Where Is The Star Power In The Gulf Clean Up?

Where are all the celebrities in the Gulf oil disaster? Huffington Post says that scientists are the celebrities in this cause. For example, Louisiana State University professor Edward Overton recently appeared on David Letterman’s “Late Show” to talk in plain language about oil. He is one of many scientists who are now in the middle of the media frenzy, trying to explain the Gulf oil spill to the public. But that isn’t really helping raise funds for the clean up.

On a nonprofit blog found out Jimmy Buffett donated $43,000 to build a boat that could contribute to the animal rescue effort and Kevin Costner committed 15 years and $20 million towards developing a centrifuge that separates oil from water. I also heard on NPR the other night how Jimmy Buffet’s sister, who owns a restaurant in Gulf Shores is doing a tourism campaign for the state. Her brother also showed up for local a benefit concert to raise funds and draw tourists. But where is the big celebrity packed, national concert?

Apparently Larry King had a two hour CNN telethon to help the people and animals of the Gulf. The celebrities were not on the same scale as George Clooney’s Hope for Haiti Now telethon, but they did show up. Sting performed his song Fragile, Robert Redford delivered a political message, and Cameron Diaz poured her heart out.

I think this simply demonstrates the importance of public relations. PR plays an important role in raising awareness of any subject or cause. And celebrities can make a big difference for any nonprofit or corporation.

Cause Marketing Or Crisis Response?

Right now there is a company that is working with the government to help natural wildlife areas and minimize the environmental impact of pollution. They have engaged more than 2,500 people in this effort by working with emergency preparedness and environmental protection staff from five states and utilizing their employees labor and technical expertise.

They have organized major protection efforts with a significant community outreach plan with leaders from fishing associations, local businesses, parks, wildlife and environmental organizations, educational institutions, medical/emergency establishments and news media. This company is coordinating, training and deploying thousands of volunteers who are offering their help. This sounds like an enormous cause marketing effort except that it is in fact describing BP’s response to the environmental crisis they created.

Cause marketing is defined as aligning the power of a company’s brand, marketing and people with a cause’s brand and assets to create shareholder and social value by publicly communicating values. BP’s cleanup efforts certainly meet these requirements as they seek to minimize the environmental impact of the oil spill. Except in this case they are trying to minimize shareholder loss. If this was a more “natural disaster” their efforts may be applauded by the community and lauded by the business community.

What is the line between crisis and cause? Could responding well to a crisis (even one you’ve caused) ever be viewed as positive and actually help a brand’s image? Is doing the right thing always a planned marketing effort?

GM Recall Recalls Past PR Crises

General Motors announced Tuesday that it was recalling about 1.5 million vehicles worldwide to address a problem with a heated windshield wiper fluid system that could lead to a fire. This seems like the latest in a rash of corporate blunders that calls for some serious crisis management. Other recent PR events include BP and Toyota.

Public Relations can have a big influence on a client’s public image. To illustrated I will bring up two cases where a crisis was handled properly and not properly. In 1989, Exxon faced a crisis when it spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Exxon waited a long time before responding. An ad ran in the newspapers 10 days after the spill and Exxon’s chairman did not fly to Alaska until two weeks after the spill. Exxon’s spokesman first answered the press with “no comment” after the spill taking credibility away from the company and the company never took responsibility for what happened. Even 10 years after the spill people were still boycotting Exxon gas.

On the other hand Tylenol handled their crisis with good PR tactics. In 1982, Tylenol, the leading pain-killer medicine in the United States faced a tremendous crisis when seven people in Chicago were reported dead after taking extra-strength Tylenol capsules. Unlike Exxon, Johnson & Johnson immediately recalled its product and made public announcements about the suspension of its usage through various media outlets. Even though it was proven 
that Tylenol was not associated with the tampering it still immediately assumed responsibility. Johnson & Johnson completely recovered its market share lost during the crisis and reestablish the Tylenol brand as one to the must trusted consumer products in American.

Which way will GM choose in this PR crisis?

BP Can’t Get Beyond Petroleum.

Do you know how for years the big oil companies have been trying to tell us that they are not really oil companies? Through PR and corporate campaigns they’ve tried to convince us that they are in fact new energy companies. I think I was actually starting to buy it. BP with its earth friendly yellow and green sun logo and fun illustrated campaign had me convinced they were actually moving beyond petroleum – that is until they started dumping thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Now the company can’t get away from being associated with oil. BPs website is now cluttered with response to the oil spill. Response in pictures. Response in video. Response in maps. It seems BP did learn something from it corporate giant friend Toyota. Response it key. Did BP executives read the USA Today/Gallop Poll that said a majority of Americans though Toyota failed to respond quickly enough to its own PR disaster?

Does anyone else feel duped by BPs ads? The “Beyond Petroleum” campaign was launched by Ogilvy & Mather almost 10 years ago. From the Ogilvy PR press release “The newly re-branded, global BP sought to position itself as transcending the oil sector, remaining innovative, progressive and environmentally responsible.” They wanted the world to know intended to go beyond petroleum. That PR battle was a success earning two 2001 PRWeek Campaign of the Year awards. But BP may end up losing the war.

BP can say the word response all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that they weren’t ready for this. After almost two weeks the governor of Louisiana is still waiting for a contingency plan from BP. While the government is waiting for environmental plans BP was out with its own economic plan offering $5,000 settlements to residents if they waived their rights to sue for any damages.

Did BPs advertising work too well? Would they be better off in the this crisis if a lot of us didn’t start believing they were beyond petroleum?