disaster response

BP’s PR Push to Implement a Pull Strategy

Posted on September 2, 2010. Filed under: disaster response, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

The embattled oil giant BP, which has in recent history repackaged itself as an environmental visionary by calling itself “Beyond Petroleum,” is now facing a future with an unwelcome legacy: forefather of the worst oil spill in American history. From the onset of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, BP’s communicators fought an uphill battle against an unrelenting backdrop of an ever-present live TV image of the untamed well head — while its infuriatingly vague plans prompted media outlets to pile on.

Worse yet, BP’s public relations team had to ease a riled media landscape early in the crisis after BP CEO Tony Hayward said he “wanted his life back.” And if BP didn’t have enough headaches, the company was brandjacked when a new satirical Twitter handle (@BPGlobalPR) surfaced posing as BP’s official PR machine, both deriding and frustrating its communications efforts. In fact, the fake site attracted tens of thousands of followers, far and away outnumbering followers on BP’s real Twitter stream.

According to crisis communications professionals (Slate.com,5 May), BP’s traditional PR push strategy, including press releases, morning-show interviews and official statements, produced mixed results; however, the energy company’s social media pull efforts provided copious amounts of information and engaged onlookers who may have been convinced BP was intent on doing right by those victimized by the spill.

All in all, BP won plaudits from communications experts for the way in which it leveraged the Web and social media to quell the crisis. For instance, BP seized Facebook as a news distribution hub, where it updated twice-daily real-time results of the amount of oil collected. BP also posted a video to discuss the health dangers posed to oil cleanup crews and another of congressional hearings on the spill. And on Twitter, BP tweeted a hotline for people to call if they see oiled wildlife.

But at the same time, companies in BP’s position need to be accessible and transparent to other media that support extended narratives and more complex explanations such as traditional print and Web sources. Without a doubt, the vast majority of Twitter accounts will post links to stories published by traditional outlets, but, in crisis PR mode, companies under siege will also need channels like microblogs to respond faster with updates and new developments.

PR Week (19 August 2010; subscription required) indicated that a new survey from Gartner Communications found 84.8% of companies worldwide have a general crises plans in place, but only 20.7% have social media crisis plans set. As social media becomes an even more critical tool in the corporate crisis playbook, crisis communicators and PR pros will need adequate tools to measure and monitor the blogosphere’s response to a calamity like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in order to deliver a clear, comprehensive and relevant message – with the hope of reframing the story.

And while BP’s share price has seen a mini recovery, it remains under pressure, making its long-term communications strategy even more critical – with an engaged social media dialog likely figuring into a key part of the mix. BP doesn’t deserve a victory lap just yet, but it should be commended for its work in conjunction with its public relations agency for executing an impressive on-the-fly pull strategy.  

Brian Panton is a quality assurance specialist and report writer in Washington, DC.

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When There’s Enough Blame to Go Around, It’s Rarely Spread Equally

Posted on May 14, 2010. Filed under: disaster response, Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , |

We’ve seen it before.

A negative event happens and the negative sentiment is attached almost exclusively to the most well-known brand involved, and not to the other brands who often should share the blame. Not too long ago we can remember the case of Dell catching all the negative press when the Sony batteries in its laptops overheated and caught fire. And does anyone know the name of Toyota’s brake supplier?

This month, the obvious example is the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is the name nearly exclusively associated with the event in the public’s consciousness. But BP Plc didn’t even own the rig which exploded on April 20; it had been leasing it from Switzerland’s Transocean Ltd.

However, the still evolving story seems to indicate BP does not deserve all the blame. And it fact while it is accepting responsibility for clean up, it is pointing fingers at Transocean, one of three other companies involved to some degree in the event. Those other companies have been much less mentioned in the press and social media.

Houston-based oil and gas equipment and services company Halliburton was the company who was engaged in the now notorious well-cementing operations around the time of the explosion. And Houston’s well-servicer Cameron International made the blowout preventer device, which failed to engage completely. Had that failsafe worked as designed, this story would be gone from the front page by now.

An analysis of these four companies on Twitter, on blogs and boards and in the mainstream press shows a consistent picture. Household name BP has gotten the lion’s share of the press, arguably more than the others combined.

In Twitter comments, Cameron is virtually absent, perhaps enjoying its anonymity outside the oil industry. Only the testimony that Halliburton and TrasnOcean have had to give to Congress this week has gotten them into the consciousness of the Twittersphere.

BP, Halliburton, Transocean in twitter

Mentions on Twitter of BP, Halliburton and Transocean in the days before and after the oil rig explosion in the Gulf. There were virtually no mentions of Cameron. Source: trendistic.com

In the mainstream press, BP still tops the others. Halliburton, well-known for its activity in the other “Gulf” as a contractor for the U.S. governement, has gotten less than 10% of the mentions of BP, running about 5000 per day for BP to 400 per day for Halliburton of the approximately 20,000 sources analyzed using Dow Jones Insight. Transocean, is continually more than Halliburton in the press, on several days last week about four times as much.

BP, Halliburton, Transocean in press

Mentions of BP, Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron in the mainstream media, before and after the event. Source: Dow Jones Insight.

But in Social Media the name Halliburton probably has struck that familiar bad-guy chord and bloggers are talking about it nearly twice as much as Transocean.

Gulf Spill companies blogs

Mentions of BP, Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron in social media before and after event.

How have these companies reacted to the event? BP has been looking straight at the microphones. Its CEO, Tony Hayward, has for example, been interviewed multiple times by NPR and others on exactly how his company is reacting. The company has created a web site and a feed on Twitter, focused on its response to the cleanup efforts. And it has created a crisis center in Houston, according to PR Week, “staffed by communications professionals flown in from BP’s offices around the world.”

The others companies seem a bit more camera shy. Halliburton hasn’t said much more than it did its job properly and completed it hours before the explosion.

I can’t find a Twitter feed for the other companies. Though I found one called TransoceanRumor, which clearly means Transocean isn’t driving the social media conversation, they are being driven.

Glenn Fannick is the director of product development for Dow Jones Insight, a media measurement tool. He is based in Princeton, N.J.

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