When the New York Times runs an article implying the end is near for BP, then you know the end is indeed possibly near. Interesting that one event like an oil spill can do a global behemoth in, even one like BP with a miserable track record on safety (or lack thereof).
Normally, crisis public relations aim to see a client through to resolution of the problem in front of them. A smart crisis management plan usually incorporates a grid of escalating threats and their consequences. For example, a negative op-ed about the client might be considered a low-level threat, and the PR response would be proportionate, such as a rebuttal op-ed. Or, a product recall may be a high-level threat, with the appropriate response being customer engagement and recall information presented on several online platforms.
But, if like BP your company faces a death knell, how should you plan your public relations response? The scenario is real, and mega companies do implode – think Enron, Arthur Anderson, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers. What usually follows is a string of scorched earth litigation and restructuring, much like political sausage making that no one likes to see.
If the end is near for your company, that doesn’t mean you can shirk on stakeholder communication. Here are some reasons why:
• Everyone loves a comeback, so your crisis PR plan should include steps on making yourself accessible post-fallout.
• Reporters, historians, academia and others will continue to write and report about your company – so make sure that your side of the story gets a word in edge-wise. Explain the domino effect from your own view, so people don’t put words in your mouth.
• If you are ever able to breathe life into the company again, you will need to generate a positive narrative from where you left off, and this requires keeping communications fluid. Staying engaged with your stakeholders after the company dissolves will allow a better transition.
• As silly as it sounds, closure is just as important in the business world as it is in our personal lives. Make sure the last word is yours and yours alone. This is the first and perhaps most important step to moving on in the wake.
As of now, BP is playing defense for its short-term response, and has given some hint as to paying claims in the future. But if there’s no afterlife for BP, then it should start planning for the real worst case scenario, a total corporate meltdown.