Open Letter to BP: Hire Me as New Chief PR Guy

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka The PRDude

A recent story from the The Telegraph, one of the UK’s finest and most respected newspapers, prompted this post.  The piece, which was published September 22, pointed out that oil giant BP has an opening in its public relations department.

As loyal followers of this blog know, I’m seeking that next great position in public relations.

The job at BP is for “a new head of global communications, according to the Telegraph.  The reason: BP wants “to restore its tarnished reputation after the massive oil spill from its Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.”  You remember that disaster, don’t you?

If not, here’s an image the Telegraph ran with the online post:

Protestors in the Gulf made their viewpoints known during the months following the massive oil spill at the BP Deepwater Horizon rig.

So, I’m officially throwing my proverbial hat into the ring for this tremendous opportunity.  To the HR folks at BP, here are my qualifications.

1. Experience: I have 20 years of experience in the public relations arena.  Frankly, none of it is in the oil or energy business.  But that shouldn’t matter, because the public relations team in place during the Gulf spill apparently didn’t have much experience in the oil business either; otherwise, they would have been better prepared to communicate during the ensuing crisis.

2. Card-Carrying Member: No kidding: I’ve held a BP (before that Amoco) credit card and been a member of their motor club since 1981. That has to count for something, right?

3. No Language Barrier: This job is headquartered in London, where the official language is English. I’ve spoken and written in English all my life.  There would be a very sooth transition, however, I’m keeping our home in Chicago, just in case.

4. Familiar With Key Issues: Within days following the tragic, fatal explosion that caused the spill off the Louisiana coast, the PRDude began blogging about the subject — from a public relations perspective, of course — back in May with his first of three posts.

5. I’ve Got Credibility — And I Can Prove It: Future PR textbooks will point out that BP mishandled the Gulf Oil spill crisis in a monumental way.  To take one perspective, whoever BP put in front of the media to communicate their story lacked credibility.  Well, I have it.  In fact, I’m one of 5,000 public relations professionals from around the world who hold the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential, and I serve on the Universal Accreditation Board, which grants and administers the APR.  We APRs are bound to practice with high ethical standards, which include transparency, protecting the free flow of communications and avoiding conflicts of interest.  We have to be credible!

The Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential is held by just 5,000 professionals worldwide.

The Telegraph piece did not offer much more information on the job search, except that a man named Bob Dudley, who is slated to replace disgraced CEO Tony Hayward, will be involved.  Anyone know Mr. Dudley?

I visited the BP online career page, but the job is not posted there.   But, if Mr. Dudley or anyone in the HR department at BP is interested in learning more about me, they can visit my website.

BP Drills Their Way to an Oily Mess, Part III

History is riddled with dumb comments by famous — and infamous — people.  Sometimes the comments were cruel and mean-spirited (at least as recorded by historians), and perhaps sometimes they were taken out of context.

We’ll never know for sure if this seemingly selfish quote was, indeed, uttered by Marie Antoinette when she learned the starving French wanted bread: “Let them eat cake.”  Historical novelist Catherine Delors offers a contrary view and, well, some historical insight.

The fatal explosion April 20 that led to the environmental quagmire in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in a lot of comments we’ll forever relate to BP’s engineering and communications response to this tragedy.   A lot of these statements are billed as “PR gaffes,” but I’ll share some other thoughts soon.

Here’s a quick run down of some of the most “quoted” statements resulting from the spill:

1.  BP CEO Tony Hayward’s, “I want my life back” casual, yet utterly stupid, comment when offering thoughts to a reporter on the devastation caused to by the spill to people and the environment.  Not much room to defend Mr. Hayward here.  Yes, you were tired and frustrated; but your comment was a verbal slap in the face.

2. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s, “We care about the small people” remark at a news conference following a meeting with President Obama.  This seemingly calloused comment was made by a man of Swedish descent, speaking a second language. He later apologized in a statement, more than likely written by a member of the crisis communications team.

3. President Obama’s “whose ass to kick” comment, spoken in an interview to NBC and first reported on the “Today Show.” This statement was made before the President even spoke face-to-face with any BP officials.  Yes, the President had a right to be angry because BP apparently did not have any idea how to stop the leak, or even know how much oil was gushing from the mile-deep well.  But did he have to resort to what amounts to street language?

4. Texas Rep. Joe Barton’s statement in the House during the testimony by Hayward that the proposed BP Gulf relief fund amounted to a “$20 billion shakedown.” To his credit, the Congressman said he was offering his own opinion, and he later apologized — due to pressure from those higher up in the GOP.   Yet making such a remark given the constant stream of bad news simply made no sense.

Okay, time for my thoughts.

Yes, the statements noted above, as well as others, probably should not have been spoken.  Period.  This is especially true in all of these cases because the person who spoke them knew he was being interviewed on camera.  They knew they had time to prepare remarks that wouldn’t serve as lightening rods for the ongoing mess in the Gulf.  The men who made these comments either didn’t think through the full ramifications of their statements.

Throughout this entire Gulf spill tragedy, the media keeps bringing up the public relations profession and relating it to the reason there’s oil covered pelicans, dead fish, crude-covered beaches and shattered livelihoods.  Public relations didn’t cause this problem, and public relations alone can’t solve it. The problem was caused by faulty drilling procedures; the resulting clean up efforts are engineering issues; the program to process claims is a corporate financial issue.

