10 days after the original posting, I’ve updated my open letter to reflect current efforts on behalf of BP.

Dear BP Marketing and PR team-

Its been a rough couple of weeks, hasn’t it?

Your strategic marketing plan is in the hole, giving way like an oil gusher to emergency disaster response. Suddenly, issuing press releases is burdensome and not nearly as fun as press releases about record breaking quarterly profits. And although you probably HAD a plan for how to engage the media in case of an oil spill (you DID, DIDN’T YOU?) you didn’t count on it being the worst disaster in history.

You’re a little overwhelmed. Anyone in marketing can understand. You haven’t asked my opinion and presumably, you have an entire team working on this strategy. But since I am not in the thick of it, perhaps its easier for me to identify just SOME what’s missing in the marketing and PR response. Here are 10 things I think you should start today:

Communications:

10. Start a blog on your website. Right now the information on your website is static and boring, worse yet, its not really helping your cause. There is so much MORE information about BP right now, your website is getting buried, making it harder to drive the message. While you can’t create enough content fast enough to remedy that situation entirely, you CAN start creating dynamic, real-time content. May 13th-still no interactive communication. I know you fear the comments that people will leave, but here’s the thing: people are saying it anyway. At least if they say it on your blog, you’ll get to hear what people are really saying and communicate with them.

9. Apologize. Time for it guys. Start doing it.  Its starting to feel like you don’t really think you have to apologize if you continue to promote your ongoing (if unsuccessful) efforts. You should also reassure the (broke) American public that you will use some of your monumental earnings, every last penny if need be, to clean up this mess. You’ll turn your scientific community on the challenge and invent new tools and strategies if you have to. May 13th – essentially you’ve done this, then you pulled back a little. Keep pressing this point, its an important one.

8. Don’t let us forget. Presumably, the green efforts of BP are ongoing. Now would be a good time to continue to promote those efforts, PARTICULARLY given this mess, we’d like to see that oil companies are committed to a more sustainable future. We should see specifics and the face of those efforts. Don’t bore us with statistics or generalities, give us the story. May 13-remember those “green BP” commercials? Remember how you re-did your logo to reflect the next phase in energy development? Showcase it. It might not get as much traction as the bad news, but everyone should be integrating this message.

Twitter:

As of this righting, you have 2088 followers and you are following 7 people. The world at large does not think your Twitter account is very useful and you aren’t controlling any messages. May 13th-your followers are up to 3585, and your following 33 people. You still using Twitter exclusively to send links to press releases. Your following relevant people now, but you aren’t engaging them. I could see you RT’ing the @gulfvolunteers, @USCG and the White House as a matter of discourse, relevance and information.

7. ENGAGE on Twitter Start by following members of the media AND the White House. Follow Gulf State agencies and environmental non-profits. They’ll take notice, trust me. You need to build up this account both for now and in the future. Your going to need every outlet you can get. May 13th – better. Much better. But I don’t see any recent engagement.

Monitor the conversations about BP. Use this to understand what groups are most angry. Use this to tailor your message both to them and to the media. You’d be surprised what you could learn by listening. May 13th – I can’t tell if your listening because the only thing I see are links to press releases.

Stop with the constant links to your site about the numbers of people you have there. Start telling the stories OF those people. No one cares how many people are cleaning up – it isn’t enough. You’d be better off telling the human story. May 13th – still no transparency or humanization.

Nonprofits

6. Start communicating WITH, not at, nonprofits on Twitter, on your blog. Ask them how you can help, where you are needed most. Then, get on it. Wildlife, fisherman, they need help. Offer it AND do it.  Money isn’t enough, get your people down there. When you start the conversation, you’d be surprised at how positive it could be. Show the world your doing it both on Twitter and YouTube.May 13th – better. Much better. But I don’t see any recent engagement with the nonprofits. You MAY be having those conversations, but they aren’t transparent and the world at large isn’t part of them.

5. Financial Support for nonprofits involved in clean-up. Nonprofits will be cleaning up this mess for many years, you can start a foundation today to support their efforts. The process should be simple and fast, get the money down there now. Don’t wait. Now. Your company should be sending volunteers down there too. To train nonprofits and to help train more volunteers. Get moving. May 13th – again, if this is happening, its getting buried. You’d have more notice of it if you engaged.

4. While we’re at it, I think sustainable energy job training would be a good place to start investing. Training the fisherman who are losing their livelihood to this tragedy in this new industry would be a great, grassroots way to engender support. Help them learn the industry, support their efforts to start businesses. It could be selling solar panels or building wind farms. Create opportunities for people.

YouTube:

3. Get a video production crew down there. The pictures just show a mess. We need to hear the passion in the voices of those leading the charge. We need to see Hayworth out there talking to fisherman, we need to see BP clean-up crews working. This is one situation where video, not pictures, tells the story. Start posting every single day a new video. May 13 – I still see primarily photos, with the notable exception of the underwater video of gushing oil. When you launched the idea of “capping” the leak last week, that would have been an ideal time to create a video of how it will work. Also, why is it that the AP is the only releasing any YouTube video in conjunction with the oil spill?

Events:

2. Animal clean up. Beach clean up events. Coordinate with nonprofits to hold clean up events and train volunteers. Green career fairs. Some of this may not be immediate, but planning and announcing would be a good idea. May 13-haven’t seen any of this from the BP side. Am I missing it?

1. Back to communication: stop hiding. Yep, you are going to take heat, but in all the criticism, you might find jewels of wisdom.  You’ve issued a couple of press releases, sent out 64 Twitter messages and sent Hayworth on TV. Your not being proactive. Time to get creative guys. If all this seems expensive, it is, but we know you can afford it. May 13-Transparency is key. People have come to accept it. You’ve up’d your tweets (now at 200), but what are you saying?

If you think your already doing this, then revert back to the communications strategy, and start letting us know about it.

Good luck. I hope to see great things out of BP in the next couple of years, because you owe it to the Gulf States and all of America. If you do it right, you’ll be a shining example of corporate communications. Do it wrong, and maybe a career fair might be good for you too.

Readers: any other suggestions?