Wednesday, July 28

Telling Fibs: Why BP Photoshop Blunders Are Big News

BP Photoshop Photo
With Tony Hayworth, CEO of BP, stepping down to be replaced by Robert Dudley in October, many people have the same question. Can Dudley turn BP around, clean up the Gulf, and restore the company's reputation? At the moment, the answer is maybe.

October is a long time away, which may give Dudley a cleaner start than if he took over today. But the real challenge for BP isn't a change in leadership but a change in company culture. As one of the world's largest energy companies, that won't be an easy task.

The smallest fibs, not the largest, can be the most telling.

BP's liberal and enthusiastic use of Photoshop, not once but twice, became one of the biggest stories because the fibs were so terribly small. And that might mean something beyond the Photoshop lessons some very creative folks have left sprinkled around the Web. (It's hard to pick a favorite.)

• The company's code of conduct is being ignored.
• The culture has accepted a standard of deceit.
• The smallest of details don't really matter at all.

Years ago, when I was working on one of my first political campaigns, we discovered that the primary opponent had lied. Not only did he not have a degree in the field stated on his literature, but the college he had attended never offered such a degree.

Upon discovering this, we began a much more rigorous investigation better known as opposition research. Of about twenty points made to convince people that he was the best candidate, about 14 of them were either made up or patently false.

One fib on its own might have been forgiven by the public. But anything more than a dozen fibs was a lofty number. It didn't matter how small some of them seemed to be. Tell enough half truths, spins, and misstatements and any brand or reputation will eventually collapse. There seems to be a mountain of them related to Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf Coast oil spill.

Have you ever read the BP Code of Conduct? It begins as "one of the world’s leading companies, we have a responsibility to set high standards: to be, and be seen to be, a business which is committed to integrity."

How do you feel about that statement today, knowing that the company culture seemed to have embraced a general rule that tiny lies, little breaches of protocol, and miniscule lapses in following safety standards were somehow acceptable. As long as the paperwork looked good and nobody was hurt, did it really matter? It mattered on April 20.

On some things, it's better not to give an inch. The poorly done Photoshop pictures weren't being sent out as cover shots for the annual report. They were being provided as part of a slew of shots meant to convince us that BP was on top of the problem.

Obviously they weren't. The problem is on the inside.

*The above commenter photo can be found on Gizmodo, posted on July 22 by Jeremy "Bobafett."

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