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May 24, 2010
What If BP Funded Your New Aquarium?

Here's a bit of a PR dilemma. What would you do? The president of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, is keeping a stiff upper lip as his new BP-funded Sea Otter Habitat opens. The blowout-beleaguered oil company contributed $1 million to the exhibit.

The Huffington Post refers us to the situation. BP officials offered not to attend a recent press preview at the aquarium, but Jerry Schubel, its president, said "'No. Without your support we could not have done this.' I hope they continue to support us."

Indeed, there's not much he can do but welcome visitors to the impressive new facility. If BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has a severe impact on marine life, there could be difficult days ahead for the new exhibit at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Schubel's people, indeed, are taking a heads-up approach to the BP situation. The aquarium will host a forum in the fall on ocean oil drilling.

"The challenge is," Schubel says, "What can we learn from this going forward?"

Will BP's name on the wall become a huge smudge for the institution? We certainly hope not, but the possibility remains. 

As The Los Angeles Times points out, "Nonprofit institutions often face difficult decisions when big corporate givers hit highly publicized rough spots. One of the largest examples in recent years involved Enron, which was a major giver to cultural and educational charities.

"The University of Missouri kept its Kenneth Lay Chair in Economics, despite faculty objections that the Enron chief executive's $1.1 million contribution in 1999 had been tainted by the scandal that engulfed the Houston energy company two years later."

But, The Times adds, "The university came to a different conclusion in 2004 about its newly opened Paige Sports Arena, which was named in honor of Elizabeth Paige Laurie by her parents, who made a fortune from Wal-Mart and contributed $25 million. The venue became the Mizzou Arena after ABC's "20/20" revealed that young Paige had paid a fellow student to do her course work at USC."

Clearly, corporations that decide to participate generously to the non-profit public service world ought to view that role as a further big reason why they should conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. They don't want to smudge, or maybe obliterate, their good works, and their non-profit beneficiaries shouldn't have to make heart-rending decisions if something goes badly amiss.

That's really what corporate culture is about, we'd suggest. 

Photo from The Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA







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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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