As PR crises go, it doesn't get any bigger
Published 21/04/2011 | 05:00
THIS time last year, the Macondo oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and a small, non-descript oil well off the Florida coast became the focus of world attention for the summer -- ultimately costing BP chief executive Tony Hayward his job.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster was both an environmental catastrophe and a public-relations nightmare. The company's share price fell by more than half and it still hasn't returned to its pre-crisis high.
It was in this environment that Neil Chapman was trying to run a coherent PR campaign for BP.
Speaking at this year's Public Relations Institute annual conference, Mr Chapman, a BP veteran of 17 years, took delegates deep inside the communications challenges of what he described as a "corporate, environmental and human crisis".
Mr Chapman, who now runs his own consultancy in the UK, detailed a range of textbook responses to the crisis -- from acting as publisher of eight dedicated, issues-focused websites to the empowering and involvement in the communications effort of all involved in managing the disaster.
All those efforts, however, were overshadowed by a video feed, deep beneath the surface, of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and some catastrophic media own goals by the then chief executive Tony Hayward.
The company was not helped by various gaffes by Mr Hayward. His "I want my life back" comment has entered into the folklore of PR disasters, while company chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg was set upon by the American public when he proclaimed that BP cared about the "small people".
Mr Chapman stressed the importance of having key senior people ready to represent the organisation in a time of crisis.
He said that while Mr Hayward was an excellent motivator, strategist and manager, he ultimately lost his job as a result of comments that appeared to be dismissive of the scale of the disaster.
According to the former BP man, 79pc of all coverage and commentary relating to Deepwater Horizon was online, including some fabricated stories which went global before an opportunity arose to demonstrate the flimsiness of their foundations.
Winston Churchill's old adage of the lie being half-way around the world before the truth has got its boots on is truer now than at any stage in history.
Crisis management and dealing with the unexpected were the themes of the conference this year.
It also featured a round-table discussion on how Ireland can salvage its reputation abroad after all the disasters that have befallen the country.
For UCD historian Diarmaid Ferriter, it is vital for Ireland first to re-establish a sense of its "self-worth", while Joanne Richardson of the American Chamber of Commerce called for a sustained PR campaign overseas to help Ireland's recovery.
Golden chance to win €30,000
GOLDEN Pages has begun a search for an engaged couple who will have the chance to win a wedding worth €30,000.
Couples hoping to get married this year can enter the interactive competition on goldenpages.ie by creating a profile on the site, which is linked to Facebook and Twitter.
The three couples who have accumulated the most votes will go through to the grand final, where one will be crowned the winner.
The chosen couple will receive a 'gold wedding' worth €30,000 from Golden Pages on two conditions: they must get married on Saturday, September 10, this year and they must accept a second "mystery condition", which will be revealed once the winners have been announced.
The campaign is planned to "highlight and demonstrate the many resources and advantages of goldenpages.ie", says the company.
CREATIVE Inc has worked with The National Library of Ireland to create a new brand identity "that would increase awareness and visibility" of the library and which it is hoped will work across all of their marketing material, both online and offline.
Creative's Niall Corcoran said the rebranding held challenges unique to older, established brands.
"The important thing in a project such as this is that you are trying to bring the National Library to a new audience, without alienating the demographic that would already be users of the library."
He added: "That was a challenge and I think we achieved that."