This is not a woulda, shoulda, coulda letter. This is a gonna letter. As in whatcha gonna do, BP?
Your company, your brand, and your shareholders are deeply mired in a literal and figurative oil slick that is your responsibility. What you do now and for the foreseeable future will establish your place among some huge companies that have weathered disasters of their own–some surviving, some thriving, some not.
There’s no doubt in my mind that, as the largest corporation in Britain, you’re too big to fail. But over here in the Colonies, we’re feeling a little less charitable right now. And there’s no need to really describe how bad the oil spill is. It’s BAD and it has brought with it a tangible environmental immediacy that proponents of global warming can only dream about. The effects have been almost instant and, we’re being told daily, they could last for years.
This is your chance to stand behind your environmentally progressive, sunflower logo-marked, “Beyond Petroleum” brand image. Because if it’s real–if it’s a promise that you are willing to keep–you can do what few other companies have ever done and actually enhance your brand by the time its all over.
So let’s make a deal, shall we? Let’s say there are three crisis strategy doors you can choose from that will decide your fate, and I’m even going to tell you what’s behind each one. Then you choose and we’ll see how this whole debacle plays out.
Door #1 Arthur Andersen breaks the rules and our trust
Who? Ah, yes, that’s the point isn’t it? This venerable accounting firm was one of the most valuable brands in the financial world until their complicity with Enron’s fraud brought them down. Accounting firms are built on a foundation of impeccable integrity, which their leaders chose to set aside to appease their giant energy industry client (is there an echo in here?). Alas, they tried, but there was no tanker big enough for the mea culpa required to save Andersen, and their clients abandoned them, leaving a bankrupt brand.
Door #2 Firestone spreads the blame
When SUVs, and Ford Explorers in particular, started having unexplained rollover crashes, many of them fatal, Firestone tires were being blamed. True to their name, Firestonestonewalled the situation and only began recalling tires when required to by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Then they successfully diverted some of the blame to Ford for specifying tire pressures well below the normal levels for the tire, which was supposed to increase the stability of the vehicle, but actually led to higher tire temperatures and increased likelihood of failure. Their parent company, Bridgestone, then hid Firestone under its wing and marketed its tires under the relatively untainted parent brand until the controversy had passed and blame was spread around.
Door #3 Tylenol steps up
Let’s be clear: Tylenol didn’t cause the problem; the makers of the product were the victims of a crime that was never solved. But they did do the right thing, by pulling their product from the shelves and introducing tamper-evident packaging techniques that are still in use today. They took a huge financial hit, but their response protected their brand and it regained all of its market share over time.
Whatcha gonna do, BP?
The stakes are huge. Far more people are being directly affected by this spill than were by any of the examples above. You’ve already been hanging around Door #2, blaming other companies’ equipment and actions, but it doesn’t look like it’s working so far. Door #1 can’t happen because of your importance to the British economy and numerous pension funds, though in this country your brand could all but disappear. So what about #3?
Will your beleaguered CEO (who would likely trade every multi-million dollar bonus he’s ever made to be out of this mess) really deliver on his advertised promise that “we will make this right”? Is there enough money to fix the economic and environmental damage that has only just started to wash ashore? Will BP take the extraordinary steps that Tylenol did and accept a painful financial hit that goes far beyond your insurance coverage and puts a financial burden on the company for years?
Right now, Toyota and Tiger are probably thankful that their status as villains of the moment has finally passed, but the rest of us are watching you, BP. There is opportunity in this crisis. There is the chance to do the right thing. The question may just be, how far “Beyond Petroleum” (your words, not mine) are you willing to go?