I have read recently – how could I not – how horribly BP has handled the Gulf oil spill, specifically, how poorly they communicated to the public about it. The initial response from BP was silence, then as outrage raged, it was denial and I am not even sure where they are now, because like many people I am so disgusted by them, that it doesn’t even matter what they say.
But with all those negative feelings directed toward the company, I still find myself defending their PR department. Here’s why:
• PR people make recommendations, but are rarely the final decision makers of what to say when, where and to whom. REALITY CHECK: Shocking, I know, but PR is not in charge!
• PR people are often (and incorrectly, I might add) over-ruled by lawyers. We show up at the meeting with a zillion suggestions on what to say and are told that no on is talking. REALITY CHECK: CEOs listen to lawyers more than they listen to PR people.
• PR people do not always have all the answers, so their lack of information may just be that; not an elaborate scheme to ruin the world. REALITY CHECK: Often, when a crisis hits, the PR people are just as surprised as everyone else.
• PR people are the messengers. REALITY CHECK: Many organizations still make decisions behind closed doors, then send the PR guy out to explain it.
Hate the message, but don’t hate the messenger.
Recently, AdAge covered the Twitter sensation @BPGlobalPR, the fake BP Oil public relations department account that mocks the company and the way it has handled the oil spill. I love following it because the anonymous writers have an endless supply of witty, morbid jokes that make any real public relations professional both wince and crack up. The problem is that the unknown editor reveals in his AdAge interview that “most people in PR are liars.” He blames the communications department for the oil spill. (How come no one calls out the engineers?) I have posted the entire Q & A below so you do not have to register to read it, as well as my posted comments; which you will notice include my true identity, because if you are going to throw stones, you need to grow up and not hide behind an invisibility cloak.
As I mentioned in my comments to the post below, hate the company that spilled the oil and hold responsible the individuals that are to blame, but don’t verbally assault an entire profession in the process. That would be like me saying everyone who creates a fake Twitter account because they really want to be a writer is really hiding behind the anonymity of the web because they are afraid to be held accountable for what they say.
Ten Questions With @BPGlobalPR [AdAge]
Leroy Stick has a beef not just with BP, but with the PR industry as well. After posting a manifesto explaining his assumed identity and his purpose, we reached out to the man claiming to be in charge of the Twitter sensation @BPGlobalPR. He took some time to answer our questions.
He’s the “editor in chief” of a Twitter feed that has hundreds of jokes written for it, including some from his dad. He’s not a hardcore environmentalist and thinks BP should hire a professor to replace its PR department. Oh, and BP and Twitter haven’t tried to stop him. Not that he plans on stopping any time soon.
1. We enjoyed your story about the origin of the alias Leroy Stick, but now, can you give us your real name?
2. Let’s get acquainted. Generally, where do you live and work? Are you in the marketing/PR industry?
I’ve lived all over the United States. I do not work in marketing/PR. I would like to write for a living.
3. Why did you start @BPGlobalPR? Are you an environmentalist, or were you hijacking the brand to prove a point?
I started @BPGlobalPR because I was frustrated and wanted to make jokes. Since then, I’ve basically adapted as it’s grown. I had no plans to sell shirts or go to New Orleans when I started this, but as the Twitter took off, both seemed like logical and productive moves. One thing I didn’t really touch on in the press release is that this has been a collaborative effort. I have a group of hilarious writers pitching me hundreds of jokes a week. I still write a lot of them, but I’m also an editor in chief/gatekeeper. I don’t think the @BPGlobalPR would have such a wide reach if I were doing all of this on my own. My dad actually wrote the joke about tuna coming pre-packaged in oil which made me very happy.
Although I care about the environment, I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore environmentalist. I started this account because I think most people in PR are liars and most people in the media don’t have the balls to call them out on it. There’s a system set up where companies make press releases and the media regurgitates them. Personally, I’d love it if more journalists delved into why companies say what they say rather than simply presenting what they say. This system is useless and harmful in my opinion.
4. What do you want to say to those people out there suggesting you actually work for BP, or should? (You addressed this in your blog post this week, but can you give us a version that is maybe a bit, ahem, cleaner.)
All I will say is that I have never and will never work for BP. I don’t even know how you could read what I post and think that is an option. My guess is the woman who wrote that is so immersed in the BS world of PR that she has lost perspective of the actual real world. This isn’t a PR nightmare, it’s an actual nightmare. That is why I called her a pickledick with her head up her ass.
5. You recommended BP firing their entire PR department. Who should they replace them with?
Nobody, they should halt the entire PR operation. They should hire people like Professor Rick Steiner to come up with real, responsible solutions to this real problem. Of course their publicity is going to be bad, but if they actually fix the problem the bad press could turn into good press.
6. Have you been approached by BP or Twitter about your feed?
7. At 115,000 followers and counting, how long are you planning to continue @BPGlobalPR?
I’ll keep doing this as long as BP has a PR department. There is not an end in sight.
8. What do you think about that contest to crowdsource a new BP logo?
I think it’s great. I encourage everybody to participate in this in any way that we can. I’ve asked for followers to contribute in any way they can. I’ve asked people to submit BP billboards (anything visual) and BP jingles (anything musical). I don’t mind serving as the hub for this stuff, but the more other people become involved, the more powerful this whole thing becomes. I’ve been very impressed with the submissions thus far. Here are my favorite examples of both: #bpbillboards and “BP Blues” by The Dirty Cajuns.
9. It seems like you’re taking this campaign offline — tell us about that banner you flew over New Orleans, for example, and what else can we expect?
I flew the banner over New Orleans because I wanted people to see that this is more than just some online idiot making jokes. I want people to see this on the streets in their everyday life. I have an idea to start a traveling show that would utilize local acts in every city we visit. I’m very excited about it and I’d love to pitch it to someone.
10. What would BP have to do to recover its reputation from this gigantic mess?
First, they should take responsibility for this mistake and make responsible decisions in their clean up effort. They could let journalists take pictures of the devastation they’ve caused.
Those are decisions BP could make right now. If they wanted to build a good reputation going forward, they could start by leading the way in developing and utilizing clean renewable energy.
They should stop worrying about their reputation and start worrying about their real problems. No one loves BP right now, so there is no use in convincing us.
This was slightly edited by AdAge.
I am a PR person and an environmentally concerned citizen that follows this Twitter account. After reading the Q & A it sounds a little like Mr. Anonymous is blaming the PR department for the worst environmental disaster in history.
BP’s communications people had little to do with the decisions made leading up to the disaster and based on how the company has responded, the communications team clearly was not relied upon by senior management to communicate on the issues from the beginning. I would guess that the PR dept is as much to blame for the spilled oil as the accounting dept. Yes, they work for the company, but no, it is not their job to prevent oil spills.
That being said, senior management failed (completely and utterly) in communicating on this issue because of fear and arrogance (fears from the legal department probably played a larger part than any one individual’s arrogance.) When a CEO, Board of Directors or senior management team refuses to follow the suggestions of an experienced PR person/team, you cannot blame the entire department. My guess is that there were many who risked their jobs to try to sway senior management to address the issue the instant it was discovered, but their pleas were silenced by those who care more about liability and stock prices.
Hate the company that spilled the oil and hold responsible the individuals that are to blame, but don’t verbally assault an entire profession in the process. That would be like me saying everyone who creates a fake Twitter account because they really want to be a writer is really hiding behind the anonymity of the web because they are afraid to be held accountable for what they say.