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Crisis Communications – What Is Success?

Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to RMPR’s newest addition, Jim Lukaszewski, speak with several local leaders about trends in the communications industry. The 90 minute discussion spanned topics from crisis communications, getting the attention and ear of the C-suite, media attention vs. business results, and recent world events, including the political climate in Egypt. Among the highlights from the candid conversation, comments on the BP oil spill stood out.

While communication professionals and ordinary citizens were sharply critical during the aftermath of the spill, BP actually did many things right and in some ways set the bar high for any future post-crisis actions. The company remained engaged in conversations with the government and public about the severity of the spill, progress in stopping the oil flow, and assessing damage of the local environment. It listened to the concerns of fishermen and others doing business in the Gulf Coast region. It set up a $20 billion fund to assist with damages from the spill.

Further discussion focused on “winning” vs. “losing” after a crisis – in other words, what does it look like in the aftermath of a crisis? In BP’s case, due media coverage was given to the assistance fund, the ongoing presence of the company in Gulf communities and the company’s measurements of the oil flow and volume. But much of this was lost on the blogging, tweeting, and commenting critics in other parts of the country and world, who honed in on ill-timed/un-thoughtful comments by a CEO who “wanted his life back.” Media coverage of the “right” messages is just a small drop in the bucket. In today’s environment of real-time social media coverage by anyone with a mobile device, is it possible to stay on message, or even just address the core issues of a crisis? Or is reputation forevermore dependent on what interested – if not well-informed – spectators decide are the issues?