How to Avert a PR Crisis: Don’t Look to BP


Image Credit: Social Media Commando

When I think back to a public relations crisis that could have been handled better, I can’t help but remember back to the BP oil spill last year. The 3 month long ordeal captured national and world attention, but more than that, the company’s handling of public relations was quite catastrophic. For a company with millions in profits and revenue, the handling of this disaster was un-professional and has left many Americans with a bad taste in their mouths toward them.

The oil spill is easiest the worst accidental oil spill in history. During its three months, over 4.9 billion gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, devastatingly affecting the entire region including the marine life and millions of small businesses along the Gulf Coast. Often overlooked, eleven people lost their lives on the day the explosion occurred, which began the spill.

With the use of modern technology and social media, Americans were able to watch a daily view of the oil spewing into the ocean. This alone left many frustrated with the amount of time it took BP to plug the whole. Several attempts were made before the hole was finally capped in July 2011, after 3 long months.

Instead of apologizing about what happened, BP and CEO Tony Hayward were quick to blame others for what happened. Comments were made by Hayward such as, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” The handling of their PR during this time was unquestionably unprofessional. During a crisis, a company needs to act swiftly and carefully, making sure the public is up to date on the current situation. Unfortunately, due Hayward’s hasty comments, many were upset at the way things were handled during the oil spill and BP’s failure to fix the solution quickly.  BP was found to be held responsible by the White House. They noted that cutting costs left many of their equipment out of date, which led to the explosion that happened in April 2010.

This was a terrible situation, and in some ways one feels empathy towards BP for the oil spill. However, a company as large as BP should have done a much better job with the way they handled their public relations. I feel that many would not have such negative attitudes towards BP if their response had been different. The first thing BP should have done was to assemble a team to handle the PR outflow from the crisis, reassuring the public that the first thing on their minds was to control the oil spill. Tony Hayward should not have been allowed to comment on the crisis after his outburst.

BP has since claimed full responsibility for the incident and has promised to fund over $20 billion to clean up the mess and restore the Gulf of Mexico. In a statement on their website, BP said,

“From the outset, BP acknowledged its role in the accident and has taken concrete steps to further enhance safety and risk management throughout its global operations, including the implementation of new voluntary standards and practices in the Gulf of Mexico that exceed current regulatory requirements and strengthen the oversight of contractors.”                                                    Source: BP website

While doing a little research, I found this comedy on YouTube, poking fun at the way BP handled the crisis.

Warning to viewers: Please be advised there is bad language used in the video.


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