It’s the arrogance, Stupid!

The Justice Department admits it served $16 dollar muffins, $8 cups of coffee and cookies and brownies that cost $10 each at a 2009 meeting.

At a time when many Americans don’t have enough money for basic groceries this seems to be, well the word that comes to mind is excessive.

The story, appearing in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times Justice Department’s $16 dollar muffins don’t sit well, quotes Justice Department officials, “We agree that excessive spending of the types identified in the OIG report should not occur,” adding that the department has taken steps “to ensure that these problems do not occur again.”

Good messaging. Good Crisis Management.

Maybe they might have thought about the ramifications of the decision to spend so much before they thought they were so entitled. But it proves the old media adage, you never get caught for the crime when you do it but always for the cover-up or the discover.

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Jet Blue – Brilliant

Judging by the soaring mentions of Facebook and Twitter alone Jet Blue has scored big on its Car-megeddon promotion offering four dollar flights between Long Beach and Burbank California this weekend.

Offering just 2 flights in each direction per day this is hardly disruptive to their schedule nor will it successfully transport a significant number of people, but just wait until local stations cover each end of the inaugural flight – just wait till some enterprising network reporter does a ride along.  You can’t add up the amount of free promotion on multiple platforms.  A little creativity at the airline or agency will be paying major dividends in the public’s mind share.  And – just to note their strategic view – by offering this on Wednesday they pretty much guarantee three days of run-up pre-publicity plus the weekend itself.

Why is this grist for a media column?  Because when a company does it right – manages an event – grabs the headline and manages the story – it’s worth a tip-of-the -hat.

Posturing, creating messages beyond credulity

Let’s acknowledge the obvious – money is tight and every public entity is facing a do-or-die scramble for standing in the public’s mind share and subsequent approval in funding.

But whatever their message it must be rooted in common sense just as the messenger has an obligation as an orator to make sense, not rely on either spin or hyperbole lest they lose any semblance of credulity. There are examples of strident message-work above-and-beyond-the-pale just about daily — one such absurdity came during the KQED’s Monday radio program “Forum” during a discussion of the need for vital and vibrant public parks.

A guest on the show made the assertion that by funding parks on the “front end” would no doubt diminish the need for public funding of “ERs and jails” on the back-end. His point was to invest in public parks today to diminish public spending on medical care or justice later. I am confident the speaker loves parks and no doubt wants to keep their job, but I think it is a little bit ambitious to represent (with a straight face) that funding of public parks will in any way reduce the need for hospitalizations or prisons.

The point is – of course – say whatever you believe, but in the marketplace of common sense ideas it would help if there was some attention paid to making good sense… rather than just throwing words against a wall hoping some might stick.

The consequence is that it all just sounds like noise. When we wonder why people don’t listen (as much? at all?) any longer I suggest it is because so many times what’s said is silly or beyond the pale of credulity.

“Its the Apocalypse”, more after this

Is it just me or does much of the reporting from Japan have a certain giddiness, a breathless excitement of what may come next mixed with a dour expression of the degree of gloom looming with every next story?

I keep anticipating the growing expectations of nuclear horror to even drift right into the local traffic reports which precede most newscasts… “And in Northern Japan right now the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse are causing major delays to the flow of human refugees from quake stricken areas about to become too hot for human life… and now, the news and the latest on what’s happening in this ‘developing story’…

Japan is a big story. We know that because so many anchors are in country giving the story their personal touch, their individual raised eyebrow of concern and sobering reporting. The disaster in Japan reportage is punctuated by all the big hitters – the New York and Washington show hosts – who have been sent to the center of the action, as if the usual cadre of reporters might not be sufficient to indicate how great the devastation, how overwhelming the human toll and emotion, the degree to which this story is setting and influencing a national (to us) agenda. Now that the media commitment has been made in country, now this is big, and they tell us so.

I am as interested in the Beltway experts who in the hour of nuclear international dismay have stopped bullying one another long enough while weighing in on “just what might be happening” with their own editorial driven speculation (prejudices/agendas/points of view) about unseen events/actions/news releases from half way around the world while making often self-serving, self-aggrandizing points such as, “as they have been saying, worrying and warning all along” some thing like this was bound to happen”, “it was just a matter of time”, and this “should be a warning to us to address our…” nuclear/energy/national policy decisions going forward”.

