A Good Lesson in Authentic Branding from Another Big Oil Company
August 31, 2010
When it comes to authentic branding, perhaps that earlier oil-spill icon, ExxonMobil, can teach BP a lesson. While the news this summer was focused on BP's massive spill, the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy completed its fifth year of what the Wall Street Journal's William McGurn called "summer camp for science teachers."
Teachers from third through fifth grades came to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ to learn how to become better teachers of math and science. About 2,600 teachers have attended the academy since 2005. Golfer Phil Mickelson is more than a celebrity name behind the project. According to McGurn, Mickelson has had a lifelong passion for math and science and even uses his understanding of vectors and probabilities to the advantage of his golf game.
McGurn has this to say about the future value of the academy:
Though there are few metrics about results, some outside research suggests that the training they receive is leading to increased use and frequency of math and science in the classrooms of academy alumni. Mr. Mickelson says it's a 15- to 20-year bet.
"It's hard to teach a subject when you don't feel good about it or lack confidence," [Mickelson] says. "We bring teachers on an all-expenses-paid trip… give them good instructors… treat them like professionals… by getting them excited about teaching science, we'll have more American kids excited about studying math and science."
Though 21 years have passed since the Exxon Valdez spilled its oil in Alaska, it is safe to assume that this event is known far more widely than these math and science sessions. But consider the cumulative effect of 2,600 grade school teachers changing the life direction of countless students. Consider the children who have (and will in the future) become excited about math and science because a teacher attended this program. Consider what it means to our communities and our companies when our youth become proficient in math and science, even if they never pursue a career as an engineer or scientist.
The Mickelson academy for grade school teachers is one of eight math and science programs listed on the ExxonMobil website. In terms of public good, which do you think will pay the greater reward? BP's declaration of green energy or ExxonMobil's energizing commitment to making math and science accessible to more children?
I'm guessing technology knowledge is the bigger issue for technology-driven organizations. Whether you're part of a public water utility or one of the companies that make their equipment, if people who don't understand what you do, or how you do it, they can't appreciate the extraordinary efforts you take to make their water safe.
Water and Oil: Beyond Smiley-Face PR
August 10, 2010
Last week I posted An Industrial Branding Lesson from a Tar-Balled Oil Producer at the PowderandBulk.com blog. The article lead off with the popular impression of the environmental disaster BP's oil slick had spawned. The following day the New York Times published this news: U.S. Finds Most Oil From Spill Poses Little Additional Risk.
So was the disaster something less than what we expected from the news and the blogs and the live video we could watch 24/7 as oil spewed into the Gulf for weeks-on-end? And what response should we expect from industry and regulators to protect our waters in the future?
I don't claim to know the answer to either question; though I expect there are many engineers and scientists, managers and policy makers who visit this website who could enlighten us all. And that is the role that our energy and water experts should be playing: careful, thoughtful, calm, reasoned analysis after the crisis has passed. We need more respectful dialog that balances competing needs and offers options that take into account social, economic and environmental imperatives that may not share the same objectives.
Whatever the level of long term damage to the Gulf waters, there will be continuing damage to the public perception of the industries that build and sustain our modern world. And that was the point of the Industrial Branding article: those who engineer our modern world need to do a better job defining, explaining, educating and leading in the public marketplace of ideas. And they aren't going to achieve that with the sort of smiley-face PR that BP had practiced prior to the Gulf oil spill.