You don’t have to go far to hear someone criticize BP for the catastrophic impact of their oil spoil. The news media have chronicled every misstep. Psychologists, environmentalists, and social media experts have all weighed in on what BP should have done or should be doing.
I certainly understand the frustration. We vacation on the Gulf Coast and treasure the years of memories we have collected on the beaches of Destin, Seaside, and Rosemary. As a result, we feel a tremendous sense of loss, not only for ourselves, but especially for our friends who live, work, and play there.
In the midst of this, I haven’t been exactly sympathetic to BP’s plight. However, this morning I was watching The Today Show when a BP commercial came on (embedded above). Normally, I mute the commercials, but this one immediately hooked me. I stopped what I was doing and watched the whole thing—all 60 seconds.
While BP may have initially bungled its response—and particularly its messaging—I think the PR flaks have now figured it out. Why is this relevant?
Because as leaders, we will inevitably find ourselves in some kind of crisis. It may not be as big as an oil spill, but it will still feel bigger than life. Thankfully, we can learn both from what BP has done wrong and what they are now doing right.
From the commercial I watched this morning, I think BP is doing at least five things well:
- They are using real people to tell their story. The people providing the narrative aren’t actors, CEOs, or stand-ins. They are ordinary workers who grew up on the Gulf and live there. This cleanup matters to them because it’s their home, their beaches, and their livelihood.
- They are taking full responsibility for the clean-up. I know, it’s easy to be cynical. “The proof will be in the pudding.” But at least BP is saying the right thing. In today’s world, even that is rare. While I haven’t made a mess this big, I have made plenty of my own. I was grateful when people extended me some grace.
- They are committed to keeping us informed. Frankly, that can’t be easy. It must be difficult to get your message across in world where negative news spreads quickly, and others exploit your blunder for their own political or economic gain. It would be easy to give up and throw in the towel.
- They articulate the specific actions they are taking. Cleaning up an oil spill is not glamorous work. It is expensive and tedious. “Every morning over 50 spotter planes and helicopters take off to search for the oil … then the boats go to work … over 6,000 vessels … 8 million feet of boom to protect the shoreline.” I find the specifics compelling. They are taking specific actions to fix the problem.
- They are realistic in setting our expectations. “We can’t keep all the oil from coming ashore, but I’m going to do everything I can to stop it.” That rings true. He doesn’t over-promise. After all, BP can’t un-spill the oil. But they can clean up their mess, compensate people for their losses, and learn from the experience. I can’t ask for more than this.
As the crisis has worn on, I have wondered if BP could repair the damage to its brand. Ultimately, this will depend on whether or not they clean up their mess and restore the Gulf to its pre-spill state.
In the meantime, I believe they are beginning to turn the momentum. I, for one, am rooting for them. If they can stick with it and see it through to completion, they can turn public opinion around. If there’s hope for BP, there’s hope for anyone in a crisis.