Tag Archive: Exxon Valdez

“If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs, and blaming it on you.” — Poet Rudyard Kipling’s, “If” (1865-1936)

One thing is certain when it comes to any crisis — earthquake, floods, fires, pandemics — the media will hyperventilate and will be totally out of control.

Another is that no good deed goes unpunished.

And an absolute truth in politics: You have a finite number of friends and the same is true for your enemies. Your enemies will never change; your friends can change.

Finally, the public wants and needs to see its president, governor, mayor, CEO … whoever is the elected/designated leader … that individual must be there repeatedly, visible on the front lines.

The images of President George W. Bush with the bullhorn at Ground Zero, Rudy Giuliani being designated as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in response to the brutal attacks on 9/11 are illustrative of leaders immediately present and active in response.

President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina is less of a text book example. The failure of Exxon Valdez CEO Lawrence Rawl to visit the 1989 Prince William Sound spill site for three weeks or maybe worse, BP’s former chief executive Tony Hayward lamenting about the impact of his company’s 2010 Gulf Spill … on his personal life.

“I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption its (Gulf Spill) caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

Sorry to say Tony, this song was not about you.

Crises present opportunities and perils. Some succeed in the face of unprecedented challenges, others fail miserably. There are few who just for lack of better words, screw up.

When asked at an emergency site to characterize what he was seeing with his very eyes, former California Governor Pat Brown didn’t realize what he was saying until he said it: “This is the worse disaster since my election.”

During the course of any political lifetime, there will be crises. You are not judged when all is well, but defined when all are losing their heads.

And besides keeping your head, a public sector team should always operate under the philosophy that good government always takes precedence over good politics.

Almost DailyBrett believes for any incumbent, regardless of whether it’s an election year (it is) or not, the “What is the good government response?” question should always be answered first.

If the answer is good government, then the question of good politics should address itself.

Invoking The Wrath Of The NRA

“There’s no logical reason for anybody to own an assault weapon.” — California Governor George Deukmejian (1928-2018)

As a Republican governor in a blue state, Governor Deukmejian recognized immediately the political landscape changed when troubled Vietnam vet Patrick Purdy took an AK-47 onto a Stockton schoolyard, filled with happy playing Korean children, in 1989.

The good government response immediately following this senseless massacre intended for the protection of innocent children and the public at large was to ban assault weapons in California. This responsible action predictably triggered (pardon the pun) an immediate vitriolic response from the NRA.

Good government, won. Good politics came along for the ride.

As President Donald Trump directs the nation’s emergency response to the global Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic, he and his team must be mindful that anything and everything will be viewed in terms of the electoral season.

No action taken by the administration (i.e., blocking flights from China and Europe, teaming with private sector on mobile testing, relaxing and suspending burdensome federal regulations) will meet with universal approval, not this year in particular. There are those who cannot and will not be positive. So be it.

The nation needs to see its leader. The leader of the free world cannot be perfect (impossible standard to uphold), but he must be confident. Some have said we need more teleprompter Trump and less tweeting Trump. Politics needs to be left to others, particularly those out of power.

Instead, good government must rule … good government must take precedence. This is a time for message and political discipline. Can Trump and his team do it?

Let’s give them a chance.





Quick: What is the first impression that comes to mind when you hear the word or see the name or logo of…

● Starbucks? Good coffee

● BMW? Upscale cars

● Fed-Ex? Overnight

● Intel? “Inside”

● Microsoft? Bill Gates

● Apple? Steve Jobs

● Oracle? Larry Ellison

● Exxon Mobil? Valdez

● Goldman Sachs? SEC suit

● BP? The “Oil Spill”

Now let’s ask another question: What is more vital to your client: brand management or crisis communications?

From my humble standpoint, the answer is both. They go hand-in-hand. If you employ conventional communications (e.g. message development, reporter pitches, briefings, advertising, events) and digital tools (social media, blogging, podcasting, webcasting) to build brand, then it follows that these same methods can destroy the best branding, literally in seconds.

Think of it this way, if the stock market can plunge 1,000 points in five minutes, then any carefully crafted brand can be obliterated just as fast in this age of instantaneous global communications and programmed machines.

The video of BP’s gushing oil leak quickly found its way onto YouTube as well as a wide variety of conventional broadcast media. Besides the usual conventional media coverage, the SEC’s suit against Goldman http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-59.htm became an instant entry on the Wikipedia.org encyclopedia, the Wall Street Journal website as well as the online sites of major media organizations around the world.

So what does this question mean to executives in corporate suites, the leadership of trade associations and NGOs, political campaign managers, the administration of major universities or any other organization concerned about reputation and legacy? It means that when a brand-management firm is selected to build and enhance brand and top-of-mind recognition then that very same firm should also be adept at crisis management to instantaneously defend and protect the brand or at least to mitigate and contain the damage.

Brand formation and enhancement is a process that never ends and must be skillfully nurtured over the course of years, such as the “Intel Inside” campaign. The results are that PC and server-buying consumers are willing to shell out a premium to purchase a device with that Intel chip inside. But keep in mind that not everything has been perfect for the Intel brand as the company had to rally in 1994 (some may say belatedly) to combat the infamous Pentium flaw. This was a classic crisis communications exercise with all hands on deck. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Corporation

We should contemplate that this escapade occurred prior to the true social media age, even though Internet usage was rapidly increasing. Could Intel have maintained its brand image as successfully in the face of the same Pentium flaw in this environment? Probably, but the company would have been required to respond in an even quicker fashion.

Crisis management is now, more-than-ever, a 24-7-365 gig. In the social-media age, successful brand defenses can be literally measured in minutes, not in days and weeks. Erroneous and nefarious Wikipedia entries need to be challenged quickly. Misleading media reports need to be immediately contested. Damaging blog posts need to be instantly rebutted.

Not all crisis communications efforts will be successful and not all positive brands will endure (e.g. If oil keeps leaking for 40 days and counting…). Nonetheless, the BP crisis communications team is in full battle station mode. http://www.bp.com/bodycopyarticle.do?categoryId=1&contentId=7052055

It is an open question whether the company’s reputation will ever be restored. Exxon will always be tied to the Valdez, even though that spill occurred more than two decades ago.

In most cases the best built and nurtured brands can be protected and enhanced, not only through brand management, but also by maintaining always present and alert crisis response teams, schooled in both conventional and digital media communications skills.

You really can’t separate brand building from crisis management.

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