30 April 2010

BP’s oil spill crisis - How well will they handle it?

It’s a fresh news so no wonder newspapers and new media are beaming with articles about it – BP’s oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. I heard about it today in the news and then read an article in Evening Standard about the complications and costs of cleaning the mess BP will have to sponsor (it’s a lot of money I must say, 6 million pounds a day), about how people in local areas (especially fishermen) might lose their incomes because the sea-life is endangered.

(I must say, I’m not an activist, but I feel really sorry for the animals. Especially now when I’m researching Climate Change debate for my dissertation, catastrophes like this one get to me giving me a sense of feeling that this is pushing us closer to that day when global worming will become unbearable).

BP is considered one of the most ecological corporations among those in oil industry (though I heard one of my ex PR tutors said something about green-washing and BP, so I wouldn’t believe entirely the company saying about itself as eco-friendly). This probably will make people’s expectations of them dealing with the crisis very high. So far, environmentalists say that BP’s response to what happened is better than the one Exxon Valdez gave in 1989. However, it is difficult now to predict how BP will deal with it and whether it would be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ crisis management. In 1989 there was no such thing as new media. Today BP will have to face social media audience as well. But the final critique will come after the crisis is over and after company’s activities will be evaluated.

Below are characteristics of good crisis management (which I already listed in previous post):
  • Fast and active communications
  • Ability to admit mistakes (which I think BP has to work on yet. As Kelly O’Keefe, managing director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter said: “And they should apologize.”)
  • Full appreciation of the needs of all stakeholders (in case of BP the pressure should be put on activities showing local people and government that everything possible is being done to tackle the problem)
  • Clear recovery strategy (with BP’s still unfinished problem from the past – explosion in Texan refinery in 2005 killing and injuring many people, and 2006 oil spill near Alaska this is just adding to the seriousness of corporation's dillema)
  • Consistent corporate messages (although BP is updating it’s website regularly and handles press conferences local communities and government are frustrated with the lack of communication from company’s officials)

And to just remind you (also mentioned in the previous post), when handling sensitive or controversial issues, a company will be judged on:
  • How much care was taken to prevent the issue arising in the first place?
  • How quickly did it respond and manage the issue?
  • How well did it communicate?

Nearly every crisis holds human emotions and PR people try to address those; reassure them that everything is under control and taken care of, show them regret and sorrow of the company (though it probably depends of the nature of he crisis) - the human side of the corporation, etc. 

In their book “Trust us we are experts” Stauber and Rampton wrote about Exxon Valdez crisis and said that dealing with disasters like this one if often based on creating perceptions. Showing Exxon Valdez’s CEO at the time of the spill and getting dirty while helping to clean up the mess would have shown the public company’s human side. I'm wondering, how BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, will handle his company's crisis. In Evening Standard for example he is already shown as a nice guy, father of two, someone who likes watching sports and who took over company after a nastier man left it with unfinished problems. 

It might be another PR tactic to show human face of the corporation, someone like 'me/you' who people could sympathize with.


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