– James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
This week’s news is again full of the relentless legal, political, and adversarial pounding British Petroleum (BP) continues to receive as a result of its huge and disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico. If one takes a breath, steps back, and maybe goes to 10-12,000 feet to review this company’s response following the spill, there is no parallel in US business history, or any business history on the planet, for that matter.
How do I define a good company? Here are some items to consider:
1. THEY STAYED and are still staying and paying to fix the problems they caused.
2. They shut off the leak while many others, U.S. politicians, state politicians, opportunists of all stripes, citizen journalists, the save the world journalists and activists just huffed and puffed. Many are still huffing and puffing.
3. The company installed a video camera at 5,000 feet below sea level to broadcast the spill 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, to anybody who cared to tune in.
4. The company established and fully funded a $20 billion trust fund to prepay (imagine that) claims, without a lawyer . . . imagine even that.
5. The company began almost immediately replacing people’s incomes and paychecks, revenue from lost fishing, small businesses and tourism, even subsidizing the tourism, promotion and economic restoration costs of four states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, plus the Federal Government and assorted other states.
6. The company hired thousands of people to literally stand on the shore and be ready to react when the oil showed up… in five states. Initially they paid the boat payments, house payments, and other obligations of those who lost their livelihoods in the recreational fishing industry.
7. The company committed to decades of financing environmental restoration.
8. The company is paying for major environmental restoration projects in five states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
9. The company has provided more than a $ billion to finance long-term research on the impacts of the spill and the recovery of the Gulf.
10. BP continues to actively monitor or pay for the monitoring the status of 4,376 miles of coastline, of which 4,272 where removal of debris and oil is deemed complete.
11. To finance these initial and on-going activities, dozens of billions of dollars have been raised by the company through systematic sales of operations to raise the needed funds.
What does British Petroleum get in return for this huge penance it is paying and providing? More lawsuits, new and novel interpretations of previously agreed upon settlements that continue to broaden the risk and liability, including payouts involving businesses and individuals more than 40 miles from the coast, and a judicial interpretation that allows claims having no relationship to the spill to be submitted and paid. Some claimants are blatantly applying for refunds for things that never actually happened.
The company keeps being vilified by many forces. There seem to be many who feel that the company needs to be sacrificed as an example to others. My colleagues in public relations can’t resist criticizing the communications of British Petroleum. But all the while, BP erected more than a dozen websites to keep the public informed and stayed accessible. How many companies, nearly two years later, still have their websites up talking about the problems they created? Not many, if any. Not even the fabled Tylenol can come close to the kinds of resources British Petroleum has put forth. Remember, it took Johnson & Johnson more than a decade to settle the victim claims. And as of May 31, 2013, British Petroleum has paid out more than $11 billion in claims. The websites and dashboards are still running, still reporting.
How good does a good company have to be to catch a break from the media, various public and professional do-gooders, bloggers, bloviators, and bellyachers? Here is a company that has put its money and its reputation where the damage was done. Name a reporter, news organization, activist or activist organization, bellyacher, bloviators, or back-bench complainer who has accomplished as much.
Let’s all take a breath.