Message and delivery. Having a message is crucial – delivering that message effectively is just as crucial. The equation for effective communication involves both message and delivery. All too often, companies and individuals in crisis learn this lesson the hard way.
BP has certainly made its share of mistakes in terms of responding to this crisis – not being able to stem the flow of oil and looking completely unprepared to handle a disaster would be mistake number one for any multinational company. From that point forward BP has had series of missteps in terms of getting central messaging down, missed a number of opportunities to leverage social media and had trouble in the initial development of a message.
After those initial missteps, I believe that BP had the underpinnings of an effective response, and a strong message:
“We are a responsible party. Our obligation is to deal with the spill, clean it up and make sure the impacts of that spill are compensated. And we’re going to do that.”
1. What You Say - The two words that followed, both from BP CEO Tony Hayward and BP America President Lamar McKay undermined that entire message: “Legitimate Claims.” This word combination completely neutered the effectiveness of the earlier message and has been derided repeatedly in the media. This is the sound bite, rather than “Our obligation is to deal with the spill…” and will be pretty difficult for BP to get away from now.
2. How You Say It – BP America President Lamar McKay, in an exchange with Senator Maria Cantwell yesterday, looked and sounded a lot more like a defendant on trial than the President of one of the world’s largest companies. There is a fine line between looking serious and looking hostile and Mr. McKay looked somewhat hostile. That is unfortunate as this will be the clip that will circulate around the ‘net for the next few days. Senator Cantwell, on the other hand, looked concerned and upset while not being argumentative, and I think her line of questioning (What she said) and her delivery (how she said it) will result in higher name identification and some new fans.
Whether it is a perfectly worded apology delivered with no emotion or the highly defensive delivery of an explanation, the failure to both have your message and deliver it effectively usually means exacerbating the crisis.