"When you`re responsible, you don`t spend money on PR"?

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$ 50,000,000 is not much money. At least not in comparison to the amount of money that BP has spent in total for the complete elimination of the oil spill - according to the latest estimates, up to six billion dollars. Nevertheless, these 50 million might just turn even more people against the oil company BP. It`s exactly how much BP is spending for spinning its image through newspaper adverts and, most of all, the internet.

BP`s image couldn`t be worse at the moment, due to the poor handling of the oil spill in the Mexican gulf and its disastrous public relations. They reportedly continue to hamper journalists and publish questionable adverts.

But BP is also paying search engines for so-called AdWords, investing in SEM, Search Engine Marketing. "AdWords" might be terms often searched for, like "oil spill".

So if you search for "oil spill" on Google, the first result you`ve received over the last couple of weeks was BP`s corporate website. Although these links are highlighted in gray and shown as an advertisement, they are clicked on with a high probability. Of course, BP`s website only tells you what they think is the truth.
BP is paying Google for those AdWords - per click. At a cost of up to 2€ per click - which varies by market and quantities - such a campaign can get very expensive quickly. But right now, nothing is too expensive for BP in order to polish their image: during the last couple of weeks they`ve been buying terms like "oil spill", "gulf oil spill", "gulf disaster" or "leak".

Being asked about that by the media, a BP spokeswoman reasoned: "We want it to be easier for users to find important information". The website apparently gives information about asserting claims against BP or volunteering to fight the oil slick.

The (fake) Twitter profile "BPglobalPR" that has been making fun about BP`s terrible crisis management for weeks now, commented: "Investing a lot of time & money into cleaning up our image, but the beaches are next on the to-do list for sure. #BPcares"

Lauren McGowan, who is organizing US protests against the BP PR campaign, said: "Last night I saw an ad with Tony Hayward talking about how BP is "taking responsibility"- but when you`re really responsible, you don`t spend money on PR."

Well, I can`t say I fully agree with that. Of course you can spend money on PR and you should. But not in the way BP does. PR shouldn`t cover up the mistakes that have been done, but should manage the crisis accordingly. In this case, BP should have been honest and open about what has happened and should have granted journalists full access instead of hampering them. BP tried it with PR in the old fashioned way: lying, denying, distracting, spinning...and they`ve failed terribly.

In the end, BP is just another case of crisis management gone wrong. I know I`ve mentioned it many times before in this blog, but good PR has to be based on honesty, transparency and dialogue. Otherwise, it is bound to fail, like this recent example shows.