Any practitioner of crisis communications knows that some of their best work will never be seen or heard. In the world of PR, disproportionate credit is given for the big media hit or the well-executed television appearance. It’s harder to quantify the bad news cycle that never was or the controversy that seemingly disappeared over a few days – and often, that’s the harder media tactic to execute.
Take for instance the poster child for bad corporate and PR behavior – BP. We’re all aware of BP’s string of PR missteps since the Gulf oil spill happened. Yet despite these blunders, BP actually was way ahead of the curve on the latest (and unfortunate) news from the Gulf.
BP is to be credited for not exploiting what could only be described as a golden egg by the US government, when the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a startling report that got everyone’s attention. NOAA and EPA Administrator Carol Browner claimed that roughly 75% of the spilt oil had “disappeared.” Browner even took to Good Morning America to crow about “Mother Nature” taking care of the oil and said it was open season for fishermen.
Imagine the heated discussions within BP crisis response headquarters. There must have been fierce debate over how to exploit this stunning news. An aggressive PR plan would have been to build the report into full-page ads in major US newspapers as well as the round-the-clock commercials BP is running on its response.
But that did not happen. In fact, it looks like the sum total of BP’s hyping of that report is three Tweets on its official Twitter feed:
• NOAA Administrator states, there is no evidence of #oil on the Gulf seafloor http://ow.ly/2lHa1 11:00 PM Aug 5th via HootSuite
• 50% of oil released is completely gone from the system. -Lubchenco #oilspill August 4, 2010 1:33:26 PM EDT via web
• Vast majority of the oil has evaporated, burned, skimmed, or dispersed. -Lubchenco 2:28 PM Aug 4th via web
Why is this important? Because the NOAA report’s findings were so dramatic that they drew immediate scrutiny. Now, almost three weeks later, scientists not involved with the report claim the exact opposite is true – that about 75-80% of the oil still exists, much of it in massive underwater plumes. By not exploiting NOAA’s too-good-to-be-true report and staying out of the fray, BP let the feds take the ensuing heat.
This is just one example of how BP’s crisis communications plan is becoming effective. Evidence? A recent AP poll showed 33% of Americans approve of BP’s handling of the cleanup (up from 15% a few weeks ago).
Sometimes the best decisions are ones that keep you out of the news cycle and above the fray.