The Gulf Coast Oil Spill and Lessons in Crisis Communications
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The Gulf Coast Oil Spill and Lessons in Crisis Communications
As oil continues to pour into the Gulf Coast, damaging human and environmental welfare in incomprehensible ways, we try to think of the positive lessons that have emerged from this tragedy.
Some of these lessons come from looking into our personal use of petroleum (the demand that drives offshore drilling), some of them come from watching how our governmental leaders respond to this national misfortune (perhaps with energy policy?), and others come from the actions and words of the responsible parties.
BP recently launched the following ad campaign in an attempt to reassure our nation that they “will make this right”:
Unfortunately for BP, the campaign has received widespread criticism due in large part to the general lack of credibility that BP has accumulated. Inaccurate estimates, failed attempts to quell the oil flow, $5,000 settlements to keep residents from suing, and courtroom battles have all contributed to public mistrust of BP.
The ad campaign reinforces negative public sentiment toward the company because its message does not align with BP’s actions to date.
On top of the cost of cleanup, BP has suffered both stock and reputational losses and its image as a “green” company publicly terminated following its removal from the NASDAQ OMX CRD Global Sustainability 50 Index. BP need not suffer to this extent; companies in the oil industry have dealt with oil spills of various sizes in the past. The differentiating factor may not be the crisis itself, but how the company responds.
Lessons in crisis communications:*
Always have a plan for the worst possible scenario (this can be relatively easy to predict from general industry risks)
Take responsibility for what occurs (finger pointing generally hurts reputation and credibility, while accountability is infectious)
Be honest, open, transparent and accessible
Make sure that any information you put out to the public is accurate
Don’t make promises you can’t keep: set realistic expectations for what the company will do to resolve the issue
Avoid “lawyering up” too much (i.e. withholding information, etc., because of a concern for future liability)—this can degrade the credibility of a company that is claiming to do everything in its power to help those affected
Consider bringing in a distinguished outside expert who was not part of the original problem
Communicate the steps the company has taken that show action and progress
Seek ways to emotionally connect with the public on the issue
Take action to switch from a defensive to an offensive position; be a proactive player in the solution as opposed to a reactive contributor to the problem
The benefits of being accountable and transparent outweigh the costs for companies in a crisis situation. Oftentimes, situations like the one BP has found itself in are not just battles over a singular mistake; they are fights for the future viability of the company.
Although BP has spent over $1.25 billion responding to the spill since April 20th, and estimates for the total cost range from $3 billion to $40 billion, it seems as though the company has decided that its reputation is worth that much and more.
Statement from the most senior decision-maker of the organization about relevance of sustainability to the organization and the organization’s strategy for addressing sustainability
Name of the organization
Primary brands, products, and services
Location of organization’s headquarters
Number of countries where the organization operates, and names of countries with significant operations or that are specifically relevant to the sustainability topics covered in the report
Nature of ownership and legal form
Scale of the reporting organization
Total workforce by employment type, employment contract, and region, broken down by gender
Percentage of total employees covered by collective bargaining agreements
Description of the organization’s supply chain
Significant changes during the reporting period regarding organization's size, structure, ownership, or supply chain
Whether and how the precautionary approach or principle is addressed by the organization
Externally developed economic, environmental, and social charters, principles, or other initiatives to which the organization subscribes or endorses
Memberships in associations and/or national/international advocacy organizations
Entities included in the organization consolidated financial and nonfinancial reports
Process for defining report content
Material aspects identified in the process for defining report content
For each material aspect, the aspect boundary within the organization
For each material aspect, the aspect boundary outside the organization
Explanation of the effect of and reasons for any restatements of information provided in earlier reports
Significant changes from previous reporting periods in the scope and aspect boundaries
List of stakeholder groups engaged by the organization
The basis for identification and selection of stakeholders with whom to engage
The organization’s approach to stakeholder engagement, including frequency of engagement by type and by stakeholder group, and an indication of whether any of the engagement was undertaken specifically as part of the report preparation process
Key topics and concerns that have been raised through stakeholder engagement, and how the organization has responded to those key topics and concerns, including through its reporting. Report the stakeholder groups that raised each of the key topics and concerns
Date of most recent previous report
Contact point for questions regarding the report or its contents
‘In accordance’ option and GRI Content Index
Policy and current practice with regard to seeking external assurance for the report
Governance structure of organization, including committees of the highest governance body
The organization’s values, principles, standards, and norms of behavior such as codes of conduct and codes of ethics
Disclosure on Management Approach for Aspect
Coverage of the organization’s defined benefit plan obligations.
Financial assistance received from government.
Significant indirect economic impacts, including the extent of impacts.
Total number and rates of new employee hires and employee turnover by age group, gender and region.
Average hours of training per year per employee, by gender and by employee category.
Percentage of employees receiving regular performance and career development reviews, by gender and by employee category.