These are quite obviously serious times. Events, while moving quickly, are not entirely clear, seen or immediately reported. As much as we want to know now, as much as we feel we must have decisive information immediately, this is a story where exact facts, truths and events are as clear as mud. Patience, while a virtue, is not being practiced. Maybe it can’t be… but the breathless excitement over each new tidbit, headline, next half hour of what’s coming up and how bad it will be is getting exhausting.

What’s wrong with jail for oil executives? It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.

It worked for Al Capone… why not Tony Hayward and so many other oil executives?   Remember the adage that you’re never punished for the crime but you’ll be doomed for the cover-up?  The oil spill is horrific but what’s more damaging has been the response, the obfuscation, the denials, and the apparent path of half-truths.

It seems apparent there will never be enough money to pay for all the losses, the hardships, the heartache.  Besides fines are merely money paid by a corporation and diddled about on a balance sheet.  In an age where we mourn the absence of real responsibility, make the crime personal, not just business.

Al Capone was never convicted for crimes regarding prohibition but for tax evasion.  What’s the crime committed by the oil executives?  Perjury!

Follow the logic.  Or perhaps better phrased, follow the money.  In order to gain government leases, in order to win approval of countless drilling plans, even when testifying before Congress following the disaster on Transocean’s Deep Horizon drilling rig it seems evident the executives from BP systematically misstated the facts (lies, fibs? white lies, convenient truths?) on government forms, contracts, plans and in testimony.

And that, ladies and gentleman of the jury, is perjury.

$20 billion dollars will never be enough as a set aside for damages.  BP is already claiming they have spent 10% of that on containing the spill alone.  What will happen when gulf beaches become oil stained gooey sand dunes, devoid of tourists for years?  Or what will happen to spring-break-centered towns like Panama City when no students return next year?  Or for anyone who bought condos on a once white-sand beach who will never be able to unload those albatrosses?  Imagine the devastation from the first hurricane in the gulf which inhales oil soaked sea and distributes that as rain hundreds of miles inland, not to mention the storm surge, both of which will leave an oily residue hundreds, perhaps a thousand miles from the spill?

There is simply no way to contain the damage nor provide restitution for all these ‘legitimate’ claims.  How do you put a value on some of the losses, or for deaths of wildlife or fish?  As for the examples like a hurricane BP will most likely argue that flood surge and rain is an act of God and nature and surely they cannot be held responsible for that!  As for the more acute, local claims, one must believe they will follow Exxon’s tact of making every nickle and dime a hard-won fight for those who suffered the loss.
Which brings me back to my principal theme.  In order for any real change there ought to be personal and not just business accountability.  This may seem like some sort of Jonathan Swift parable but change is unlikely to stem from political posturing, Congressional displeasure and environmentalist hand wringing.  For any oil or drilling executive who made their false assertions, who knew that there were not enough booms, or that the valve was not up to par, they should be held accountable for simply this: lying.  They seem to have lied or misled or misrepresented inconvenient truths regularly.  Senior and highly trained engineers at BP and other oil giants should have known better – they to either lied or went mute when higher-ups changed or modified their reports.  They kept their jobs but at an ethical price that is now being borne by others who are quite innocent victims.  Similar assertions of defense and denial echoed at war crime tribunals with only a modicum of success.  Surely we would not be able to jail all of the senior vice presidents, the vice presidents, the senior engineers and on down the line, and some offer value as government witnesses, but the point is simple – let’s make those responsible pay for their perjury.  While we’re at it, perhaps offer an amnesty for all the other oil companies might be considered, for perhaps 90 days, as a period when they could review and revise their plans too.

And this new truth-telling or ethical conduct might be applied to the mining industry… or transportation, or food too as there seem to be countless industries that have grown too cozy with government regulators who  believed we’re paid by taxpayers to protect the public at-large.

The point is this – instead of focusing solely on monetary recover, which is important, let’s not settle for the easy solution – the money alone – but use this disaster as a water shed mark in US history when companies are put on notice that too-close-for-ethical-comfort relationships with K Street lobbyists is not an alternative to the more costly truth; and that doing business well requires ethics.  That success is not judged solely on the balance sheet or an ability to recover from a whoops-moment.

