Ernest Scheydar of Reuters News has a story today on the ugly PR pummeling Dow Chemical is taking in England for its sponsorship of the coming 2012 Olympics.
This blog likes to point out where the practice of public relations is uplifted to a core business competancy, like operations or finance and this case is one such example. We frequently like to blog about where "public relations problems" are actually problems with bad facts (like BP after the Gulf disaster) rather than bad practice of PR.
In the case of Dow's situation in London right now, what I see is a completely unfair, media-driven attack on a blameless company that is admirably refusing to engage in the PR dance of apologize-make token-to-huge payment-move on model.
Dow said the controversy has not hurt sales of its plastics, insulation and other products. The company said it was surprised at what it considers a large amount of misinformation surrounding its link to Bhopal.
"Dow was never there. We did not acquire any of the connection with Bhopal," said George Hamilton, Dow's vice president of Olympic operations. "For some to try to tie Dow to this, and then to use the Olympic platform to try to serve their cause, it does call for some strong words."
Dow justified the sponsorship by forecasting an Olympic-related sales boost of $1 billion by 2020. Hamilton said that revenue goal remains on track.
To a certain extent, the media had to cover this story once India's government objected and large numbers of Indian nationals started protesting the Olympic site - but they didn't have to do so as often as they have and as one-sidedly.
I entered the public relations business in 1990 working for a firm that specialized in chemical companies. Bhopal was a fresh memory then. What I recall was that even at the time, any objective reporting noted that the wall collapsed and the poison gas escaped because Indians built a separate structure on a load-bearing wall connected to the plant over the objections of Union Carbide's management.
Then, when the disaster hit, the feckless Indian government quickly turned on a chemical company it had romanced into the country to avoid taking the blame for permitting the structure.
Now, nearly 30 years after the initial incident, the decedents of that government are still trying to find a deep pocket from which to collect monies that were never earned either by work or as payment for wrongdoing. The fact that they are trying to shake down a company that owns parts of Union Carbide that didn't include the part that operated the Bhopal plant makes the whole process even more transparently phony.