The current vilification of BP over the Gulf oil spill is a perfect example of the uselessness of conventional corporate PR.
Why do I say that?
Take a look at BP before the spill. Knowing they are a prime example of ‘big oil’ (boo…hiss), they implemented a coherent strategy to counteract the negative connotations associated with that: they supported every environmentalist initiative they could, such as cap and trade; they loudly called themselves the first ‘green energy’ company; they even rechristened themselves “Beyond Petroleum”. Fat lot of good any of that did to them. As soon as disaster hit, they were “British Petroleum” and vilified with all the gusto they would have been vilified with if they had done none of this.
This got me thinking about the lousiness of corporate PR, how a business can be so good at advertising its products while simultaneously so woefully inadequate at politics. The problem, I believe, is that everybody knows that big companies are there just to make a buck. As a result, their slick ads just look cynical and, if they have any effect at all, it is negative.
The big flaw in today’s corporate PR strategy is that they begin by apologizing for what they do, and if there is one rule in politics (that Red Tories have yet to learn) is that you can’t apologize fast enough to win. When your enemies hear you apologize, they don’t see contrition or moral goodness, they only smell weakness and fear. You win political fights by trumpeting the strength of your case - and by vilifying your opponents.
Instead, corporate PR departments should run ads that say things like:
“Yes our purpose is to selfishly make money, but so what? given that we can only make money by engaging in voluntary transactions. This means we only turn a profit if we make products that are so good and desirable that people voluntarily part with their money in order to acquire those things. The consumer is our king and if you restrict us, it is the consumer who you really punish. And unlike our socialist critics, we actually produce things, many of which required real creativity and effort to produce. We don’t have to ‘give back to the community’ because we give back to the community every day, with jobs, and tax money and products that people want to buy. Our critics are the ones who need to ‘give back to the community’ since they produce nothing and only sponge off of other people’s taxes.”
I am not saying that aggressive PR like this, done ahead of time, would allow BP to come out smelling like roses after the Gulf oil spill crisis. Nothing could accomplish that. All that I am saying is that all their prostrating before the environmentalist gods did them no good. Absolutely zero, zip, nada. No favours that they could cash in at crunch time.