The Good, Bad, & Ugly of the BP Oil Spill

by | Jun 17, 2010 | Media Strategy

Despite the fact that the BP oil spill occurred in April 2010, it didn’t seem like such a huge issue until recently. Living away from the mess, I felt removed from it all. But in the last week, in-depth interviews have been occupying my morning radio show. And, my closest friend Kelagn, a Pensecola, Fla. resident, has informed me of what it’s like down on the Gulf Coast.

So, let’s try to put this into perspective. It’s possible that around 60,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico on a daily basis. Dolphins, sea turtles and pelicans – among others – are threatened daily by the spill.

Because of the hazardous materials, it requires five to 48 hours of training before you are able to participate in clean up – hours vary based on the type of clean up (onshore trash, onshore wildlife and in-water cleanup). BP is paying for the training, which is required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with various organizations to determine the oil spills effect on health.

As a resident, Kelagn has already been warned of possible problems that result from a spill such as this. And she still completed the long process and is now ready to hit the ground running as the damage begins to hit her new stomping grounds, the Pensacola beaches.

It’s already documented as the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and past corporate crises (such as Exxon spill 1989) hint that it might be too late for BP to recover from its PR mistakes.  Many have said that BP has two major crises: actually stopping the spill and then convincing people that they are trying to stop it.

Obviously, the latter isn’t quite as important as actually stopping the oil. I am more concerned with fixing it than the convincing part, but because this is a public relations blog written by a person who is currently working in public relations, let’s focus on that.

I’ve tallied a few of the simple and very bad PR strategies BP has tried so far (and one good one):

Well, they started it!

BP pushed the blame for the spill on the owner of the rig, Transocean Ltd. However, BP owns the oil that the rig is pumping into the water. So even though that might be the case, they are responsible for the oil leaking from said rig. Other issues can be worked out after the mess is taken care of.  However, it’s called the BP oil spill for a reason.

(BP-0, Everyone Else-1)

If you know the answer, then say it.

From the beginning, BP hurt its credibility. They first reported that the rig was only leaking 1,000 a day, when in actuality it was originally leaking about 5,000 barrels a day. Despite that discovery, they still reported that it was leaking 1,000-5,000 (now it’s tens of thousands). Way to go BP. Can we really trust you?

(BP-0, Everyone Else-2)

Communicate. Communicate. And communicate some more.

Here is something BP is doing. Communicating via social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. It helps that they can respond quickly to the latest developments surrounding the oil spill. They even put a section on their website that is solely for photos, videos, maps and information about the spill. Giving glimpses of cleanups and constant updates on Twitter is helping people feel like they know what is happening.

(BP-1, Everyone Else-2)

It was a close call, but BP still isn’t quite ahead of the game. Now that I’m working in the public relations field at Dittoe PR, these issues grab my attention and make me want to take notes. Crises communications have some simple, but incredibly important, must-not-do rules and if I’m ever working on a crisis plan, I’ll be sure to follow them.

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