We have suffered through the banking crisis, the housing meltdown, the oil spill and yet it feels as if we haven’t learned a lesson called accountability.  Fiscal, moral, ethic accountability and leadership is what is sorely needed.   We have suffered a hat trick of woe.  Have we learned anything more than, “Wow, it sure is expensive” and “How did that happen?”  Are we that naive?  Are we perpetually doomed to be ostriches?  If we don’t want to put the bastards in jail then let’s break out the old family recipe for mixing tar and start gathering the feathers.

The media has treated each of these events in a episodical way.  The public sees them as disasters each  in their own right.  But I think there may be an underlying cause that transcends all three… greed, a lack of ethics and accountability.  Money wont restore that – not even the most Draconian fine.  Accountability is not s synonym for businesses with deep pockets but rather it should be a maxim for the behavior of a company’s leadership, its C-levels and its Board.

BP’s Media Management – Brilliant! Insidious but brilliant

Brilliant?  Tony Hayward and the cast of Gilligan’s Island… brilliant?  Well, perhaps as the Skipper he has left a lot to be desired, but virtually everything else the BP media machine is doing is text-book perfect and likely to be studied as a model for crisis communications and disasters of tomorrow.

BP is using the media, the web, social media and is literally crafting stories right before our eyes.  They have mastered the concept of producing and distributing their own media and communications.  Believing in the long tail of the web BP has hired its own reporters to gather news stories under the guise of journalism. Under banner headlines “BP reporters Tom Seslar and Paula Kolmar are on the ground in the Gulf, meeting the people most immediately affected by the oil spill. Read their regular updates” are an apologia of unimaginable guile and proportion featuring heartfelt reports of clean ups and mitigating the severity of the disaster. BP knows that some of these stories will fall into mainstream media either through a lack of checks and balances or an absence of editorial scrutiny. BP knows that while they cannot rebut all the stories produced by the press the corporation can muddy the water by producing and distributing its own look-like news. Clever. Perhaps even diabolical. Effective nonetheless.

Aggregating electronic media is also used to build what masquerades as a social media-oriented site where true news is co-mingled with corporate pieces.  They create and maintain a look so responsible, so balanced and fair.  Why not?  They cannot prevent the cascade of negativity so they might as well co-opt it to fit their presentation and advantage.  And goodness let’s watch them use You Tube as one of the silos to distribute their material to the main stream.

Union Carbide and Exxon were the poster children for how to bumble and fumble corporate responses to a crisis. Johnson & Johnson, Odwalla, even fast food outlets have done a better, more comprehensive and responsive job in managing a crisis over the recent past. But BP has set a new bar in how to handle the media on the ground, when to stonewall, when to provide selective access to those it favors (most notably FOX news, perhaps based on their British Sky News affiliation AKA Rupert Murdoch?), and now creating content thanks to their own news team juggernaut.

After Katrina all the networks pledged to establish and maintain news bureaus in New Orleans in response to what was perceived to be the national anguish over the tragedy. Slowly but steadily the New York based, east coast centric news producer’s interest waned until the economic costs of sustaining gulf coverage was deemed to be too high with respect to the newsness and news value of what was produced. No network executive wanted to blink first, that is to be perceived as caring less about the minority impacted city, but inevitably the networks scaled back and withdrew their staffs. Watch for the same in the gulf… the story will move from just Louisiana on to Mississippi, Alabama and ultimately the prize jewel Florida. As the floating story sails the gulf the reports will migrate too, a nomadic news team on the prowl for the oils next landfall. Meanwhile the audience’s attention to oil soaked birds and families-with-ruined-lives will become tiresome. The birds will be featured in pieces on Nat Geo. The families will become features on anniversary occasions and special events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Cynical perhaps but predictive too. And as time passes the only ones covering the story, crafting and creating faux news will be the one organization with the most money to spend and the most reputation to change… BP.
Watch it and weep.

Watching the Gulf Oil Disaster in Real Time – Live from the Ocean Floor

Technology never fails to amaze me and the BP disaster offers a unique glimpse from their underwater cameras.