Channel Signal: What can companies learn from BP’s PR stumbles?

Every month Channel Signal shares some of its analysis of the major topics online important to the outdoor industry with SNEWS®. With the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the PR flacks at BP -- as well as any PR agency or corporate PR head -- would do well to notice that spin just doesn’t cut it anymore.
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Every month Channel Signal shares some of its analysis of the major topics online important to the outdoor industry with SNEWS®. The topics will range from promotions to marketing initiatives, to issues that have virally exploded into crises. What are the online conversations? What issues are bringing people into the conversation? And which ones are helping or hurting the growth of the outdoor industry? You’ll find out Channel Signal’s viewpoint here. 

In the fast-moving digital world, life unfolds before our eyes. Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and YouTube videos have changed the way companies need to think about PR, especially when handling disasters, in a once unimagined way. That is, with straight facts and no spin.

The last time we saw anything close to straight scoop from ad or PR flacks it was in a clip from one of our favorite movies, “Crazy People,” starring Dudley Moore. It is about an advertising guy who is committed to a mental institution by his company. He rounds up the folks inside the home and they begin to write advertising. Although it's a little fuzzy, here’s a clip of what they came up with.

The movie clip is fiction, but it’s refreshing in the presentation of advertising and copyrighting that speaks the dead-on truth. With the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the PR flacks at BP -- as well as any PR agency or corporate PR head -- would do well to notice that spin just doesn’t cut it anymore…with no finer example than the Twitter site BPGlobalPR (http://twitter.com/BPGlobalPR). No, it’s not run by a PR agency, but it has, in many ways, become the face of BP as it pokes fun of the public relations effort trotted out by the oil giant. It is funny and sad at the same time. Pay special attention to the hashtags.

Flew in a ton of seafood from Asia last night, ate almost half of it and slept for 12 straight hours. What a weekend! #bpcares

Try our cap operation at home! Hold a funnel over a firehose, sell what you catch and proclaim victory! #bpwins

Just hired an oil whisperer to teach us how to be dominant over the oil. Tsssssssst! #bptames

Just got 100k followers and our oil is headed to Florida. You know what this means... WE'RE GOING TO DISNEYWORLD! #bpcares

The worst part about this whole thing is all the damn jazz we hear going to and from our Four Seasons. #nomorehorns

BP has lost control of the message as the public is talking. The Twitter feed comments go on forever, and the site is picking up popularity -- it has over 137,000 followers and is growing daily. 

There is some hard truth here that Channel Signal believes is relevant to the outdoor industry.

Old-school public relations that focuses on finding any way possible to take a positive spin, contrary to all logic and evidence, is dying a fast death in the face of 24/7 news and information. People can see, read and hear about events like the BP Gulf oil spill on the Internet, in newspapers, on blogs, on the television…everywhere they turn. In fact, increasingly, people can watch events unfold in real-time in so many ways -- click here to see what a Google search turns up simply by entering “BP oil spill.”

Spin or disconnected PR commentary becomes more than disingenuous…it becomes laughable at the expense of the company.

To BP’s credit, its Twitter site -- BP_America (http://twitter.com/bp_america) -- has evolved from the softball PR vehicle it began as, full of little more than spin and sanitized commentary, to a somewhat more factual website providing readers with details of what BP is now doing to contain the situation.

A June 7 post stated:

Update: From 12am-12pm on 6/7, a total of 7,541 barrels of oil were collected & 15mil cubic ft of natural gas was flared. Operations stable.

The site has 12,000 followers and is growing, but still pitifully small compared to BPGlobal PR.

Despite some positive efforts, BP continues to stumble. Even as we wrote this column, the company continues denying the existence of large underwater plumes, despite very credible claims of the possibility by independent scientists. That’s an opening that the traditional press, particularly CNN, is going after and the blogs and Twitter feeds won’t be far behind. BPGlobalPR will probably carry the parody side of that issue…to a huge audience.

So what’s the bottom line or lesson to be learned in all this? In the age of always-on and always-available digital news and information, every company needs to understand that staying ahead of the wave of public news and information, in a crisis, may be impossible. Try to manage what people are reading and hearing, and we believe it won’t be long before the crisis manages you; however, if a company communicates the facts with no spin and reflecting a voice of reason, when those facts become available, then that company will lay down a platform of authenticity and believability -- a strong defense in the face of any who might decry it. Channel Signal believes that companies like BP, Toyota and Sea World would have been better served if each had engaged in the conversation, brought forth what was known and joined the community for a solution.

Channel Signal reminder: 84 percent of all brands launching new media programs do not measure ROI. --Mzinga and Babson Executive Education.

If you don’t measure, you can’t manage. Channel Signal is a social media management program offering search backed by analysis, a focus on the outdoor industry, a work flow process for easy execution, and reporting for effective measurement. Channel Signal is a soup-to-nuts, cost-effective package. For more information, email Paul Kirwin at paul@channelsignal.com or go to www.channelsignal.com.

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