Public Relations Learned the Hard Way
Amid harsher government scrutiny and lingering public mistrust of business, 2010 saw more
than its fair share of corporate crises.
Some of the biggest stemmed from unexpected events, such as
PLC's oil spill. But crisis-management experts say some companies
compounded their woes by botching the initial public-relations response.
With legislators quick to call executives to account and a recession-battered public wary of big
business, the result was a year full of corporate crises.
"In 2010, some of the most valued companies in the world had problems," says Andrew Gilman,
president and chief executive of CommCore Consulting.
In some cases, increased government scrutiny added to the pressure on corporations and their top
executives. Crisis advisors say executives increasingly need to be more mindful not just of their
companies' image with consumers, but also with government officials. Indeed, the year saw top
brass at BP and Toyota hauled before legislators to answer questions.
"We are in the midst of a highly regulatory regime in Washington and government is being more
aggressive in policing companies," says Chris Gidez, U.S. director of risk management and crisis
Here's a look at how companies handled some of the year's corporate crises:
Case: BP's image suffered after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which saw torrents of oil spew
into the Gulf of Mexico.
Experts say: As part of its crisis plan, BP aired an ad that featured a personal pitch and apology
from its then-CEO, Mr. Hayward. In the commercial, Mr. Hayward promised taxpayers they
wouldn't be footing the clean-up bill.
But Mr. Hayward's other gaffes—most notably saying he wanted his "life back"—undermined
his credibility with the public, PR experts say.
Although many PR professionals believe that in some cases a chief executive should be a
company's primary spokesperson during a major crisis, in other cases the CEO may not be the
right fit. "The CEO needs to be visible at the outset but can designate the person in the U.S. to be
the face of the crisis." says Harlan Loeb, director of U.S. crisis and issue management at
Davis Weinstock, Chairman of Clark & Weinstock, a reputation-management firm, says Mr.
Hayward "was not the right face" for the crisis.
A study by Interbrand, a branding firm owned by
Inc. that tracks and publishes
the top 100 global brands every year, found that the BP brand fell off its top-100 global brand list
this year. The oil company had been on the list for nine years, and ranked as the 83rd most
valuable brand last year.