BP COMMUNICATION FAILure DURING GULF OIL SPILL CRISIS
An important component of crisis management is response. Response can include several actions such as communication with stakeholders, the public and the government. Appropriate and effective communication can minimize the distribution of incomplete and inaccurate information, reduce speculation and prevent or quell rumors. In fact, studies suggest that the message itself can affect the public’s evaluation of the company and perhaps its reputation and brand. The two principal components of crisis response are communication and rectification. (Baron, 2010) One: tell us about it; and two: make it right. Item one sounds like it should be simple, right? Wrong! In April 2010, an oil spill disaster in the Gulf tagged BP as the perfect example of how to make a bad situation worse with poor communication. Following is an explanation of recommended goals during crisis communication along with my analysis of how and why BP failed:
An event does not have to involve loss of life or property to present communications challenges. A single piece of bad news reported by the press can have serious repercussions on a business. Whether or not the firm cooperates with the media, if they feel the story is newsworthy, it will be reported. The company’s responsibility is to ensure the information reported is accurate. Being uncooperative can damage a business’ reputation, standing in the community, and credibility with customers and employees.
There are several key communications objectives to keep in mind during any crisis or problem situation:
■Demonstrate that your company is managing the situation effectively and responsibly
■Show concern for those affected
■Maintain the confidence and goodwill of employees, customers and the public
■Guard against negligent and/or inaccurate information
■Restore normal operations as soon as possible
News media can broadcast a story within minutes and it is often difficult to change first impressions once a story is out. It is important to obtain the facts quickly and provide as much information as possible. Stories should be based on fact, not speculation. It is extremely important that one person act as the designated spokesperson. This ensures that the company speaks with one voice, and maintains consistency and accuracy in all communications efforts.
It is beneficial if the company can reasonably predict news media behavior. It is the job of the media to report news. They will obtain information by whatever legal means possible, including background information in their files. Establishing a rapport and contacts with local reporters before a crisis ever occurs can prove invaluable during troubling situations. Good journalists are good investigators and will speak with a variety of sources, monitor emergency communications, and gain access to government records, if necessary.
Making it easy for the media to understand a complex situation can be accomplished through the use of charts, graphs or other visual materials. It will also help ensure that your message gets across accurately. (Seegert, 2008)
Experts recommend that a company be honest, sincere and express concern for those affected. The Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 should have provided enough education on the subject to prevent BP from making the same mistakes. Exxon’s mishandling of the disaster prompted critics who said Exxon should have apologized for the spill, acknowledged responsibility and shown remorse. (Baron, 2010) Apparently, BP did not get that memo. Instead, BP CEO Tony Hayward repeatedly claimed “it wasn’t our accident” and placed the blame on Transocean, the company that operated the drilling rig. Hayward also described the spill as “relatively tiny” and the environmental impact as “very, very modest”. Even worse was Hayward’s comment on TV that he “wanted his...
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