How a company handles a crisis is the ultimate test of its character.
Does it accept responsibility for mistakes or bad decisions, work to make amends and to improve its practices moving forward?
Or does it resort to what I call Darth Vader PR, launching a public relations offensive to spin the public, seeking to deflect legitimate criticism?
If you fail this crisis communications test, as BP has recently, it usually indicates underlying character problems in your organization. It demonstrates that you are out of touch with the momentous shift of social norms towards a more sustainable economic and environmental future.
The New York Times reported recently that BP CEO Tony Hayward is in the crosshairs for his repeated gaffes and BP’s alleged cover-ups:
“Instead of reassuring the public, critics say, Mr. Hayward has turned into a day-after-day reminder of BP’s public relations missteps in responding to the crisis…
Mr. Hayward and the company have repeatedly played down the size of the spill, the company’s own role in the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, and the environmental damage that has occurred. At the same time, they have projected a tone of unrelenting optimism despite repeated failures to plug the well.”
There’s a word for that ‘unrelenting optimism’ in the face of total failure to get the job done – incompetence. BP not only can’t plug the blowout, the company can’t even express genuine concern about the impact of its growing mess. There’s a word for that too – insincerity.