Lessons From the BP Oil Spill

Eight ways to reconnect after a disaster.

August 05, 2010
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1. Practice full transparency and full disclosure.

Until a company makes the decision to lay all the cards on the table after a disaster—to be upfront about its decision-making process and solutions—the organization is stuck behind a roadblock, says Kuzmeski. It’s impossible to begin rebuilding relationships if you aren’t being honest and upfront about what has happened. As BP found out, a lack of transparency attracts closer scrutiny and suspicion.

“At different stages of the event, it has been revealed that BP wasn’t being completely truthful about the spill,” says Kuzmeski. “At one point, it wasn’t allowing the media to get close to the site. And it turns out the company had a higher-quality video feed much earlier than previously revealed. By not being fully transparent and disclosing what they knew, BP officials affected their believability. As it stands today, a lot of people are wondering if they can trust any communication the company puts out there.

“By not being fully transparent, the U.S. government has also missed an opportunity to get the public fully on board with it,” she adds. “People want to hear that the government is doing its part. They want to hear what the government is working on, and what the government plans to do to help the citizens of the Gulf Coast.”

2. Get out in front of the disaster.

There’s no better example of this than Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol scare. After several people died from taking cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol in 1982, Johnson & Johnson immediately accepted responsibility. The company immediately recalled all Tylenol products (even though it likely was an isolated incident) and developed a tamper-proof seal. It began showing the public it was doing everything in its power to protect the public and fix the problem.

“When you get in front of a problem, it doesn’t make the problem go away, but at least it shows people you’re doing something about it and that you care,” says Kuzmeski. “Caring is a key point of connection. Your public has to see that you care enough about them to forget your own company’s well-being for the moment and instead do what you can to restore their safety and their well-being. So much of it is perception.

“Because BP was slow to accept responsibility and show it cares about what the spill is doing to the Gulf Coast, I don’t think people perceive that the company cares much about them,” she adds. “And that’s something that can be very difficult to overcome when you’re trying to rebuild relationships with a public that feels it has been wronged.”

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