Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Oil be seeing you….

There’s an American TV programme called Fringe in which the action flips between two parallel universes. Both are broadly the same, but there are visible differences. Let’s step into the parallel universe for a few minutes….

There’s a global oil company called Big Oil. Let’s call them BO.

BO has a major crisis on its hands. A deep water well has sprung a leak and oil is gushing into the sea off one of the world’s richest nations and beaches are blackened.

An ocean of vitriol is poured on the business, its share price plummets, the oil continues to gush and there is seemingly no answer.

Mr Machiavelli from communications has a plan…

The CEO of BO is hauled before a congressional committee and is asked to account for his actions. He performs dismally, failing to answer questions and attracts almost universal media and political criticism.

The CEO visits the blackened shores and complains about the impact of the crisis on his personal life.

The CEO takes time out from the crisis to sail in the relatively clean sea around his home nation. Cue more vitriol.

Suddenly the public and politicians are more interested in the CEO than they are in the business.

In tandem, furious efforts are made to repair the leak. Eventually there is a seemingly successful outcome.

The company makes provision for reparations and issues a trading statement declaring the impact on profits.

A day before the announcement, news is leaked that the CEO is leaving the business. No clarification is issued, leaving the media a full day to write history / blame pieces and declare that the CEO has finally succumbed to pressure and will be leaving the business.

The news is confirmed the following day and there is a fuss about the CEO’s severance package. Company spokespeople point to his long-term history with the company and the fact that his pension pot has been accumulated over decades of exemplary senior service.

Returning to Mr Machiavelli, it is worth pointing out that the CEO’s departure, his missteps and PR gaffes were all carefully choreographed on about day 3 of the crisis with the CEO’s full consent. The plan was to personalise the crisis, shift blame from company to individual then sever the link and move on.

Now, back to the real world.