How BP failed at crisis communication
British Petroleum (BP) suffered a large-scale public relations and crisis communication disaster, when an oil-drilling rig accident on 20th April 2010 incurred a spillage of several million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This catastrophic spill has been regarded as one of the most severe environmental damages recorded in the U.S. history, causing public animosity and frustration, substantially because of inappropriate BP´s crisis communication plan (Tangley, 2010). The oil spill contaminated local environment and coastline of U.S. states Louisiana and Mississippi. Consequences were severe as the spill crippled heretofore developed Gulf Coast fishing industry for a couple of years. On international scene, it has led to a continued discussion on the safety measures of offshore drilling (Tangley, 2010). On the top of that, BP has been forced to continuously invest into improving of their image in media and on social networking sites, trying to eliminate as much negative PR campaign as they possibly could (McClam, & Weber, 2010). BP reacted promptly in their statements, however, without emphasizing the compassion for those who were harmed and by appearing to be insufficiently determined to clean up the environmental disaster. The company should not have been over-optimistic about the scale of the oil spill. On the other hand, BP should have stepped up their social networking communication and assessment of the right spokesperson to a unique situation. Although that crisis scenario is a unique event that is hard to predict, it is definitely not unexpected, considering what business BP operates in. By the year of 2015, 83 percent of companies will face a crisis that will negatively impact their share price by 20 to 30 percent, according to Oxford-Metrica study. This is more likely to happen to oil producing companies, as they are considered to be operating in a one of the most dangerous industries. Facing such a deep company crisis is not only about ways of how to minimize negative exposure in the press; however, it is also about reducing the environmental damage in the first place. Company has to confront the situation without any futile delays and send a clear message to the public in its determination to manage the situation as best as possible. Definitely not by holding out on facts and baffle general public, as BP did (Oxford Metrica, 2011). For example, the officers from BP said that the explosion of Deepwater Horizon drilling at Macondo oil field caused an oil spill of about 2.7 million barrels. In contrary, the US government’s estimate of 4.9 million barrels spilt into the sea almost doubles BP´s assumption (Oxford Metrica, 2011). There were several companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon accident. The oil rig was not owned by BP, but a contracting company Transocean. The Macondo oil well was owned partially by BP (65%), Anadarko Petroleum (25%) and Mitsui (10%). The defect of a blowout preventer was supplied by Cameron International (Oxford Metrica, 2011). “Finally, just before the accident, Halliburton fitted the cement cap intended to seal the well. The number of players involved has given rise to shifting of blame” says the Oxford Metrica study. BP used this opportunity and tried to avoid the spotlight by accusing their contractors and suppliers of being responsible for a Deepwater Horizon accident. George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher, said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” BP´s failure is a perfect example of this dateless quote. As the Exxon Valdez accident badly spoiled the view of general public on oil industry and this case has shown serious under reactions of both Exxon and American government, BP should have devised a risk mitigation plan with various safety features, assuring that similar ecological disaster of these proportions will not happen again. Instead, the...
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