Public relations professionals did not make the dumb statements above or set the policies on how to handle the clean up of the Gulf.  Why keep blasting public relations?

BP Drills Their Way to an Oily Mess, Part II

Decades from now, when the catastrophic deep water oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is analyzed from a public relations perspective, this will sum up BP’s response to the environmental calamity:

One of the most powerful private companies on earth really did not have a concerted plan in place to communicate its response to what may be the most far-reaching environmental disaster of our time.

In all fairness to BP’s communications team, news changes on this subject seemingly by the day.   In the past seven days:  The “top kill” drilling method failed;  efforts continue to try to control and contain the oil and clean up the shore and marsh lands;  the lower marine rise package (LMRP) containment system device was enhanced;  local fisherman contracted to help with the containment are getting sick; and, the U.S. Justice Department has launched  civil and criminal investigations into what led to the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 and created the spill.

To their credit, the BP web site established in the days following the accident has been updated more regularly and a new video delivered by a senior VP offers an easy-to-comprehend graphic depiction of work underway to stop the leak.

BP Vice President Kent Wells.

A full-page ad in today’s Chicago Tribune is marked by a single image of workers stretching an oil containment boom and the headline:  “We Will Make This Right.”  BP officials, including CEO Tony Hayward appear on camera and continue to offer explanation and hope for a solution.   (Mr. Hayward did apologize for his insensitive “I want my life back” quote.)

What we’re witnessing is an unprecedented crisis situation exacerbated by the fact that drilling for oil a mile below the sea is  engineering operation that’s relatively new.  How could BP’s communication’s team really prepare to manage a crisis for a procedure that’s still somewhat untested?

A few aspects of this disaster are clear cut:

  • BP was late in establishing a web site and providing transparency.
  • BP was late in providing a video feed of the ruptured well.
  • BP’s CEO clearly needs some media training — and fast.
  • BP needs to do a better job communicating what they’re doing to help those impacted by this disaster — now and in the future.

A few more things to consider:  The images we have now show seas tainted by brown oil, dead pelicans washed up on beaches and  Louisiana coastal marshes covered in muck. What will BP do to change that, and how will any efforts be communicated?  And, the accident that caused the leak is unprecedented; but should the Justice Department initiate legal action, BP will have to defend itself in U.S. courts of law.  There’s a lot of precedent there.

BP Drills Their Way to An Oily PR Mess

From a classic public relations perspective, the seemingly unstoppable oil flow spill in the Gulf of Mexico will cause damage to the reputation of energy giant BP for an undetermined about of time.   The explosion on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig that caused the environmental, economic and political calamity of the first order happened on April 20.

The April accident resulted in an “immediate crisis,” or one that happens without any warning.  Now more than a month later, BP has  on its hands a “sustained crisis” — one with no immediate end in sight.

On this glorious Sunday in Chicago, I reviewed a full-page BP ad in the Chicago Tribune entitled: “Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response.  What we’re doing. How to get more information.”   Kudos to BP for stating, “BP has taken full responsibility for dealing with the spill,” and for providing straightforward information on efforts underway to stop the flow.  There’s no question it’s BP’s problem and the company should accept responsibility.

The ad offers more information through special websites, like this one from BP and another site from the overall response team, and phone numbers to call to report environmental problems or make claims.  As a message, the ad is expertly crafted.   The copy is direct — this is a catastrophe that’s unprecedented, and we’re doing all that’s possible — and free of jargon.   From a design perspective, it’s all business: just a headline, subheads and two rows of copy.  The only graphic is the BP logo at top right.

The BP website — at least on the surface — does an equally effective job of communicating the company’s efforts to contain this oil spill; and, please, there’s no pun intended regarding this offshore environmental disaster.  This site is clean and easy to navigate.  It features some dramatic images, including this one on the home page.

Image on BP Gulf of Mexico Response Page, May 23, 2010.

Scroll down, and visitors can read news announcements posted from May 5 through May 21.   And, BP BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward provides a somewhat convincing video message shot from a port in Louisiana.

Here’s where I have some concerns about how BP’s public relations team is handling this crisis.  Surely BP had a crisis plan in place to address a disaster like this one — an offshore rig it leased causing an uncontrolled oil spill — or another of this magnitude.  Why was the first news announcement post dated May 5 and not April 22?  I would imaging they could have set up a dedicated web site withing a day or two of the April 20 accident.  Why did BP post just 15 news announcements, 10 with the unimaginative headline, “Update on Gulf of Mexico Oil Response” along with the publication date.

In today’s never-ending media environment, it’s hard to imaging that BP could not provide more up-to-date  information and transparency.   Hayword’s video message was shot May 13 — 10 days ago.  He’s the face of BP; he’s the guy in the trenches on site.   Shouldn’t Hayword offer more frequent responses?  I think so.

But the latest posted announcement is especially disturbing.  Dated May 21, the announcement reiterates BP’s commitment to transparency.   It reads in part:  “BP has begun the process of collecting and uploading relevant data to its own website www.BP.com and has committed to work with the US Coast Guard and the EPA with respect to uploading of materials on a rolling basis onto this website.”

Given its resources, why is it taking BP so long to share this relevant data?