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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Broadcasting your failure

Q: In a crisis, organizations are advised to be as open and transparent as possible. In that spirit BP has vowed to continue its live 'spillcam' coverage this week as engineers attempt to plug the oil well with the risky 'top kill' maneuver. Has that been the right strategy?

At first, the spillcam was a fine idea. Companies in crisis understand that in today's media environment, images control the narrative. When the spillcam first debuted, the vast majority of the pictures available for public consumption were of oil-covered animals, maps of an expansive spill zone, and oil washing up on the Gulf Coast shoreline. BP desperately needed visuals that told its side of the story and articulated all that was being done to contain the damage - and a real-time video feed depicting advanced robotics hard at work at "ground zero" certainly seemed to fit the bill.

With each successive failure to plug the leak, however, the spillcam has evolved into a constant reminder of what's transpiring a mile below the Gulf surface and BP's inability to stop it - and the public is riveted to the point that CNN considered running the feed full-time in a corner of its broadcast. The "plume of doom," as Maureen Dowd called it, is now the dominant image of the day - but there's nothing BP can do. To disallow public access now would lead to BP's vilification for a stunning lack of transparency.

Even if BP was inclined to take the feed down, to do it now would be akin to ending a movie during the climactic scene where the main character is poised to save the day or end in abject failure. And stopping the feed would increase the scrutiny on the areas where they have lacked transparency such as their halting of the "top-kill" procedure and the environmental impact of the aerial spraying to "disperse" oil before it reaches shore.

As such, the only option for BP (and the administration) is to stop the leak. The public will only stop watching when there's nothing left to see. Strategically, BP may have been better served in delaying public access to the feed until it was confident that it would transmit images of success, rather than failure after failure. But at this point, results are all that matter. Let's just hope, for our environment and economy, that BP has a happy ending in store for everyone watching at home.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  May 28, 2010; 3:43 PM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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There is much more to be understood regarding how this mess was created. Lax safety protocols, rushed approval (by the Obama administration) no credible Plan B in the even of an accident of this type.

All that said, BP has wisely chosen to walk a different path than the normal CYA, liability-obsessed corporate culture that normally emerges in a crisis like this.

BP has virtually waived liability, has made direct payment to states for clean up efforts and is making direct payments to individuals and businesses that have been harmed by the spill. They have reached out to every expert in the sector and have spared no expense in trying to find a solution.

The spillcam is both immediate and besdide the point. BP has demonstrated far more transparency and responsibility in its actions to stem the spill than by broadcasting an image of it.

If the spillcam is indicting, it only to the Obama administration, which has been nothing short of inept in dealing with a crisis that they had 30 days to prepare for. Alternating between berating BP and holding it responsible, the Administration demonstrates the hollowness of governmental competence that Obama was supposed to emobody.

It took the media 48 hours to blame Katrina on Bush, despite the incomeptence of Louisiana's governor and New Orleans' mayor.

37 days in, no one seems to mind that the President spent more time playing golf and attending fundraisers than in going to the Gulf coast.

Bush was exortiated for being at his ranch and going to a fundraiser and not landing in NO, despite the fact that AF-1 would have diverted terribly needed resources o presidential protection and logistics instead of rescue.

Where's the outrage?

Spillcam? Poster child for government impotence and incompetence.

Posted by: CoughlinC | May 29, 2010 11:51 AM
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"Doing this for every action of government, military, and corporations might actually lead to a society that was now a machination of hidden power, backroom pay-offs, and basic dishonesty and greed!"

- I don't know about that, but this isn't a "backroom" we're talking about. This is the seafloor below our own national seashore. BP doesn't own the land, nor does the military. Why we're renting our seafloor to private corporations - I dunno why, but I don't think anyone has the right to close any doors on what's going on there.

Posted by: parkerjm71 | May 28, 2010 6:42 PM
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The camera was not a PR strategy, rather it was a capitulation to the demand by the people to be told what in "hell" was going on as no one believed a single word from BP, the Government, or the talking heads of cable rants! And the camera revealed in a way that could not be denied that the spill was much, much greater than was admitted, exposed the total hypocrisy of using the "dispersant" to hide the extent of the "spill", and made obvious every twist and swindle of BP and its government protectors.

Doing this for every action of government, military, and corporations might actually lead to a society that was now a machination of hidden power, backroom pay-offs, and basic dishonesty and greed!

Posted by: Chaotician | May 28, 2010 4:38 PM
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