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BP’s Perfect Storm, One Year Later

By: Miriam Fry

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which has been recorded as the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The scope of damage from this spill surpassed even the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1989. The minute Transocean’s oil rig exploded, BP had a PR challenge on hand. Has BP conquered it?

If having an estimated 172 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf with your company’s name on it isn’t enough of a PR blunder to overcome, BP had an increasingly difficult time capping the well, and 11 employees, who were working on the rig, died when it exploded. Each of these events serves as a substantial PR challenge, but when all three are combined, the situation becomes a perfect storm of PR challenges.

From July to August 2010, BP tripled its advertising budget to $93 million in an attempt to recover its ruined reputation. Investing in PR was a major financial decision for BP, but did it work?

Well, it will take more than a year to tell, but overall, BP appears to be committed to letting Gulf Coast residents know that the company takes full responsibility for what happened, along with government mandates … what more can BP be expected to do?

The PR campaign consists of traditional news releases, a new website tab titled “Gulf of Mexico Restoration” and financial statements. Perhaps the most direct tactic was the hiring of unemployed residents from Baldwin and Mobile counties in south Alabama to help with the cleanup process.

In addition, the company utilized traditional social media with Twitter, Facebook and a YouTube Channel, all of which increased transparency. The YouTube videos address the situation from the residents’ points of view and are titled “Voices from the Gulf.” The most recent video features Bryan and Brook Zar, owners of Restaurant des Families in Crown Point, La.

Bryan Zar notes that “[BP] stuck by the region, and kept our communities working.” The video points out that the Zars were not compensated for their appearance, ensuring that there is no speculation that BP paid actors to imitate Gulf Coast residents. BP was able to catch candid accounts of what residents thought, which is invaluable to its PR efforts.

As today’s anniversary approached, BP released a video titled “A Year of Change” to illustrate what the company has been doing for the residents of the Gulf Coast. The video begins with an apology from Bob Dudley, the new CEO of BP, in which he says BP “is committed to earning your trust back.” The video details what happened on April 20, 2010, when the rig exploded, as well as every effort to cap it for the three months that followed. The cleanup process is also featured with a tug-on-heart strings as we see pelicans being bathed to rid them of oil.

The video is seemingly transparent, detailed and honest — three words that all PR practitioners value in their work.

The $93 million dollar investment in BP’s PR was just the beginning of its reputation makeover. It has made its message known, and it has opened itself up to not only residents of the Gulf Coast, but the entire country.

What do you think of BP’s PR tactics?

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