More than a month ago, an economic and environmental calamity fell into the hands of the energy giant BP after a co-owned oil rig exploded off the gulf coast. The explosion caused oil to spill into the ocean. To date, the oil has spread across an area rivaling the size of the state of Virginia. Despite efforts to contain the spill, there is currently no end in sight as the black muck spills into the pristine gulf water and coastline.
In the energy industry, it is paramount for each oil organization to retain a positive image associated with the name of its organization. This is where the rubber meets the road for the company’s public relations team. For BP, it is now struggling to display a positive image of the organization because of this disaster. It has become an ongoing public relations nightmare with potential criminal and civil penalties.
The PR people of the organization are facing an ethical dilemma between trying to satisfy the privacy requirements of their organization, while accommodating the transparency expectations of the stakeholder publics.
Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, has stated in several interviews that, “this is not our accident, but it our responsibility to deal with it.” This should have been a way to win over the stakeholders but that’s not quite how things are playing out.
The public opinion of BP is not positive anymore. This is ironic because the organization had just spent millions of dollars on a campaign revamping its image. It changed its logo and slogan, “beyond petroleum,” to show it was a petroleum organization that was environmentally conscious.
What Made this Bad Situation Worse?
Most of it comes from self-inflicted damage. The organization has been accused of a slow start and not taking helpful courses of action in the latest crisis. It has also told “half truths” claiming the oil spewing into the ocean was five times less than what it actually is.
Other self inflicted damage includes when the organization was said to have paid off local fisherman to keep their mouths closed about the catastrophe to journalists.
Lawyers vs. Journalists
The PR people of BP seem to be acting more like lawyers than journalists. This is where the company’s image becomes susceptible to stains.
If BP took more of the initial responsibility for the incident then its image might not be as tarnished today. Now, the organization looks like a bunch of sneaky liars who are trying to cover up anything that might taint their new “green” image that it has worked so hard for and spent so much money on.
Learning from Others Mistakes
The result of trying to make everyone happy turns out with making no one happy at all. The solution to this problem should be by learning from examples. When Exxon Valdez had a similar but smaller incident it seemed to make some of the same mistakes that BP is making now. BP should be using Exxon as an example and fixing what it did wrong.
Johnson & Johnson also had a brand tarnishing event but it seemed to be successful with how it managed the crisis. BP could also use this organization as an example of how to manage its own crisis, in the correct way.
What do you think about this?