NO-ONE wants to see the ecological disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. But it was serendipitous that BP’s catastrophe should hit the headlines in the same week that Bluewood was undertaking a crisis communications workshop run annually for one of the world’s biggest energy companies.
Every day we could point to the struggle to regain control, the repeated coverage of existing leaks, the failed attempts to stem the damaging outflows. And that’s without mentioning the oil itself; it seemed every new day brought some new ‘mis-speak’, such as the comment that it’s a lot of oil, yes, but it’s tiny compared with the ocean. Even Barack Obama commented on the unseemly struggle for the protagonists to ‘fall over themselves’ to point the finger of blame.
Crisis puts the communications of any company at breaking point. The press is waiting for the unguarded, the out-of-context, the unfortunate phrasing. During our work with the energy client we ran old footage of Gerald Corbett, ‘too tired’ to go on Newsnight and slated not just as a result of his handling of the situation, but his handling of the comms. And we showed some positive clips too – Simon Laxton from Thomas Cook doing the right thing following the coach crash in South Africa a decade ago.
It was fantastic to watch the delegates from the energy firm ‘getting it’. “At this stage, it’s really about full disclosure, isn’t it?” said one. “This is my interview, and I’m going to make sure I get across the important points and refuse to be drawn on speculation,” said another. “I can see now why ‘no comment’ is really not an option,” added a third, having seen what this statement looks like on a filmed doorstep interview. They got it – and it’s unlikely they’ll ever be too tired, or consider their problems a drop in the ocean, should the worst ever occur.
Written by Matt Guarente – Bluewood Training – May 2010