By Tim Hayes []

My beloved hometown baseball club, the Pittsburgh Pirates, has not had a winning season in 17 years.  The Buccos are 20 games under .500 right now, so we’re looking at chalking up another losing campaign. 

They have broken my 15-year-old son’s heart his entire life, and have nearly driven me into the once-unthinkable position of either cheering for another team or – gasp! – not even following baseball any longer.

So naturally, with all of this happy, positive karma as backdrop, the Pirates have extended the contracts of the general manager and on-field manager.  News flash! City of Pittsburgh Baseball Fans Held Hostage: Year 19 in the on-deck circle.

And as though that decision weren’t enough to send fans into an uproar, it was discovered that the president of the club – a former attorney for Major League Baseball, which may explain his tin ear for PR – had actually made the contract extensions last October and has either covered them up or outright misrepresented the facts since then.

Then, in this weekend’s newspaper, we read that the Pirates fired a twenty-something guy who worked for a whopping $100-a-month paycheck by donning a “pierogi” mascot costume (don’t ask) and running around the outfield once a game.  His offense?  Posting a statement on Facebook criticizing the contract extensions mentioned above.  Raise the Jolly Roger!

To quote out of context the immortal Casey Stengel: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The same could easily be applied to the hapless Tony Hayward, still (we think) CEO of BP, whose tin ear for PR carries a little more significance than that of a wretched baseball team and its wretched management.  Hayward has been relieved of his day-to-day oversight of the massive oil release into the Gulf of Mexico – based in no small measure, I suspect, on his unfortunate, unwise, unprepared, and occasionally unbelievable statements as the ecological and economic disaster continued.

Now stepping up to the plate, as it were, is BP’s Chairman of the Board, Carl-Henric Svanberg.  Which may or may not be an improvement in the public statement department following Hayward, based on Svanberg’s utterances so far.  To wit:

In a May 25 interview in the Financial Times, Svanberg said, “The U.S. is a big and important market for BP, and BP is also a big and important company for the U.S., with its contribution to drilling and oil and gas production.  So the position goes both ways.”

A few folks may think that globs of crude oil washing up on shore and washing out entire generational industries is pretty “big and important” too, but not a lot said about that by the Chairman.

This past week, following a face-to-face meeting with President Obama at the White House, Svanberg said, “I care about the small people.  I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care, but that is not the case at BP.  We care about the small people.”

The kinder, gentler part of me wants (hopes?) to attribute this borderline insulting reference to “the small people” to a contextual language issue with the Danish Svanberg.  But even so, for heaven’s sake, get a consultant who can help this guy with American English.  Sounds like he may need it.  BP, you know how to reach me.

You know, folks, this PR stuff isn’t hard.  It always comes back to what I believe are the three bedrock fundamentals: 1) promote the good, 2) admit the bad, and 3) explain improvements.  When you do these consistently, it shows respect for your employees, constituents, customers, voters, regulators, you name it.  When people know you’re being up front with them, they have a way of cutting you some slack, whether it’s about bad baseball or balls of oily glop.

Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting