Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Media Training - Why the Oil Industry is Going to Need More Media Training

By Graham Kelly
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has done more than damage just the reputation and market capitalisation of BP. It's put the entire oil industry on notice that cutting costs to improve shareholder value ahead of safety is just not acceptable. And the news media have highlighted this problem, adding to BP's woes, by talking about how an acoustic switch is not mandatory in the US (but is everywhere else) and that would have prevented the rig explosion. All oil companies are now going to come under severe media scrutiny. That's why proper, professional media training is going to be absolutely vital for these companies.
I know BP executives would have had media training courses both before and after the Deepwater Horizon disaster began but there were still flaws in their performances. CEO Tony Hayward told the media he would "like his life back" after weeks and weeks of dealing with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The comment was seen as tactless given that 11 workers had died when the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in April.
The media - and therefore the public - absolutely frown on anyone ignoring sensitivities like that. So, how do you avoid such mistakes? Simple really - be aware of any sensitivities surrounding the incident and make sure you don't overstep any boundaries. In media relations training for the incident, draw up a list of the "no-go" areas and firmly cement that in your brain. This is particularly important for television media training as those clips often end up on YouTube and can go viral.
The best tip of all - have some compassion inherent within you. Don't let corporate or political life rob of you of that virtue and then you naturally won't fall into holes like that! (Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown forgot that tip when he was campaigning for the election and called an elderly female voter a bigot, forgetting his radio microphone was still on when he clambered into his car and made the remark to aides.)
But back to BP, and the CEO also bought out the tried and true media skills training method of putting the spill into context by telling the Guardian newspaper that "the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." That's normally a very good media training ploy but when you have a spill the size of the Deepwater Horizon one, you can't get into spin like that. This spill is too big a negative to ignore or gloss over with positive spin.
It's best to just fess up, say you're sorry and get on with cleaning up the mess, making sure the media know that all other rigs under your name have been checked and cleared - I havent seen any news media coverage on that last point yet and it's now two months after the spill began. It would indeed be much better if BP ignored the lawyers, who are always bad for public relations.
Meanwhile the investigative journalism site, ProPublica has published a damning story that calls into question BP's safety and environmental practices this century. The story goes much deeper than any daily news report can go and paints a very unsettling picture of BP operations and culture.
That, of course, is to be expected as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues. The media will dig deeper and look at other company operations. The industry generally must be quaking because the media spotlight is sure to broaden its reach to include other oil companies and their safety and environmental records. And that's why more media training is going to be needed in the oil industry worldwide.
Here's what the The Independent had to say about BP's Tony Hayward:
" is also important that BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, puts a cap on his own stream of self-pitying and self-regarding remarks, which have only inflamed US hostility towards the company and indeed towards Britain.
From the now infamous complaint that he wanted "his life back" to yesterday's smug-sounding assertion in a television interview that BP would remain in the Gulf "long after the media have gone", the public face of BP has continued to display a tin ear for public opinion, turning himself into an almost pantomime figure, the proverbial smooth-talking, ill-intentioned Brit of so many Americans' darkest imaginations."
From a media training perspective - OUCH!
And the result of all this on BP? As I write this today, June 17, 2010, the company's share price has plummeted 50% since the rig explosion, it's been forced to cut dividends by 75%, significantly reduce its investment program and sell US$10 billion of assets to fund a planned US$20 billion fund to pay for the oil spill.
Graham Kelly runs specialist media training services out of Melbourne, Australia and has trained thousands of executives in 10 different countries. His website is
If you like some of his media training ideas in this article, you'll love his 100 media training tips which also comes with five media training articles - available free from