Images of the British Petroleum oil spill disaster are still around. When the accident occurred, BP was the third-largest energy company in the world. Too big to fail? Hardly, as apparently BP didn't have a crisis plan ready for rollout.
CEO Tony Hayward became the face of the company. Unfortunately, his response to the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon's oil rig was just one blunder after another. The press and the public found his self-serving and inappropriate remarks confrontational, petty and arrogant. Ultimately Tony Hayward lost his job, but in the interim he did a significant amount of damage to BP's reputation and goodwill worldwide!
British Petroleum learned belatedly important communication lessons from the disaster, and so can any organization. It is important to respond to and recover quickly from a crisis. Here are three strategies for creating a better crisis action plan.
- Respond quickly. Try to gather all the facts within four hours. The faster you can respond to the public, the better; lots of misinformation will already be circulating. Today, with so many ways to broadcast via social media, the message spreads quickly. You need to get it right the first time, as there won't be an opportunity for a re-do of the facts, and you can't pull it back.
- Identify and articulate the message. Acknowledge upfront the tragedy and be empathetic. If you don’t appear sympathetic, you will be seen as callus—and that will likely damage your company's reputation for a long time.
- Undertake media training. Train the management team so that all could step in to be the designated spokesperson to address the media. Training should be in a studio setting with camera and lights. Other components should include how to identify the company message for the media, "how-to's" for working with the press; techniques for not being misquoted; and videotaped mock interviews with playback critiqued.
Maybe you can't prevent a crisis, but careful planning and training will help you manage the message and deal effectively with adversarial events.