just a media relations job. Anyone applying for the BP post needs to realize that he or she would be fronting not simply for a company but a culture, a corporate culture of risk and dire public consequences should something more go wrong. Whether BP is determined to reform its culture should be the biggest consideration for its would-be spokesperson.

A spokesperson isn't just a flak -- passing along whatever a company wants to say. He or she needs to be continually concerned about credibility and be able to feed any concerns back to the organization and expect to have them respected. That sort of feedback relationship is vital for a media relations job to be worth having.

Serving, for example, as media spokesperson for the former GPU Nuclear Corp. after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 was enormously satisfying because GPU was determined to learn and apply all that it could from the accident at TMI Unit 2 before it restarted Unit 1 (a regulatory and community confidence-building process that took a decade). The TMI accident produced a nuclear operations culture change, hopefully an industry-wide one.

Interviewed by CNN, Bob Dudley, BP's new CEO, sounds like he understands the cultural dimension and intends to produce such an upgrade.

"We're going to learn a lot from this accident; we're going to pull it apart," he says. There was a "systematic set of failures ... and errors in judgement" by BP and its oil industry partners. Indeed so.

A new BP spokesperson will need to be concerned that, as he or she relates to the media daily, corporate learning is continuing and being applied to safer, more responsible oil operations. Culture is key, indeed, in any media relations position worth having.

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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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