This is the crux of the issue that “The Media Equation’s” David Carr raises in his always must-read column today “A Disaster, Privately Managed.” In essence, the command-and-control approach taken by BP and its PR advisors cleverly exploits the SEC’s decade-old fair disclosure regulations in an effort to minimize the negative material (and reputational) fallout that graphically unsettling images from the Gulf may have on the company.
This is how BP’s media person explained the company’s decision to limit media access to an increasingly despoiled Gulf of Mexico:
â€œGiven recent volatility in BP share price, Iâ€™m told that information related to top kill is now considered stock-market sensitive, which means it has to be managed under disclosure rules for the London and N.Y. stock exchanges,â€ the BP media official said in an e-mail message. â€œIn a nutshell, that means all investors must be provided information on an equal basis. That precludes me from sending you updates as various aspects of the operation unfold.â€
Yes. It’s true that a publicly traded company is required to make stock-sensitive information available to all parties concurrently. And yes, selective disclosure may very violate these regulations.
But should we believe that BP’s decision to limit media access or withhold vital information was made for fear of running afoul of those who govern the New York or London Stock Exchanges? Wouldn’t the real-time dissemination of information mitigate any cause for regulatory concern especially as more and more companies have the capacity to transform themselves into media companies?
I’ll always remember another crisis in which I was involved that also invoked the name of our neighbor to the south. Specifically, news organization had reported that a massive earthquake in Mexico had all but decimated the entire country. In reality, the damage was limited.
Of course, these histrionic headlines did not sit well with our client the Mexican Ministry of Tourism. Frustrated by the overly dramatic coverage, it decided to dispatch its own TV crews in helicopters to the affected areas. We then fed via satellite that fresh, and we believe more accurate footage to the news departments of the 700+ U.S. broadcast stations for airing, as they saw fit, on their evening newscasts. We also booked the cabinet-level head of tourism for an interview on NBC “Today” accompanied by that footage.
Nowadays, companies in crisis need not have to rely on the editorial benevolence of news organizations to carry their points-of-view. The means exist to take the D-T-C route by creating and syndicating content through their own channels. The spill cam notwithstanding, what other information, graphics, images and video could BP create and make available to properly (and hopefully more accurately) frame the reality on the ground?
I was encouraged to see Dachis Group’s recommendation — “Would being more social help BP?” — that the company create a social tab to its website featuring:
- A wiki to provide information on how volunteers should properly deal with affected wildlife.
- A community to help would-be volunteers organize and mobilize.
- A community for those who have filed claims to help others through the process (and for BP to learn ways to make the process easier).
- An online directory of people to register their boats and professional services
- A forum to crowdsource ideas to fix the problem.
As for the question of limiting journalist access, if unfettered media access poses logistical issues — especially when the number of bona fide journalists can stretch into the thousands — perhaps a pool approach (excuse the term) is a workable alternative?