Showing posts with label Chevron. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chevron. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 19

Why Drop 'Communication' From The Crisis Communication Plan?

As the Chevron pizza remediation story continues to capture more headlines on CNNForbes, and Newsweek, there are plenty of public relations practitioners anxious to turn the tragedy into a worst case practice. Indeed, offering coupons for free pizza and soda is so dismal it almost defies belief.

Even so, it extraordinarily difficult to turn the living case study into a real life lesson plan when there is another lesson for anyone who believes crisis communication is a core component of public relations. What is the real lesson behind the Chevron pizza coupon debacle being reported by the news?

Don't be content with only the crisis communication plan. Write the crisis plan. 

Before we consider the significance of this lesson, let's recap some of the events as they happened. It mostly played out over eight days.

February 11. A fire was reported at one of the Chevron fracking wells in Green County, Pa. One employee was injured and another was unaccounted for. Employees immediately responded to the fire and called in assistance from Wild Well Control. They also opened a hotline for neighbors to contact.

By 10:50 p.m., the company was able to report details leading up to the incident, clarified that the missing employee was a contractor, and the company continued to issue assurances that appropriate measures were taken.

February 12-14. As the severity of the fire escalated, the company began to monitor the air, surface waters, and noise in the area for impact while stressing that there was no evidence of an increased safety risk beyond the immediate fire. Chevron also provided a generalized update that recognized the impact the incident has had on the local community. The worker was still unaccounted for. 

February 16. The two wells stopped burning, but the company reported it was premature to speculate what caused the flames to go out. (It is likely that the fuel source ran out before the wells could be capped.) At the same time, area residents received hand-delivered letters from the company, which included coupons for one free pizza and one two-liter drink. One worker is still missing. 

February 17-19. As headlines appeared about the pizza coupon given to approximately 100 residents, Chevron continued to provide updates and communicate with local residents. Late in the day on Feb. 19, investigators found evidence of human remains near the location. The company relinquished questions regarding the remains to local law enforcement. 

While most media outlets are focused on the remediation offer of a pizza coupon that Chevron later called a token of resident appreciation for their patience, the real error isn't in allowing community outreach to mitigate neighbor concerns, but either a flawed crisis plan, lack of empathy, or insufficient incident command oversight. Regardless of which proves to be true, it opens an invaluable lesson. 

Communication is a small part of a modern crisis plan. Get used to it.

While I have always been supportive (if not insistent) that organizations develop crisis communication plans, it is also true that most crisis communication plans are only as good as the communication plan they support. The reason this is true is because any crisis communication is only a very small part of any much larger crisis plan. 

To be clear, while the size and scope may vary depending on the incident, most crisis plans include for incident command and four sections: operations, planning, logistics, and finance. Communication, specifically public information officers, generally support incident command (along with safety and liaison officers). If there is a breakdown in any section, communication will likely be a casualty. 

Four years ago in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill, I suggested that public relations and crisis communication step up their skill sets by learning the four tenets of disaster planning. Although all four are still important, incident command procedures have evolved and public relations professionals and crisis communicators ought to have updated their skill sets along the way. 

In other words, not only should an incident public information officer understand the crisis communication plan, but they also need to understand every aspect of the crisis plan and be prepared to report on the progress being made by each section based on input from the incident commander. Even better than knowing the crisis plan, crisis communicators ought to ask to get involved in writing it.

If Chevron had done so in this case, it's much more likely that it would have not been preemptive in their offer of pizza remediation. And even if community outreach wanted to be preemptive, incident command or someone from another section might have advised against letting them eat pie (even if a few hardened neighbors said they planned to enjoy a slice). What do you think?

Thursday, November 4

Advertising Negatives: Does It Still Work?

negative advertising
Now that the dust is settling after the midterm elections, it might be safer to consider the advent of negative advertising and whether or not it still works. The answer might be in the middle, with Americans clearly losing their appetite for it.

It's not exclusive to political advertisements. Companies employ them from time to time too, just with less frequency. Chevron clearly has in its campaign to claim that it is different from most energy companies. However, there might be some unintended consequences based on what it says.

What does it say? Oil companies make huge profits. Last year, Chevron made a lot of money. Where does it go? Oil companies should put their money to good use. All that sticks, but not the solution. Let's take a look...

The rest of the message is quickly lost to overlapping and less convicted dialogue, until Chevron is fully branded to the opening negative message. Did you see it? We make huge profits ... Chevron. We should put our money to good use ... Chevron. The economy is bad ... Chevron. It's the kind of strategy that lends itself to all sorts of interpretations, including those with colorful language.

