May 28

Three takes on two very different crises


May 28
In
a special Memorial Day edition of RepMan, I’ve asked my roving band of guest
bloggers to posit their collective POVs on two very different crises: the BP
nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico and Sarah, the Duchess of York (aka Fergie) and
her sleazy move to sell access to her ex-hubby, Prince Andrew. I hope you’ll
find their takes of interest, encourage you to post comments and wish one and
all a long, happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend.

Abby Schoffman
reporting from New York on BP’s Twitter nightmare

Just
in case BP doesn’t have enough to deal with right now, the digital world
decided to throw them something else to strategize about –
@BPGlobalPR. No, this isn’t the
company’s PR posse tweeting updates about the latest efforts in the top kill
efforts – you can find that over on
@BP_America’s
stream, the company’s legitimate account.

@BPGlobalPR,
on the other hand, is a humorous imposter filling the Twitterverse with a
different take on the situation. The fake account was started last week and
already has almost 50,000 more followers than the official BP account. Although
some of the tweets
are
a bit vulgar, the
majority of them offer some comic relief, in an “I can’t believe they just said
that” kind of way. But I suppose it’s only humorous if you realize it’s not
actually BP spouting out things like “A bird just stole my sandwich! You
deserve everything you get, nature!!! #bpcares.”

Many
people are mistaking the imposter account for BP’s real account – and they’re
getting pretty worked up about it. Having people think that a company is poking
fun at such a serious, self-created disaster with a satirical Twitter account
could create permanent brand damage. Unlike other cases of fraudulent Twitter
accounts, where they’ve been
taken down, BP is
letting it slide for now. According to a recent
AdAge article, BP is aware of the account
but realizes that people have the right to discuss their feelings about the
situation.

I
have mixed feeling about the account. I like that BP understands that people
are going to say whatever they want about the brand, whether BP likes it or
not. But if some people aren’t realizing it’s a joke, then maybe BP should step
in. That doesn’t mean they have to insist the account is taken down, but they need
to make it clear that the account isn’t affiliated with BP (although I’d argue
that it’s already pretty clear to the majority – or at least I’d hope so).

So,
is this a case of a company realizing that you can’t control everything in the
realm of social media or is it that they just don’t know how to manage a crisis
in the digital space?

Ann Barlow in San Francisco
says BP’s full-page ads are about as effective as its oil-spill containment

We’re
pinning a lot of hope on the top-kill solution, BP’s attempt to halt the
seemingly inexorable flow of oil. 
Meanwhile, BP’s reputation is plummeting about rapidly as the health of
Gulf-area wildlife – and so far the solutions for both have been equally effective.

For
instance, BP has taken out full-page ads in a number of major newspapers across
the country to talk about what it’s doing and where readers can go for more
information. It’s using the opportunity to reinforce its commitment to making
things better, being the good corporate citizen that it is.

Too
bad corporate ego, lawyers and an ability to rationalize almost anything will
prevent them from saying what we all need hear. That they screwed up.  They were arrogant. They were reckless. They
put the chance to make a little more money for shareholders and executives
ahead of the lives of the people, animals and plants across an enormous swath
of water and coastal land.

Unless
and until they can do that, I’d just as soon BP put its money into mopping up
the mess they made.  That’ll clean up
their reputation better than any ad can.
 

Of course, lucky for
the oil company as well as Exxon-Mobil and others that have wreaked 
havoc on the environment through shortcuts, people have short
memories, the media have an even shorter one, and BP has lots and lots of
lawyers. We’ll move on, BP will continue to make billions, and the Gulf Coast
will wonder why everyone forgot them. Maybe BP can take out full-page ads once
in awhile to remind us.

London’s Carl foster
on Fergie, the Royal Family’s version of an oil spill

No
two crises are ever the same, not least because every individual or organization
at the wrong end of a crisis has a different brand promise – the bigger the
brand, the harder the fall. Take the brand promise of Sarah, The Duchess of
York (to give her the official title). She is an aristocratic ex-royal; an
individual from whom you would expect the highest standards of behavior. Well,
it is exactly that expectation that makes a video of her accepting money from a
fake businessman to 'open doors' to her ex-husband, but still close friend,
Prince Andrew, the UK's Special Representative for International Trade and
Investment, all the more shocking. A football agent taking bribes? Who is
surprised? An ex-royal? Well, it's all terribly vulgar.

What
next for Fergie? Her PR people pulled their trusty crisis manual off the shelf
(and when you represent the Duchess of York it never gathers too much dust) and
started following the rules. Step one: Appear contrite, put out a statement
expressing regret and put your actions in context (she is broke). Step two:
Line up a high profile TV appearance, such as Oprah, to get your story out (at
least Oprah will be more effective for Fergie than full page newspaper ads are
for BP). Next you can expect her to lay low for quite sometime, then do some
staged appearances, then do some charity work, or in the case of Fergie, more
charity work.

Hopefully
the Duchess of York will be able to get over this reputation crisis and get
back to the point where she was respected as a businesswoman and admired for
her part in the most amicable divorce in Britain. A lot will depend on her PR
handlers from now on.