3 Ways to Help Clean Up BP’s Employer Brand Disaster

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Jun 21, 2010

We don’t need to rehash what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico, right?

An oil rig exploded and is now dumping thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf as I write this. It has been a disaster of staggering proportions, impacting the lives of those who worked on the rig, the people on the Gulf Coast, and will probably have some severe, long term environmental impact.

The company primarily responsible for the oil rig and the ensuing mess is BP. Once known as a progressive oil company touting investments in clean and renewable fuels, the energy giant has struggled throughout the disaster, trying to balance defending their image with the public outcry that they aren’t sufficiently focused on stopping the oil flow and cleaning up the mess.

At some point, the oil will stop flowing into the gulf, the long process of clean up will be in its place and BP is going to have to worry about a few more conventional problems like where are they going to find employees who want to be there working for them. Even if oil companies aren’t the most popular places in the world, they still attract quality talent to their organizations. Could working for BP carry the same stigma as working for a tobacco company (especially post lawsuit)?

How can BP mitigate some (but certainly not all) of the damage their employer brand is going to take? Here are three ways that could happen:

Solve the bigger issues

This is a big deal and could be the only thing that matters in the end. If BP caps the well, stops the flow of oil, cleans up their mess, and cooperates fully with impending investigations, their employer brand could be rebuilt in a couple of years rather than decades.

Remember all of those people who said an employer brand is intrinsically tied to the overall brand? They’re right. The biggest way HR and recruiting at BP can help themselves is to give assistance to their operating groups in every possible way throughout this crisis.

Focus on your current employees

Charee Klimek, an employer brand strategist and managing partner at Vocii, said the real key is focusing on your current employees first. “If you can’t get them on board with your message, you won’t have a chance with anyone outside the company,” she said. Her advice is to work with your marketing and PR departments to develop a message that is aligned, communicate openly with employees, and focus on educating and empowering them with knowledge.

“Every employee that is part of BP is a brand ambassador that has the spotlight on them,” Klimek said. “Think about it, if a BP employee is at a barbecue, party, informal get-together or on Facebook, they’re likely to get questioned about the spill and may be confronted with negative or incorrect information. BP has an opportunity to utilize their own people to re-build their reputation. It would be shame if they overlooked that.”

Recruiting in a different world

When the time comes to recruit and hire, what is it that will be the story for BP? “Known for being one of the most admirable “green” brands, they’re going to need to be prepared for a major shift. Their dialogue should be an expression of the positive but in no way an avoidance of the negative, especially in the social arena,” said Klimek. “If they want to be sincere about their approach, it would behoove them to actually get involved in the conversation.”

Some of that can also be helped through more aggressive recruiting and attractive job offers. Still, there are going to be some candidates that are now out of reach because they don’t want to attach themselves to BP. This will be especially true of top talent that will have many employment and career options available.

What are your thoughts on BP’s employer brand? Is it sunk, or can it be truly be saved?