Chevron, vying with BP for the most befuddled crisis reponse


What is it about big oil companies’ response to a crisis? Exxon Valdez. BP Gulf spill. And now Chevron pizza.

As my colleague, the eagle-eyed Meredith Dropkin notes, sometimes these blog posts just write themselves.

Here’s the deal: Pennsylvania is the fracking capital of the Northeast. The economy is booming thanks in part to the controversial extraction method for natural gas. But as with most things related to removing petroleum from the ground, occasionally things go boom. That’s what happened the other day in southwest Pennsylvania, in a tiny burgh called Bobtown, at a Chevron rig.

This was no joke, as one person died in the explosion and others were endangered battling the ensuing flames for five hours. So what does a company that made $21 billion in profits in 2013 do to manage this crisis? It’s almost too painful and embarrassing to explain. We wince in wonder.

The company sent the residents of Dunkard Township a letter and a coupon for free pizza. Shades of the tone-deaf BP CEO Tony Hayward going home to England at the height of the crisis to sail.

  

Nothing would have been preferable and that’s never the case. As Philadelphia and Pittsburgh media reported, the company wrote:

Chevron recognizes the effect this has had on the community. We value being a responsible member of this community and will continue to strive  to achieve incident-free operations. We are committed to taking action to  safeguard our neighbors, our employees, our contractors and the  environment…

“Tucked inside the envelope was a gift certificate to Bobtown Pizza, courtesy  of Chevron. It entitles the resident to a free large pizza, and before you say  something like, “Boy, is that chintzy,” you should know that was just the  beginning, that the coupon also entitles the holder to a 2-liter soda.”

Presumably the only winner here is the owner of Bobtown Pizza.

The slogans roll off the tongue: Chevron, the pizza goes on before the rig blows; Chevron, pepperoni solves all ills; Chevron, the olive oil company.

Really? A rig blows, someone dies and you send them pizza to make amends? Who’s in the pilot house? Houston, we have a problem.

Companies have a choice when faced with a crisis. They can step up, take responsibility, create transparency and maybe meet with the public — in this case — to discuss the apparent issues. Or, they can prolong the crisis by being condescending and trying to obscure issues by trying to buy off those effected.

Did someone at Chevron honestly believe a free pizza would salve the wounds?

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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