Advertisers need to learn that people tend to associate negative messages with the source as much as the subject. The same can be said about political advertisements that are overtly negative, with some exceptions. But if it will help you to give yourself pause, always consider that negative messages generally stick to the source.

Some candidates learned this the hard way last night, except in Nevada. Front groups still seem to pull the wool over the eyes of Nevada voters. More than $1.7 million in negative ads was lobbied against one candidate from one front group, for example. But since the ad was funded by a front group, the opposing candidate wasn't considered the source.

Of course, both candidates did enter into the mudslinging on their own too. The reason was simple enough. Both of their respective teams knew they could no longer gain likability so they sought only to increase each other's unlikability. Now, neither of them are very well liked. Mission accomplished.

As much as I hate to admit it, negative ads do work, especially in politics. However, they tend to work best if they aren't too personal, too unbelievable (with the exception of humor), or too attached to the source as opposed to the subject. Looking back at the Chevron ad, you can easily see they miss on all three. The spoof, however, hits all three.

Thursday, October 21

Changing The Game: A Conversation About Oil Company Credibility

A few dozen people are claiming the Chevron disaster is the satire launched against it. Not even close.

Companies don't need to worry about or fear satire. They need to learn from it. Characterizations are seldom made of companies that don't deserve a ribbing on some level. After all, the essence of most comedy, especially satire, is finding the middle ground between tragedy and laughter. The tragedy in this case is the Chevron campaign, not the spoof.

The Tragedy Of Green Campaigns By Oil Companies.

Having worked in and with the energy industry, I've met quite a few people. Generally, they are not stupid people. Most of them are smart, like in any industry. However, even some of the smartest have nestled up comfortably inside an industry cocoon.

Most communication conversations tend to revolve around what they can't do as opposed to what they can do. And, their favorite answer for anything is "you don't understand, we can't do that because we are in the [energy] industry." As Ike Pigott said, after I asked how oil companies might gain credibility with the public, "what the oil companies *haven't* done over time is trust the public with their story. [The credibility gap] is self-inflicted."

Exactly right. Oil companies talk too much. So while the new Chevron campaign is aimed at well-researched public sentiment, Chevron seems to have heard but never really listened. If it had listened, it would have come to the realization that public trust has eroded to a point where they cannot tell their own stories anymore, at least not about their pursuit of renewable energy.

You see, when oil companies do talk about renewable energy, it almost always sounds like listening to a fiery-eyed demon promising to show you the way to heaven. "Yes," they hiss. "I might be in the business of dragging souls down here, but look, I really want to help you up because you all seem to be such nice people."

Creating A Basis Of Understanding.

Sometimes the message is the messenger. Unfortunately, for the oil industry, they aren't the right messengers. They have to trust the public with their message. They may even have to trust people they consider the enemy with their message. But even then, a message is not enough. They need to trust these people with reporting on positive oil industry actions.

There is a challenge to that. Most oil companies (much like most energy companies) aren't ready to do it. They've been spoiled by decades of only communicating the end use: brilliant light bulbs, beautifully grilled foods, toasty heaters, nice cars.

The reality is that the energy business is super ugly, smelly, and sometimes hazardous to your health. Like much of the manufacturing industry, they want to hide the ugliness as much as possible. Even when I've worked with manufacturers and energy companies, they don't want anyone to take onsite pictures unless those pictures are carefully screened.

However, proper planning could allow these behemoths to slowly pull back some of the curtain. (Not all of it. Goodness no. Not everybody looks good when they are naked.) How far can they pull it back? As far they need to in order to regain trust.

For most oil companies right now, all we see are toes. And even those toes have been polished up for the photo shoot (and sometimes after the shoot). That's not public relations. It's propaganda.

Opening Dialogues With People.

Any public relations plan by an oil company needs to be approached on two fronts. Big picture, even if they are not the only stakeholder. And specific action, almost like Chevron tried to do with its cherry-picked and polished up campaign.

The Big Picture Dialogue.

Why big picture? Because, frankly, nobody really knows how oil companies see the future. If you look at a different industry, we very clearly knew how Apple saw the future of smart phones — long before the infrastructure really existed to support them. And even if you didn't like Apple, most people liked the vision (so much so, everyone followed suit to fill demand).

