This week, Lord Browne, formerly of BP, took the airwaves to say that businesses like the one he used to run should ditch all their gobbledigook CSR and be more honest and authentic.
He is right, of course, but – what on earth took him so long?
Here’s a little bedtime story I wrote back in 2010; BP’s very own ‘annus horibilis’….
Once upon a time, there was a big company.
It was powerful, and it made lots of money.
It was friends with other big and powerful companies, who also made lots of money.
Making lots of money was a fun game, and some of the other companies in the playground wanted to play too.
So the big company let them play as well (by selling them something called shares).
And they all played and played and played for a long, long time.
The companies were all such good friends, and they all had so much in common. They talked a lot to each other, but not really to the others in the playground, because they just couldn’t really see the point. And they generally took care of each other like good friends should.
Of course, every now and then, when the companies were playing, there would be an accident, someone would spill something and someone else would get hurt.
But the big company and its pals always said sorry (even if they didn’t always mean it!) and usually tried to clean up whatever mess they had made.
And because all the companies were such good friends, they never really told anybody else about the accidents and the spillages and no one else in the playground seemed to notice anyway.
So the companies kept playing the moneymaking game (and everyone still wanted the shares)!
None of these companies was really bad, but they were all very cheeky: because they pretended to be really, really good!
The companies got so used to having such a great time and pretending to be good that they stopped noticing that the playground was changing. New companies with silly names like Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook had come to play.
The old companies pretended they wanted to be friends with the new companies, but they didn’t really. Because, between you and me, they didn’t really like the new companies, and didn’t really understand their funny voices!
But everyone else in the playground, loved the new companies and really liked playing with them.
One day there was another accident. The big company hadn’t meant to spill anything, but had just got a bit carried away (again).
So the big company said sorry (sort of), and then did what they always did – tried to clean up the mess quietly and without too many people noticing.
But this time, something different happened: the new companies started talking about the accident. They weren’t being nasty, it was just that talking was what they did – just like what the big company did was make money.
Before long, everybody in the playground knew what had happened and everyone was very cross with the big company and its friends (and now nobody wanted the shares)!
Even the Headmaster got cross. Very cross. In fact, the Headmaster was so cross that the big company had to go to his study and promise to pay for all the damage that had been done.
‘But we were only playing,’ said the big company, who now didn’t have many friends at all, ‘and we did try to clean up the mess.’
‘We know that,’ everybody said ‘but why have you pretended to be really, really good for all this time?’.
‘And why didn’t you want to play with us?’ said the new companies, ‘we could have helped you tell everybody about some of the good things that you do’.
The big company had no friends and felt very, very stupid.
– this piece first published by The Marketing Society