A rise in fake green PR?

A rise in fake green PR?

The kerfuffle over Chevron’s ad campaign and the accompanying spoof ad campaign (see my Inspired Economist post) reminded me that I hadn’t posted anything here about my first contribution to the Public Relations The Strategist. Titled Handling a Fake Twitter Account: @BPGlobalPR Leaves Lasting Impression on Crisis Communications, the article talks about the fake Twitter account that parodied BP’s communications response to the Gulf Oil Spill.

The Strategist article draws on the expertise of Shel Holtz and Kevin Dugan to talk about how BP could have better handled the crisis in the gulf and the rise of @BPGlobalPR on Twitter. With another oil company responding to another spoof communications plan from environmental activists, I thought it might be worth the read.

 I was an early one of the 186,000+ followers of @BPGlobalPR on Twitter. How could I not be? In the midst of tragedy in the Gulf, with Jon Stewart enjoying an unfortunately timed vacation, it provided some much-needed comic relief.

But as I followed and chuckled, I was also thinking about what it signified for public relations as it is practiced today. An anonymous person sets up a Twitter account about one of the largest companies in the world that is in the midst of one of the largest crises of reputations in this century. Through biting satire, that anonymous (and free) account quickly amasses ten times the followers of that company (@BP_America), while generating tons of conversation online and off. What lessons should corporate communicators draw from this and this week’s Chevron episode?

Well, in case you are a corporate communicator struggling to understand the significance, the author of @BPGlobalPR spells it out for you in a press release announcing his name, Leroy Stick. Says Leroy:

I started @BPGlobalPR because the oil spill had been going on for almost a month and all BP had to offer were bullshit PR statements. No solutions, no urgency, no sincerity, no nothing. That's why I decided to relate to the public for them...Why has this caught on? I think it's because people can smell bullshit and sometimes laughing at it feels better than getting angry or depressed over it...The reason @BPGlobalPR continues to grow is because BP continues to spew their bullshit.

Then, Leroy tries to save PR from itself, especially those wondering what BP should do to save their brand from @BPGlobalPR. He writes:

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.

Then, Leroy moves from the specific (BP) to the general (all business):

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. Lead the pack! Evolve!

The Rainforest Action Network, who along with the Yes Men and Amazon Watch were behind the spoof Chevron ad campaign, made a similar point in an email to the New York Times:

“When it comes to oil spills, climate change and human rights abuses, we need real action from Chevron,” said the e-mail. “Instead, the oil giant has prioritized a high-priced glossy advertising campaign that attempts to trick the American people into believing it is different than BP.”

While a little non-traditional in their approach (to say the least), this is actually sound advice. In our hyper-connected world, good communications can't overcome bad products or practices. A company can't afford a sliver of daylight between its actions and its communications because the truth is too easy to find. As the masthead of Adam Curry's blog says: "There are no secrets, only information we don't yet have." The only acceptable response is transparency.

Transparency and honesty are even more important for companies claiming to be green (anyone remember Beyond Petroleum?) In the Gort Cloud, author Richard Seireeni summarizes the book with a list of ten key observations for successfully building a green brand. Number one in the list is: Honesty isn't only the best policy...it's the only policy. In making this point, Seireeni repeatedly cites the importance of honesty and transparency in corporate communications.

Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said that Clorox's decision to list all of the ingredients on the label of Green Works was a key factor behind their endorsement of the brand. "Sunshine is the best disinfectant," Pope said.

Are you on Twitter? Connect with me @nathanschock.