Wednesday, June 9, 2010

PR Is No Substitute For The Truth / from MediaPost

When I wrote a column about BP last month, I wasn't expecting to a) eat my words, or b) write about BP again so soon.

But alas, here we are.

At the time of my column, "Advice To BP That It Didn't Ask For," I and several PR peeps felt that BP had been transparent, genuinely not at fault and were doing the best they could in the terrible circumstances à la "it was all Transocean's fault Ma, honest."

I hate being wrong but we were wrong. Very wrong.

It's hard to feel sorry for liars. It's even harder to feel sorry for those people and companies that deliberately mismanage information and mislead the public for financial gain (hello, Goldman Sachs).

But what is absolutely sinful about BP's actions -- and there are many -- is the company's blatant disrespect for our intellect, for our country and for our lives. You may feel I'm getting off PR-focus here, but the fact remains that when a company tries to sustain a sheen of purity in the midst of massive oil slicks, toxic shrimp and environmental seppuku, PR and "positioning" is no substitute for the truth.

We believed Tony Hayward and we believed BP. But they lied to us and to themselves.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Taking back what I said a month ago, no amount of full-page mea culpas pasted in all the country's major broadsheets will change public perception right now -- or anytime soon. In fact, these ads may just have the reverse effect when you consider the millions being plundered from fixing the problem, and being diverted to the "We're going to fix this" ad campaign instead. I don't buy it and no one else should either.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

It appears that no one believes anything that BP has to say, tweet or print anymore, and that it has lost all credibility and control of its brand.

Case in point? A new Twitter account called BPGlobalPR, a satirical send-up of BP's blunders. With 130,000 followers and counting, it quickly provides a sense for the level of mistrust and hatred that is cursing through America's veins, online and off. When compared with the 12,000 followers on BP's feed, BP-America, it's clear that people have tuned out from the grimace-inducing comments issued by BP, much preferring comments like "Money can't buy happiness. But Tony Hayward did buy a giant yacht he calls 'Happiness'. It has a frickin' helicopter pad on it!" and "Flew in a ton of seafood from Asia last night, ate almost half of it and slept for 12 straight hours. What a weekend! #bpcares" on the faux BP blog.

So now that almost everyone knows about BP's misinformation strategy, I tried to imagine what Thomas Friedman or John Stossel would have to say about the company. Sadly, neither were available for comment when I contacted them last week, so I have taken a creative liberty in recreating their imagined responses:

Click here to continue reading.

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