What this means is that if oil companies want to be credible, they have to stop campaigning for themselves and start campaigning for a sustainable new/renewable energy future. They might even have to promote other people who are involved in the solution (much like Apple promoted certain apps). And, they may need to funnel support toward solution-oriented people as opposed to regulation-oriented people, diminishing the need to fend off what are sometimes very unfair attacks.

These big picture campaigns need to be joined too, perhaps by as many stakeholder groups as possible. Such connections might even help ward off politicians from attacking oil companies as the bad guys and painting the ultra green taxpayer subsidized companies as the good guys. That is not always the case, you know.

The Specific Action Dialogue.

Almost every oil company is pursuing varied degrees of research and development of renewable energy. In most cases, it's a very tiny, tiny percentage of their overall business. And that makes sense to some degree. There is no money in it and companies don't exist on good will alone. Likewise, over focus on tiny investments is disingenuous.

In that regard, I personally believe some of the Chevron message. On one of the many campaign threads, Desmond King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, says ...

"We invest in energy technologies that satisfy, or have the potential to satisfy, four basic criteria: economics, scale, customer expectations and density—that is, the ability to be delivered on demand and in quantity. And we never stop looking."

I believe that. It's how companies operate. They look for innovations that will make them money. For Chevron, geothermal is one of its investments. The downside, at the moment, is that it may be the largest geothermal supplier in the world, but it's still only a speck of the energy we consume.

These are the stories that need to get out. However, Chevron and other companies need other people to tell these stories. And, equally important, the public needs more proof that every advancement fits in with the big picture plan. They want to know what percentage of energy comes from renewables like that now and in the future. Plans are powerful things.

The Reality That The Public Doesn't Want To Hear.

Naturally, oil companies cannot attack the public, even if the public sometimes deserves attacking. Sometimes we collectively act like locusts, complaining that there aren't enough fields to eat after we've already eaten them. And we also complain about the waste we leave behind after we polish them off.

But, they really can't talk about that. The auto industry falls back on this conversation too much as it is. Boo hoo, they say, people don't want to buy our clean cars. It might be true, but some things are better left off the table — you know, it doesn't make sense to tell the girl you want to date that she looks fat. Besides, after decades of being sold on the great wonders of energy we consume, it feels very empty to stress "we're just keeping up with demand." Leave that one to the porn industry.

So what can they do? This is where public relations can also help, with the first step being to stop the endless prattle about how the public (government) needs to help fund the infrastructure. We already do. We fund it with every gallon purchased and every product bought. If you have to kick up gas one or two cents to pay for more renewable energy production, then do it.

When it comes to the public (government) funding renewable energy, the return is always less than private sector investments. It's just the way thing works. Government-funded or mandated projects tend to consume more than they produce (and yes, I have examples). It's why government-funded projects are best confined to things that are not profitable but desperately needed. Energy is not one of these things. It is profitable. And if some portions of it won't be, then it's best that they not be pursued.

This touches on some of the points Tim Walker and Matthew Stokes brought up. Stokes hopes that renewable energy gains more credibility in the marketplace. Walker mentioned how serious capital investments are need to make renewable energy meaningful.

Those are both solid points. Somebody other than oil companies needs to free the topic from politicians. You see, as soon as politicians grab a message, they muck it up into something worthless like kill oil now or forget renewables. Baloney. The only solution is to use our current consumption (despite its ugliness) to fund future solutions. At the same time, we have to admit that the transition isn't going to happen overnight.

Recapping Communication Tips.

Since this post tended to be conversational, I thought it might be worthwhile to recap the general concept. How could an oil industry regain credibility? After they shut up, they might ask people to open a dialogue and really listen (as opposed to hearing). After that, they might even work with people to find solutions. As for the rest, here are seven critical steps.

1. Define the vision and/or promote other people's visions toward a renewable energy future.
2. Highlight actions that prove you are moving in that direction, but let others tell those stories.
3. Make sure you define how those tiny successes fit into the vision, today and tomorrow.
4. Open up a dialogue about the challenges, inspiring entrepreneurs to provide solutions.
5. Don't hide all of the ugly side, but do work to humanize it with real people in the field.
6. Stop whining about government regulations and start dismantling their excuses to make regulations.
7. Stop asking government for money for infrastructure. That's public money. We already invest privately, every day.

People sometimes act like we have never seen technological leaps forward in this country. We do it all the time, and the adoption rate has never been faster. Many of these leaps forward required new infrastructure but that infrastructure always seemed to rise up to meet demand. Ergo, somehow we managed. The government didn't always have to fund it.

