It’s just the latest in a string of public relations disasters following the original disaster. BP CEO Tony Hayward seems to do much of the damage all by himself, from insisting the environmental impact will be “very, very modest” to whining that he “wants [his] life back.” BP also continues to make headlines as they downplay health risks for clean up crews and are accused of blocking photographers from documenting the spill. The fiasco has even spawned a fake Twitter account, @BPGlobalPR, which has Newsweek playing a game of ‘real or fake’ with the company’s official PR.
An angry (and profanity laden) letter to the media has even surfaced, claiming to be from the author of the fake Twitter feed. And that letter includes some advice for BP that the church can take to heart. It’s what experts have been saying all along: The best marketing is action. If you want a better public image, earn a better public image.
As Chris Gidez, a crisis communications expert, said: “Until the leak is stopped, no amount of advertising or PR will help.”
It should be the central tenent of any good public relations policy. It’s not about spinning bad news, it’s about publicizing the good you’re already doing. And if you’re not doing any good, then you’re in trouble.
What churches can learn from BP is that we’re known by our actions. In the face of disaster do you bumble and stumble from botched apology to staged photo opp? Or do you fix the problem? Do you put on a good show? Or do you do the hard and dirty work of mending fences and healing lives? Do you sweep a problem under the rug? Or do you admit fault, seek forgiveness and restore justice?
This is perhaps why the Catholic sex abuse scandal won’t go away. It continues to be a PR disaster for the church (and a tragedy in general) because new abuses keep coming to light. Press conferences won’t fix the underlying problem.
BP has spend millions cultivating their image ($100 million last year alone) and now it’s going up in an oily cloud of safety violations and corporate cover-up. No ad campaign is going to fix that. But actually helping people deal with the aftermath? That’s worth talking about.
This is why authentic marketing is crucial for churches. If you’re faking it or not telling the whole story—people will find out. In our social media world people will definitely find out. In the refining fire of a crisis that authenticity only becomes more important.
And pastor, need we remind you that you’re not immune from a PR crisis? Center for Church Communication board member Phil Cooke reminds us that a PR disaster can—and likely will—happen to your church.