What kind of public relations should BP be doing now? What should it be saying as oil continues to gush from its flamed-out gulf well, the actual amount of the spill becomes understood, and the scale of the cleanup, if cleanup is actually possible, becomes apparent? Is BP at the limit of what even the most enlightened approach to public relations can accomplish?
Maybe it's a truly lost cause. Possibly it's over for BP in America. It could be that the hapless British oil company shouldn't even be trying to be heard -- whatever its message might be. Hillary Rosen, a managing partner for a London PR firm BP has hired, is being reviled for that role. BP tries to be prominent on Google and Yahoo! and is hit for buying the No. 1 search rankings. There's a "fake BP" Twitter account that has far more viewers than BP can muster. So Matthew Lynn, of Bloomberg News, who writes like a modern Mark Twain watching the Mississippi get mucked up, says BP should simply "Tell Americans to go stuff it where the oil don't leak."
He offers three pertinent reasons for his satiric advice:
• The U.S. uses too much petroleum, prompting oil companies to use extra risky methods to get more.
• BP is likely "finished in the United States" in any event.
• BP needs to protect its shareholders, so it should sell its U.S. assets to one of the other energy majors and "carry on fine in Japan, France, Argentina and all the other countries where no one is really bothered by what happens in the Gulf of Mexico."
So what about it? Is BP truly a lost PR cause? Is there anything for BP to attempt to salvage from the gulf disaster? Any lessons worth claiming it has learned?
We aren't certain about that and hope you'll have insights to share with us on BP's PR options now. But if there's anything to be learned from this dismal experience, it's perhaps that learning itself should be valued, applied, and reported on by a beleaguered company. That's presuming, of course, that BP actually is learning and applying useful lessons on how to develop a corporate culture that can safely handle deepwater drilling, or any drilling for that matter, and is willing to share them.
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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