BP: from Natural Disaster to PR Disaster

BP_logo_823200753158AMThe scope of the oil spill in the Gulf is likely unprecedented. According to Slashfood, “Experts predict that Louisiana’s fishing industry alone could face a $2.5 billion loss.”

Not to mention that obscene damage done to the Gulf Coast aquaculture!

With clean-up efforts underway at a mad pace, what’s next for BP? Can it ever recover the damage done to its brand?

On the one hand it’s a good sign for the oil industry giant that they’ve made public noises about paying for the spill clean-up.

“We are taking full responsibility for the spill and we will clean it up, and where people can present legitimate claims for damages we will honor them. We are going to be very, very aggressive in all of that,” Tony Hayward told Reuters…

If BP whole-heartedly, sincerely and adequately commits itself to the clean-up, and we (fingers crossed) avoid irreparable environmental and economic damage, over the long-term, the company could wind up reaping some good press out of this horrific event.

However there are already two troubling storylines percolating that could hinder any “happy PR” for the company.

The first evidence of a bad trend comes from the Associated Press, reporting on BP’s lack of preparedness:

BP’s 52-page exploration plan for the Deepwater Horizon well, filed with the federal Minerals Management Service, says repeatedly that it was “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities”

And while the company conceded that a spill would impact beaches, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, it argued that “due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.”

The other troubling story comes via the TalkingPointsMemo blog, reporting on BP officials’ attempts to head-off legal claims by offering upfront cash to coastal residents of Alabama:

BP has been offering $5000 payments to residents of coastal Alabama areas, in exchange for essentially giving up their right to sue the oil giant over its deadly Gulf Coast spill, according to the state’s attorney general.

Catastrophic environmental destruction + Willfull ignorance + Cynical payola = Bad PR.

There’s more than one deep hole that BP will find itself digging out from.



Posted on: May 3, 2010 at 1:33 pm By Todd Defren
15 Responses to “BP: from Natural Disaster to PR Disaster”

 

Comments
  • hartmabtu says:

    “This crisis is blowing apart their well-crafted image since the early 2000 as being a “green” company. If a company talks the talk, then they have to walk the walk now. Green washing is no longer acceptable since green is now mainstreamed and more people are educated about environmental issues. I don’t like to play Monday morning quarterback and I’m sure they have good PR professions on staff or at least on retainer who are advising them. I’m pretty sure those professionals are giving solid advice such as communicate, communicate, communicate in a truthful, meaningful, respectful manner. And I’m pretty sure they are banging their heads against their desks after speaking with the legal counsel and executives. Come to think of it, I hope their PR team is actually seated at the table being the company conscience while providing solutions.”
    How much is it possible?

  • Claire says:

    I hope they are serious and would stand to their promise of taking full responsibility. The question is how far can they go to pay the damages? Can they really afford to pay all residents, environment effects, rehabilitation efforts and many more claims later on.

  • Josh says:

    Just a minor point.

    While the substances pouring out of the pipes are quite natural…

    Oil … pouring out of a manmade pipe because manmade equipment screwed up is by definition NOT a natural disaster, being a direct consequence of human action.

    Almost every definition of the term “natural disaster” coined prior to this spill is in agreement on this.

    That said, otherwise great article.

  • Joani Jones says:

    Great post Todd! BP is definitely front row and center of a huge PR disaster. One thing it drew criticism from, like Lisa below pointed out, was the company had no social media strategy. Yet I think BP has come a long ways and have now developed a great social media strategy. This includes a thorough webpage that is linked to BPs other social media sites, which all look to be constantly updated. But is it too late? Has the damage already been done? I wrote about this issue in my own blog http://bit.ly/dlIAe5

  • Amy Shelton says:

    Todd,
    This is a great, informing post. I think that you are right on, and the examples you gave really highlighted their potentials and downfalls. From a public health perspective, I am worried about the long-term effects on nearby communities. There has been a lot of talk about the health effects and ecological effects, but has BP made a comment about any of these issues? Since this is not the first spill, maybe they should take a look at the studies done from the Exxon incident. Communities around the spill were plagued with increased depression, alcoholism and other devastating problems. In order to maintain a fair reputation they could use research to gather strategies in order to prevent communities along the gulf from deteriorating and falling victim to such traumatic events. Just a thought.
    Again, great post!

  • Todd,

    You are right on with your observations. This crisis is blowing apart their well-crafted image since the early 2000 as being a “green” company. If a company talks the talk, then they have to walk the walk now. Green washing is no longer acceptable since green is now mainstreamed and more people are educated about environmental issues. I don’t like to play Monday morning quarterback and I’m sure they have good PR professions on staff or at least on retainer who are advising them. I’m pretty sure those professionals are giving solid advice such as communicate, communicate, communicate in a truthful, meaningful, respectful manner. And I’m pretty sure they are banging their heads against their desks after speaking with the legal counsel and executives. Come to think of it, I hope their PR team is actually seated at the table being the company conscience while providing solutions.

  • Tony Hayward, BP CEO, is doing the right things as he remains very visible, audible and accessible. I must assume he is being well advised and capable of being advise-able. But there are much bigger PR issues at stake here than BP’s reputation. Whenever oil meets water, it becomes an issue for the American Petroleum Institute and their generations-old war with the anti-drilling forces and the politicians who pander to them. We all lose. And end up paying more at the gas pump.

  • BP’s CEO did not do himself any favors on the Today Show yesterday either: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36912754/ns/us_news-environment/#36910725

    He could have taken the opportunity to show concern, talk strategy, rally folks behind what is one of the, if not THE, largest environmental disasters of our time to all pull together, regardless of “whose fault” it was. Instead, he blamed another company, appeared shifty and tired and even a tad annoyed in this viewer’s opinion. Not a good start.

  • Lisa Merriam says:

    Add another troubling development–BP despite self-congratulatory claims of being innovative and responsive, can’t manage to use Twitter. Since BP clearly has no social media strategy and no clue how to use Twitter, we are collecting ideas for them at: http://bit.ly/benQw2



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