In fact, in terms of the auto industry, it couldn't be more simple. If hybrids are the future, better plugin devices need to be developed for the home (and sold with the car). Since they are hybrid cars, gas stations don't have to upgrade unless it is equitable. When it is equitable, and as the cars become less hybrid in nature, the infrastructure will keep up.

And if the government wants to be proactive and meddling heroes too? Allow people to receive a double credit for the sales tax on their income taxes. You can make up the difference by not funding some of those government-funded consumption companies. Of course, other ideas are always welcome here.

Tuesday, October 19

Talking Too Much: Chevron

Chevron CampaignOn Monday, Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) launched a new ad campaign entitled “We Agree,” which seeks to establish solidarity with people around the world on key energy issues. It also describes the actions the company takes in producing energy responsibly and in supporting the communities where it operates.

The campaign can best be likened to throwing a family of mongooses—all sporting T-shirts that say "some of my best friends are snakes"—into a cobra pit. I don't know exactly what would happen, but chances are those little guys on either side wouldn't stand around and sing Kumbaya.

And yet, this is the thinking behind Chevron's new campaign, except its T-shirts read "It's time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy" as an extension of its longer running campaign Will You Join Us.

It also comes at a time when Chevron is embattled with an Ecuadorian lawsuit. Sure, the lawsuit recently lost some credibility as raw footage might suggest collusion to inflate the extent of the Amazon rainforest pollution (that the company may or may not be partly responsible for), but telling the truth requires the right timing. And regardless of where you stand on energy issues, this was not the right time.

Sometimes The Truth Is Reliant On Timing.

Big corporations make easy targets. Oil companies are especially soft. It's difficult for them to hold any defensive position when they produce a product that — despite demand for it — has been singled out as one of the most harmful to the environment.

"We hear what people say about oil companies – that they should develop renewables, support communities, create jobs and protect the environment – and the fact is, we agree,” said Rhonda Zygocki, vice president of policy, government and public affairs at Chevron. “This campaign demonstrates our values as a company and the greater value we provide in meeting the world’s demand for energy. There is a lot of common ground on energy issues if we take the time to find it.”

Zygocki is right. Most oil companies want to embrace renewable energy. It is on the drawing board for any company that hopes to have sustainability. In 2007, Chevron was among the first to admit 10 percent of Americans “hate us and our industry and there’s nothing we can do to change their minds." Since the Gulf Coast oil spill, which involved another oil company campaigning for green, that hate has grown exponentially.

Naturally, Chevron didn't launch the campaign to attempt to clean up ill feelings over the Gulf as some people initially speculated. That wasn't (even though it should have been) a consideration. This campaign hopes to minimize some of the damage caused by the film Crude and the Ecuadorian lawsuit, which is still being played out to determine who might be the biggest villains.

This is also why the timing of the campaign launch couldn't be worse. The situation for Chevron in Ecuador might have improved as new information is being brought to light but the verdict is still out. So instead of coming across as more green or responsible, the only thing the company has succeeded in doing is drawing even more attention to the ugliness of the case.

Chevron Earns Push Back Before The Campaign Is Launched.

Almost immediately, the release sent out by Chevron was parodied. And some publications, unfortunately, ran with this news release, which is tied to this spoof Website. It seems fact-checking is optional these days.

It also wasn't the only parody release. I received a second release yesterday morning, also a spoof, quoting a frothy mad CEO as vowing to take revenge on the "environmental groups" that hijacked their new campaign. While I didn't bother to verify who sent the mock release, I suspect it also belongs to the Yes Men.

I've written about them before. The media generally likes them, except when the media gets punked. The giveaway in the one I received was that it was published under the guise of a shareholder message. I don't own investments in Chevron. I've also read plenty of real shareholder statements.

You Do Have More Than Two Choices.

Barry Silverstein, writing for the brandchannel, tried to sum it up with his lead-in. "When your brand's industry has a major PR problem, you either hide your head in the sand, or get out there and make a statement," he wrote.

And therein lies most of the problems with marketing and public relations today. There aren't two choices. There are a million choices. And the reason Chevron picked one of the worst choices is exactly why its industry has a public relations problem.

They talk too much. They talk so much, I am almost convinced they never listen. There is only one way the oil companies can regain some lost ground. They have to stop telling stories and start having dialogues. Specifically, they must start having dialogues with people who don't like them. And then, those people, will be the ones who tell the stories.

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