Since April, we’ve been glued to news of the Gulf Coast oil spill. While some of the recent headlines are more hopeful, anxiety and frustration continue. Much of our ire is aimed squarely at British Petroleum (BP), the company that owns the well. The oil company is buried deep in a disaster that will be difficult to overcome. And what makes the situation worse, says Maribeth Kuzmeski, is how BP has chosen to connect with the media and the public during the crisis—resorting to misleading information, poor communication, and neglect while dodging responsibility for the spill.
“The way BP has handled the oil spill should serve as the standard to avoid for any company facing such a disaster in the future,” says Kuzmeski, author of “The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life.”
“Obviously, it would have been best for the company to have prevented the spill, but once the damage was done, the company could have mitigated some of the backlash it received,” she says. In a disaster, you expect public opinion to be at its worst immediately after the event, she points out. With the BP spill, backlash continued to build because the company didn’t communicate effectively.
It’s not only BP’s image that has suffered, she adds. Poor communication also has negatively affected the public’s view of the government. “People are looking to the president for solutions,” says Kuzmeski. When the well is permanently capped and the cleanup progresses, both BP and the president “could be left with irreparable damage in terms of public opinion,” she says.
Obviously, few companies are likely to be involved in disasters of the magnitude of the BP oil spill—few have the capacity to wreak such immense physical and environmental destruction. But bad things can happen to any company—a financial scandal, a contaminated or faulty product, a high-profile lawsuit. What’s essential is how your organization reacts and connects with consumers.
Here are eight suggestions from Kuzmeski on how to mend relationships and immediately start reconnecting with consumers and the public after a disaster: