Troubleshooting Communication: BP Oil Spill – 2010

Summary of BP’s Oil Spill communication failure in 2010

In 2010, a legendary oil spill that stretched across the Gulf of Mexico was caused by BP (British Petroleum).In all of USA history, the BP oil was the biggest marine oil spill to be witnessed. The oil spill occurred after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20 in 2010 killing 11 people(Shogren, 2011). It was very difficult to contain the spill as it took more than five months to stem the flow of oil and seal the oil well, after 780 million gallons of crude oil had leaked into the sea (Wolf & Mejri, 2013).

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BP responded to this crisis with a PR strategy that had the company apologizing at every chance they got by using expensive commercials on the airwaves.This crisis led to BP registering record losses in excess of $40 billion dollars (Kollewe, 2014)that feature among the largest corporate losses in British corporate history, and led to BP being barred from winning new contracts in the Gulf of Mexico. These were considerable losses both financially and in terms of the company’s reputation. The incidence led to significant damages to the economy, environment, and regional tourism of the United States of America.

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Why the original BP’s persuasive campaign was unsuccessful

The original response by BP that was packaged as a PR strategy of apologies after next failed miserably because the public; their audience, interpreted the gesture as disingenuous.Negative sentiment and harsh criticism were directed towards BP because it was felt that the company spent obscene amounts of money to pay for expensive commercials in apologies instead of using the money to clean up the mess created by the oil spill. These sentiments were expressed by the head of state; President Barrack Obama and was echoed by many other people among them civil society groups interested in environmental protection.

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Official communication coming from BP at the time of the crisis featuredfatal remarks from Tony Hayward; the CEO of BP at the time,who is reported to have said that he, wanted his life back and even took a day off to go sailing(Kollewe, 2014). These remarks reflected an absolute lack of remorse from not only the BP head but also the company, as it showed a lack of reverence and a high level of irresponsibility over the people who had lost their lives during the explosion. This stance did not go well with the American public who took offense and the whole debacle led to Tony Hayward being forced out of the CEO opposition and out of BP the company he had worked at for 28 years(Kollewe, 2014). The CEO was criticized harshly for mishandling the oil spill and for having termed the disaster a relatively tiny spill in comparison to the very big ocean(Kollewe, 2014).

Revised persuasive campaign that would have succeeded

Crisis communication is the process by which information is gathered, processed, used in decision-making, and distributed in order to address a crisis to both external and internal stakeholders(Wolf & Mejri, 2013). During a crisis, it is essential that a positive relationship is maintained with stakeholders by engaging effective crisis communication. This is because how the public perceives an organization during and after the crisis is directly influenced by how the organization handled crisis communication. Based on the various recommended models of crisis communications that can lead to the effective management of crisis communication, BP employed the minimization and apology strategy that have proved effective in other circumstances but did not work in their favor due to delivery(Hoggan, 2010). Considering the magnitude of the oil spill crisis at BP and sensitivities that the crisis caused among stakeholders, the compensation strategy(Merji & Wolf, 2013) would have worked best for the company. This is largely because it was felt by many people that the massive amount of money spent by BP to air expensive commercials for apologies was a waste of resources and should have instead been used by the company to clean up the mess that they created with the BP oil spill.

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The compensation strategy would have worked best since it works to develop crisis communication messages that are in line with image restorative strategy that focuses on mortification, reduction of offensiveness and corrective action. These strategies would have helped reduce the perception of damage caused by the crisis and helped the company to express remorse and ask for forgiveness(Merji & Wolf, 2013). BP should have recognized the role of crisis communication and should have communicated with stakeholders within the first hours of the crisis to safeguard their brand and image. According to Shogren(2011) their first reactions should have been more humble and more conciliatory. BP should have used its resources to manage the perception of the crisis by keeping the stakeholders informed and ensuring that they feel safe and connected by offering timely, trustworthy, and regular reports and dialogs.

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