You Can’t Make Friends in a Crisis

In business life as in your personal life you’re going to screw up.  It’s a given. You’re going to fail.  You’re going to miss a detail, break a commitment and not keep a promise.  Deliberate or not, you’re going to blow it some day, some how, some way. It’s bound to happen and it will hurt your business, cripple it or close it.

So what do you do?  Make friends and sincerely work hard to become part of the fabric of the communities in which you do business…NOW!

From a media relations standpoint, the BP Oil Crisis in the Gulf has been a complete disaster and a case study of what not to do in a crisis that will be taught in university public relations classes for decades.

My personal 100% boycott of BP started at the very beginning of the crisis – although I started to reduce my purchases over the past year (see Why Southwest Airlines Rocks).

However,  as a marketer I’ve paid close attention to their crisis communications efforts and thought to myself, “Why should I support them when they’ve done nothing to support my community.”

Should I? No.  Would you?  No. Not now…too late.

But then BAM! Last week my local Pittsburgh BP puts a banner on its road sign declaring, “This location independently owned and operated by EZ Energy USA.”

Again, I ask myself, “Why should I support EZ Energy USA when they’ve done nothing to support my community.” They’re quite happy to hide quietly behind BP’s logo when they’re raking in tons of cash and not reinvesting in the community, but when times are a little rocky they want me to support them because they’re supposedly my neighbor?

Should I? No.  Would you?  No. Not now…too late.

I mean who is EZ Energy? Where are they located? What are the names and faces behind the company? What do they stand for, who have they helped?

These days you reap what you sow in today’s marketing arena.  Yes, you might gain in the short term by only thinking about your own bank account instead of the greater good, but &^%$ happens.  And, when the ^%$# hits the fan, look out.

For me, I’ll drive a block or two to get my gas from my local Sunoco owned by a nice family, or to GetGo locally owned and operated by Giant Eagle run by the Shapira family – great people – locally involved and/or if I’m on a regional highway maybe Sheetz another great family that respects the communities in which they do business.

This is not to say that BP and/or EZ Energy aren’t involved in my local community, but if they are they’re keeping it a secret.

A great case study to follow to lessen the blow that a crisis can make on your business (self inflicted or not) is McDonald’s during the Rodney King race riots in LA in 1992.  The riots left 52 people dead and 2,000 buildings destroyed and $1 billion in property damage. With all of the looting, fires and destruction, not one of the 30 McDonald’s was touched.

Why? Based on a long term vision of founder Ray Kroc who believed in a “trust-bank” philosophy of giving back to the communities McDonald’s does business in, the local owner/operators’ investment in being involved, committed and visible community partners paid off. See: America’s Hamburger Helper, Time Magazine, 6.29.92.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”Santayana

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