With all the coverage and discussion on oil spills, I keep thinking about a conversation I had a few years ago with the head of communications at an oil major in Europe. We were talking about crises that the industry had suffered and he mentioned that there was nothing like the “panda effect.” I told him I was not sure what he meant. Now I do. He said that in high risk industries such as oil, safety risks are just part of the job. Deaths are expected and they happen. But, he said, when animals or wildlife are harmed and the pictures are blasted across the media, the “panda effect” does its most serious damage. Hard not to see his point as visual after visual pictures wildlife affected by the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
On a similar note, I was talking to someone just this past weekend about the oil spill and she mentioned birds she saw on TV covered in oil slick. “I am an environmentalist and this really upsets me,” she said. I reminded her that 11 families lost their loved ones as well and somehow that single fact does not get the same attention and outrage from the public and media. She looked at me somewhat sheepishly and I felt a bit guilty for making the point. But here was an example of the panda effect in action.
The panda effect on reputation is unavoidable but now more powerful than ever with the spread of news online. Every day I am reminded of this one fact.