Reputation management is the essence of any public relations, which is – funnily enough – all about managing relations with the public!
Managing you or your organisation’s reputation may not seem much of a priority when things are going well. However, when things are not going so well or your business experiences some kind of issue or crisis – then reputation management will take on a lot more importance and significance.
One only has to think back to the hammering BP took over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill to see how fast and how bad your reputation can suffer.
While, rightly or wrongly, BP has borne – and continues to bear – the brunt of the fallout and negativity for this environmental disaster.
Two other companies – Haliburton and Transocean – who were arguably just as responsible, but did not suffer the same public or reputational damage. So how come BP suffered so badly and the other companies escaped relatively unscathed?
That is the million – or in this case billion – dollar question. I suggest it was more a case of good luck than good management – and the fact the media focus was entirely on BP – that Haliburton and Transocean did not take the reputation battering the oil giant did.
Now I am sure that BP would have had in place a vast public relations team with communications and crisis management plans coming out if its ears, but it still got whacked. Why? I am sure BP has asked itself this and has done PR audit after audit to find the answer.
However, I reckon it all comes down to the simple answer of perception. Early on in the crisis – rightly or wrongly – BP was percieved by the public and media not to be doing enough. And in the battle of public relations – perception is reality.
Once people started believing that BP was not doing enough to stop the flow of oil or minimise the envionmental impact, that was when the BP’s reputation and name started to suffer.
The company was also not helped by the actions – or inactions – of its then chief executive Tony Christie. He quickly became the personification of BP and his much quoted: “I want my life back” quip, as well as pictures of him sailing his boat on the pristine waters of the Isle of White while oil continued to pour into the Gulf only caused more damage.
Christie was portrayed in the media as a modern day Nero. But instead of playing the fiddle while Rome burnt, he was off sailing with his buddies while sludge and oil was runing livelihoods in Louisiana. Any slither of hope for restoring BP’s reputation with the US public was gone.
The simple lesson for managing reputation out the BP crisis – or any other – is that you or your organisation’s reputation is won or lost in the hearts and minds of the public. If you lose this early on – then you are always gong to struggle.
However, if you are shown or perceived to be taking action, doing all you can to remedy the situtation and front fotting things, then you are less likely to see your reputation suffer as much.