how to control a crisis? fix your mistakes.

As oil continues to spill in the Gulf—some estimates say upwards of 100,000 barrels of oil a day…a day—BP’s is presumably working night and day to plug the leak. Concurrently, its public relations department is trying to get its arms around the crisis and salvage a severely damaged reputation. The truth is there are no easy answers anymore.

Good public relations does not spin attention, but rather control the flow of information. Kinda hard to do when a leak is drifting into its third month. And even harder when your CEO continues to get in his own way.

Removing Tony Hayward is only the beginning of repairing a tarnished reputation. Nothing matters until he’s moved aside. His gaffes have been embarrassing and costly. But worse than that is the view that BP hasn’t been in control of this crisis since the tanker explosion. Too much trial-and-error in plugging the leak and too many external forces (Kevin Costner, for example) have contributed to waning public trust. That’s BP’s fault.

This is a teachable moment for businesses when considering crisis communications. Nothing is more valuable than being in control of the crisis itself first, then the communications surrounding it. BP doesn’t seem to be in control of anything, therefore has lost the public trust. The moral of this story is simple: if the house is on fire, put out the fire. Don’t talk about it. Don’t hem and haw about solutions. Don’t wait for Kevin Costner. Put out the fire.

And that’s BP’s fatal flaw here. They didn’t put out the fire, figuratively speaking. BP looked completely flatfooted from the moment this crisis began and hasn’t caught up yet. As a result, the only significant PR move BP can make at this point is the only announcement everyone is waiting for: the leak is plugged. Until then, the American public doesn’t want to hear anything else.

Just fix it.

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