One of the fastest-growing Twitter accounts this month has been @BPGlobalPR, a satirical account making fun of BP and the company’s public relations disaster in the Gulf Coast. The big question on everyone’s mind – and no doubt, on the minds of BP’s lawyers – has been the identity of the writer, an environmental activist with a sharp wit and twisted sense of humor.
That writer stepped forward this week, identifying himself to the bloggers at Street Giant only as “Leroy Stick.” In a 1,046-word letter to the media, he rips into BP’s PR response, and gives us all a lesson in PR and branding in the digital age. Here are some of the highlights from his letter, and our take on Stick’s position.
Stick: “I started @BPGlobalPR because the oil spill had been going on for almost a month and all BP had to offer were bulls**t PR statements. No solutions, no urgency, no sincerity, no nothing. That’s why I decided to relate to the public for them. I started off just making jokes at their expense with a few friends, but now it has turned into something of a movement.”
Our take: Crisis management is difficult for any company to execute, even more so when your company is facing the single worst oil spill in human history. Stick is absolutely correct: BP’s public relations campaign should have been honest and sincere from the start.
Stick: “I’ve read a bunch of articles and blogs about this whole situation by publicists and marketing folk wondering what BP should do to save their brand from @BPGlobalPR. First of all, who cares? Second of all, what kind of business are you in? I’m trashing a company that is literally trashing the ocean, and these idiots are trying to figure out how to protect that company?”
Our take: BP’s brand name isn’t being destroyed by a satirical Twitter account like @BPGlobalPR; people already have negative feeling about the brand themselves, and the account is simply packaging those feelings in a relatable way. We’ve heard that BP might want to shut down @BPGlobalPR – that would simply heap fuel on the fire. The other side of the coin, of course, is that BP shareholders have collectively lost billions of dollars on Wall Street over the last 30 days and BP is in a lot of trouble. The stakes are very high for this company, and there probably isn’t a lot of room for humor at BP’s headquarters right now. Shares of BP were trading around $60 a share on April 20, the day the oil rig caught fire. Now they’re trading under $40 a share – a 35 percent loss in value.
Stick: “Do you want to know what BP should do about me? Do you want to know what their PR strategy should be? They should fire everyone in their joke of a PR department, starting with all-star Anne Womack-Kolto and focus on actually fixing the problems at hand.”
Our take: Amen.
Stick: “So what is the point of all this? The point is, FORGET YOUR BRAND. You don’t own it because it is literally nothing. You can spend all sorts of time and money trying to manufacture public opinion, but ultimately, that’s up to the public, now isn’t it? You know the best way to get the public to respect your brand? Have a respectable brand. Offer a great, innovative product and make responsible, ethical business decisions.”
Our take: And now, we get to the meat and potatoes. Stick hits the nail on the head: The Internet has changed the game. Your company’s brand is a fluid object. You spend money crafting the direction of that object, but ultimately it’s owned by the public. Activists like Stick will continue to co-opt the world’s brands and impose their own spin on them. Companies need to adapt to this new reality, by creating brand campaigns that recognize the importance of social media and the power that a single voice can have on their product perception.
And now, a handful of the best of @BPGlobalPR:
– “Thousands of people are attacked by sea creatures every year. We at BP are dedicated to – bringing that number down. You’re welcome!”
– “On the bright side. This endless oil leak has given Americans the chance to ponder the concept of infinity. Expand your minds people!”
– “Jesus walked on water and soon you can too! (Please pray for BP, we’re losing a lot of oil).”
– “The good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct. #bpcares”
– “New solution: Everybody drive your cars into the gulf with your gas caps open! You’ll get a full tank and we’ll only charge $20 cash!”
– “Just got the concession call from Exxon Valdez. They were great competitors and remarkably evil about everything. #bpwins!”
– “OMG This isss ridciulsus. playing a drinking gamee where we drink a shot everytme we seeee an oily birdddd!!! LOL! so wasted!!11 #pbcares”