In the Rearview Window

March 05, 2011

In the Rearview Window

I have not written about this interesting development in corporate crisis history but I am glad that I didn’t because I have been thinking about it for quite awhile and am thinking about it differently today. Last November, I read in The New York Times that BP is working on a feature length film that would cover the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. I did not know what to think of this at first. I was particularly interested because it fit well into the strategies I recommend in my article in Harvard Business Review on Reputation Warfare.  It fit right into my suggestion of “going rogue” and adopting unconventional ways of defending and resetting one’s reputation. As a BP spokesperson is quoted in the article:

“They are making a film of the spill primarily for an internal audience as an archive of a momentous event in the company’s history (not to mention those impacted by the tragedy and its aftermath),” Robert Wine, a spokesman for BP, said in an e-mail.

I tried to learn more about this film because I was so curious about how BP intends to use the documentary. At first, I thought it might just be a one-sided affair which is what the scant coverage online has said. However, over these past few months as I have been thinking about it more and more, I see it as an opportunity if it conforms with what I think.

As the spokesperson said, the film is intended as an internal filmfor internal audiences. If the film is used to document history and provide a lessons learned framework, this could be a vital way of not letting history repeat itself. Although there is plenty of information online about the oil spill disaster, a film that starts at the beginning and takes employees and management through all the rights and wrongs — a visual and dramatic rendering of  its roots causes and decision-making — it could be good.

In my book on reputation recovery, one of the stages of recovery is “Rewind.”  The opening story in the chapter is about the Columbia spacecraft explosion and how NASA seriously investigated the organizational causes of the accident because of the breakdown in leadership. The lessons learned from the shuttle tragedy were clear — organizations must carefully learn from the past because the cost of failing to do so far exceeds the cost of doing so.  This way of thinking might just apply to the reasons behind the BP film and could set an example for other companies facing internal communications challenges when recovering their reputations.  

The quote that sticks in my mind from thinking about the opportunity that this film provides to the future of BP is what one CEO wisely said when he led his company through a massive reputation recovery: “We had to settle with the past to prepare the future.”

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross
lesliegainesross@gmail.com

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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