There are many lessons for team BP and others from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. From a communications perspective, five stand out. They have a common theme: defining the situation, so it is not defined by others. To be successful requires a knitting together of a compelling narrative and influential alliance of advocates.
When disaster strikes, it is not just a test for crisis management. It is an opportunity for leadership. This is the first lesson that needs to be learned. In other words, you define corporate values and reputation by making a virtue of the situation.
Lesson two, taking responsibility. Legal complexities always abound, but it is critical to the reputation of the company that they are seen to be taking responsibility. Any attempt to distance a business from ‘the scene of the crime’ as a tactic rarely works. It is usually counterproductive, as the story becomes about what the company is not taking responsibility for.
In such emergencies, think local, as it is the local market and media that will define success. This is lesson three. And in this case it stretched from the local fishing community to the White House. President Obama was quick to spot the need to be seen to be involved and visible, thus learning the lessons from the failings of the Bush White House’s response or lack thereof to the New Orleans disaster. Hayward and co were notable for their absence, leaving the 24 hour news channels to carry local reaction minus BP.