BP+Ogilvy+Coast Guard = Bad PR

In public relations as well as business we hear a lot about transparency.  You would think a company in the midst of one of the worst environment crimes in history and a public relations firm that supposedly understands relationship building would not show a blatant, if unintended, regard for transparency.  But an environmental writer Georgianne Neinabe exposed what appears to be hidden PR motives and connections in a blog entry.  The revelation is that a Coast Guard media liaison, Petty Officer Rachel Polish of the Deepwater Horizon Response team, works for Ogilvy, the PR firm that works for BP.  Regardless of motives or actions, this connection looks bad.  The title of the post was brilliant, “BP’s PR Frim embedded with Coast Guard (http://www.opednews.com/articles/BP-s-PR-Firm-Embedded-with-by-Georgianne-Nienabe-100705-702.html ).

Here is Rachel Polish’s Linkedin profile:

Rachel Polish’s Experience

·         Senior Digital Strategist/VP

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

(Public Company; WPPGY; Public Relations and Communications industry)

June 2009Present (1 year 2 months)

Creating engaging experiences designed to promote awareness, brand loyalty, advocacy and conversion as part of Ogilvy PR’s 360 Degree Digital Influence Practice.

– Develop comprehensive digital strategies and events for consumer brands, technology companies and government agencies designed to increase word of mouth and positive buzz
– Manage research projects, providing actionable insights that inform engagement planning
– Integrate with account teams, serving as the digital strategy lead for high-profile clients and brands
– Partner with clients on internal social media training needs, brainstorming big ideas, measurement and targeting
– Contributor to three blogs and frequent public speaker on digital strategy

·         Public Affairs Specialist, Petty Officer First Class

U.S. Coast Guard Reserve

(Government Agency; Military industry)

2001Present (9 years )

– Serve as media liaison for breaking news or Coast Guard operations cases
– Compose press materials and stories for media and Coast Guard publications
– Function as on-scene photographer for Coast Guard events and cases in progress
– Coordinate with multiple Coast Guard units and external agencies on press events and announcements http://www.linkedin.com/in/rachelpolish

Separately these are very good things.  She works for a major PR.  She is in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve serving .  The two appear to be a conflict of interest when the PR firm is representing the company that the Coast Guard is monitoring for cleaning up a horrific oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.  People begin to wonder if what Petty Officer Polish is saying might some how include material designed to benefit BP.  Combine this with journalists finding it difficult to film some of the environmental damage because of the Coast Guard and a conspiracy can emerge (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/05/cbs-prevented-filming-oil-spill-by-bp-coast-guard.php ).   Again, there is no proof but anyone in public relations knows the importance of public perceptions. 

Questions to Consider

1.  How could all parties involved have been more transparent in this case?

2. What would the value of more transparency be in this case?

3. Does this appear to be an ethical violation?  Why or why not?

4. Does this seem to be a meaningless conspiracy being woven on the Internet?  Why or why not?

5. Even if this is a meaningless conspiracy, why does it pose a threat to Oglivy, BP, and the Coast Guard?

6. What does this case show about the power of the Internet to create transparency?

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