Why I Feel Bad for BP

I feel bad for BP.

There, I said it. Not because they’re getting a bad rap with the public or because the company’s stock value has hit a 14-year low. No, it’s none of those things. I’m sympathetic for BP because they’re still getting bad advice from their communications team. Whomever dreamt up the strategy that began with a ‘run for the hills’ media relations plan, detoured to a $50 million ad campaign and has now culminated in a disastrous social media initiative should be providing their services pro bono. After all, this is a person – or team – who sent BP’s C.O.O. into an Associated Press interview to make the case that the oil spill would be reduced  to a trickle by next Monday or Tuesday, only to have him backtrack on his statement hours later. Isn’t that refreshing? I’ve heard and read a lot about the need for BP to stop talking and start demonstrating meaningful action, as if the company’s multiple attempts to quell the leak have been nothing more than symbolic gestures intended to achieve some other goal. I don’t subscribe to this train of thought. Fact is, BP has every incentive to put an end to this underwater catastrophe, thereby opening the door to a reparation process that will last years or even decades. But what if that process began now?

Imagine if we awoke tomorrow to learn that BP was shelving its ad campaign in favor of an all-out effort to mend the damage done in communities along the Gulf Coast and help reduce our collective dependency on petroleum? I’m thinking big: work training programs for newly-unemployed fishermen and shrimp boat captains (how’s that for an ironic twist on teaching a man how to fish?); scholarship funds for their children to help ensure they can make a living without relying on the cleanliness of the Gulf; hybrid cars for every family whose income has dried up; solar panels atop schools and libraries along the Gulf and beyond; creation of a privately-owned wildlife refuge where rescued animals can live oil free and begin repopulating their colonies; endowed professorships and grant programs for researchers studying alternative energy solutions and off-shore drilling risk management; the list goes on.

I believe BP when it says it’s doing everything within its power to halt the leak. But it seems that “everything within its power” is simply not powerful enough. It’s time for BP to begin the healing process by paralleling its underwater efforts with real-world actions. Then and only then will the public take note. How’s that for pro bono advice?

by Aaron Gordon, Vice President – Schwartz Media Strategies