Business PR Strategy

BP – Costly Settlement, Costly PR Failure

Posted by Deborah | July 3rd, 2015 | No responses


It’s now some five years since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and today we hear BP has finally reached a mammoth settlement.

The US Attorney General has said that the sum agreed – an eye-watering £12billion – is the largest to be paid by a single company in US history.

But never mind the cost in financial terms.

Will BP ever truly recover the cost it caused to itself in terms of its questionable PR handling?

Pundits and college lecturers have for the last half of a decade been citing the poor public relations management in the face of the Deep Water crisis as a textbook “how not to do it”.

Remember those comments from the disgruntled CEO who said: “I’d like my life back”?


Here’s five ways in which BP got it so wrong….and what’s to learn from those mistakes.


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail:

One of the comments made many times by analysts was how little the company seemed to be geared up to handle a crisis of this nature.

Given the type of industry, one would have thought that even the simplest SWOT analysis would have pointed to this such disaster as a possible scenario, around which the comms team should have always been prepared to respond.

However big your company, knowing what your areas of crisis susceptibility are, is vital.


Manipulation (or lack of true knowledge) of the facts:

In the first stages of the crisis, the company went to the press saying that the spill was only to the tune of around 1,000 barrels a day. It emerged the stat was five times the amount, but even then, the company spokespeople downplayed the figure.

Knowing the facts and taking time to confirm them is imperative if you’re going to face the media in respect of your crisis. It ensures credibility from the outset.


Lack of compassion:

The comments of CEO Tony Hayward have certainly gone down in history. Lives had been lost in the crisis and the implications environmentally and economically were huge for many – but he wanted ‘his life back’.

This comment garnered disgust and annoyance from the press and the public.

Choose your messaging and your spokesperson wisely!


Deflection of blame:

BP made a big point of the fact that the rig was owned by Transocean, and in so doing, came across as trying to deflect responsibility.

Sure, mention other parties, but in so doing, provide a shared collaborative message around how you are all doing your best to resolve matters swiftly.

For BP it came across as if they were trying to buy wriggle room.


Angry and unavailable:

Many felt that BP came across as annoyed with the press interference, and that they were much much less available in terms of updates and commentary than they might have been.

Keeping your audience in the loop, at regular intervals, helps no end with credibility.
It shows you are keeping communication going and that you have not forgotten your level of responsibility or the fact that so many are now relying on you for answers.



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