BP and Toyota – Two PR Nightmares and Two Very Different Outcomes

Toyota CEO Jim Lentz

Toyota, as we all know by now, has recalled millions of its automobiles due to the faulty accelerator pedals.  It was – and still is – a public relations nightmare.  Lives have been devastated and families shattered.  These design flaws have affected folks around the country and around the world.

BP has had its own nightmare to deal with.  The Deepwater Horizon explosion in late April took the lives of eleven workers and destroyed their families.  It turned into an ecological disaster as millions of barrels of crude oil spilled for weeks into the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.  The company has worked, in all fairness, diligently in its efforts to permanently plug the leak.

Two companies, both foreign, that have been responsible for two proverbial kicks in the teeth to the collective American people.  Why is one company hated while one remains in our good graces?  I have a few ideas.

It all comes down to the attitudes and efforts of both companies; while some mirrored the other, there are those efforts one company made that did nothing but add to the misery of the American people.  Let’s take a look.

Toyota has always taken advantage of the latest in technology – it’s always maintained an active Twitter presence as well as a Facebook page that’s updated constantly.  It was prepared to kick into a proactive stance, versus a reactive scramble the way BP did.  Further, Toyota wasted no time in getting its CEO front and center.  Jim Lentz quickly became the face of the crisis, much the way BP’s Tony Hayward did.  Here’s the difference: Hayward went on the record with some of the most insensitive comments we’ve heard.  Everything from whining about getting his life back to making an across the board statement that he was not overly concerned with the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf, “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest…”  Even now, it makes this writer’s blood boil.

The fact is, his comment of getting his life back would not have made any of us cringe so much had eleven men not just lost their own lives while working for him.

Placing blame is not the way to go in situations such as these.  There’s a huge difference in laying blame and taking

Former BP CEO Tony Hayward

responsibility.  Frankly, at that point, anyone could care less about whether it was Transocean’s neglect or BP’s.  We, as Americans and me personally, having grown up on the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast, wanted someone to simply take responsibility, pick up the ball and run with it.  Period.  BP lost in more ways than one.  Then again, I suppose it thought “the little people” wouldn’t have a voice in the long run.  Newsflash for Mr. Hayward: you were wrong, sir.

Toyota had already begun its efforts of picking up the pieces from the very beginning.  While it wasted no time in getting its social media networks moving into overdrive, the company stepped up its efforts and kept the American public aware, at all times, of every decision it was making and how it would benefit those affected by these recalls.   As mentioned, Toyota’s CEO Jim Lentz began taking interviews, including one with Digg, which it promoted heavily.  While major media outlets played a role in getting Toyota’s message front and center, the fact it moved forward with the networking sites, including Digg, only reiterated its commitment.  The transparency, the public approach and the willingness to answer questions during these live interviews as they came in showed a level of commitment we’ve yet to see from BP.

The fact is, information comes at us in rapid fire.  The choices companies now have is to hide in the boardrooms and deal with any crises in private, or, they can attempt to dedicate at least a part of their efforts in a more transparent and highly visible arena.  Toyota made the call to go public and fast.  It hid nothing, it blamed no one and it took responsibility.

Here’s another newsflash: the traditional pressers?  They’re a thing of the past, folks.  Today’s public relations efforts are as fast as breaking news.   Society wants accountability and it doesn’t want to be held back.  Today, we see efforts of laying low as efforts of hiding details and planning an escape.

Both BP and Toyota are model lessons for those future companies that find themselves in deep water.  One’s example you want to follow and the other’s methods should be part of every company’s manual of what not to do when a company is facing a disaster.


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