Communications at its best serves as a company’s conscious, ensuring that the decisions and actions of the company align with the words being shared with the outside world.
At no time does this become more important than during a crisis.
Before going further, we should acknowledge the money factor. In the quest to serve shareholders, companies are striving to walk that fine line during a crisis of limiting liabilities while at the same time showing transparency for the given situation.
When I read the first BP letter I came away impressed with the straight-forward language and posted on the common-sense approach. BP seemed determined to show compassion with the price tag being a secondary factor:
Since the tragic accident on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig first occurred, we have been committed to doing everything possible to stop the flow of oil at the seabed, collect the oil on the surface and keep it away from the shore. BP has taken full responsibility for dealing with the spill.
As I’ve watched the debacle unravel and read more about BP, my view has changed. Communications, even flawless communications, accomplishes nothing in a crisis if the company’s behavior doesn’t align with the communications.
This hit home when the second BP letter in ad form arrived last week with the headline: “We Will Make This Right.”
Again, the vehicle makes use of the same straight-forward language:
BP has taken full responsibility for cleaning up the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Stopping the leak will be a major step, but only a start. We know that our responsibility goes much further.
The ad goes on to say all the right things but the actions don’t support the words.
People don’t trust the words.
After six weeks of the “top kill” operation – might have found a better phrase, but I digress – the company conceded failure and has moved on to Plan B.
Furthermore, BP estimated the daily spill at 5,000 barrels when it later turned out to be 12,000 – 19,000 barrels polluting the waters each day.
It makes for a situation in which BP has zero credibility.
The rebuilding of BP’s credibility and ultimately its reputation can only start through the right actions.
Which brings us back to the point that a company’s actions must align with the communications during a crisis in order to be credible.
Hopefully, the senior communication professionals at BP have a seat at the table to do just this.
Otherwise, they have no chance to do their jobs.