Rebuilding Your Reputation by Digging a Deeper Hole
Reputation Management. Crisis Communications. Damage Control. Lipstick on a pig. Spin. Call it what you will, but the theory, practice and management of these facets of modern public relations and public affairs tends to be a lightning rod for criticism from outside and inside the industry. And, for good reason, in many circumstances.
Yet, the vast majority of world’s PR professionals adhere to industry standards for ethical behavior, and we also consistently strive to “protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information” – which is the leading line in the PR Society of America’s (PRSA) Code of Ethics. I point this out because when bad things happen to good companies, and their leaders, or politicians, and even the average person, the mismanagement of the “news cycle” and “bad publicity” by so-called reputation experts usually results in negative reaction leveled at a nameless PR professional, agency, corporate communications team, or a combination of these individuals. In reality, sometimes we’re never consulted. And, in many circumstances when we are brought to the table, members of the C-suite occasionally choose to ignore our counsel, regardless of the experience and battle scars many of us have unceremoniously earned during trying times in our own careers.
Thus, many in the PR profession were scratching our heads in wonder this week as Bob Dudley, the new CEO of embattled British Petroleum, publically lashed out at the media and its energy competitors for jumping on the ‘bash BP bandwagon’ during the recent gulf oil spill catastrophe. As reported by Reuters, Mr. Dudley, addressing an annual conference of CBI, a British business lobbying group, stated “that (BP’s) rivals and the media had helped cause a climate of fear” and that there had been “a great rush to judgment by a fair number of observers before the full facts could possibly be known, even from some in our industry.”
Furthermore, also according to the Reuters report, Mr. Dudley’s comments “represented the latest volley in BP’s battle to rebuild its battered reputation by taking a harder line with those who had attributed the disaster to a safety culture at BP that, they said, put cost-saving before safety”.
Please help me out here.
If this “reputation rebuilding” strategy originated with counsel from somebody in a strategic communications role inside or outside BP, the oil giant is faced with an even bigger challenge beyond the permanent annuity of responsibility for cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico and making those whole who suffered economic harm. And if Mr. Dudley “went rogue” and decided to single-handedly create and embrace this strategy of verbal retribution for those who rightly or wrongly stuck their finger in BP’s eye, where was PR counsel to explain to him that rebuilding BP’s reputation doesn’t start with blaming everyone else for your troubles?
It was BP’s well. Something went wrong. The firm created an environmental disaster. Forget who piled on. Worry about fixing the damage to the gulf, continue to fairly compensate those economically affected and share with the world how you plan to ensure it won’t happen again anywhere you drill. It’s time to move on and not worry about your rebuilding reputation, Mr. Dudley. Worrying about rebuilding your company’s credibility. As cliché as it may seem, actions speak louder than words.
Agree or disagree with Mr. Dudley’s strategy? Is it originating from his frustrations, or do you think it’s a premeditated plan of action to rebuild BP’s reputation?