BP: Where PR Fears to Tread

As BP’s reputation slips further down the plughole, its PR strategy is beginning to look like an envelope without an address on it. The comms department believe big emotions come from big statistics. Lazy damage limitation tactics are fuelling the storm – they should be pouring oil on troubled waters metaphorically rather than allowing it to happen all too literally and panicking about how to respond.

And that’s the essence of it; the battalions of BP’s PR flaks are doomed because of the failure to fix Ground Zero. There’s a very thin line between success and failure in PR. For every day that the toxic spew gushes from the wound in the pipeline, the PR effort’s sheer futility becomes ever more obvious. If the engineers could only plug the leak, we would be viewing a completely different outcome.

For anyone in the game, be assured that PR spin and spew is not a fail-safe or a cure-all. I might be stating the obvious, but, let’s face it, our craft can only go so far. PR can be a little more effective than a finger in the dam, but we are not magicians. Distraction has a finite life cycle in this fast, interconnected universe.

Speed of reaction needs to be matched by the effectiveness of the physical fix. In BP’s case there is now nowhere to hide – it’s just a steeper and steeper slide for the brand.

Hiring Ann Womack Kolton, Dick Cheney’s former suppress agent, is the latest attempt to hold the line. It will have the same effect as BP’s hapless efforts to plug the leak with old golf balls and tyres, however – bugger all!

The moral of this sad tale is: don’t believe too deeply in the power of PR.