BP’s New PR Tactic Is Its Own Disaster

unnamed 150x150 BPs New PR Tactic Is Its Own Disaster

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for BP.

Energy company BP is shifting PR gears. In 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that left 11 oil rig workers dead and the gulf off Louisiana slick with millions of gallons of oil, the company’s PR was geared entirely toward apologies and vows to right the wrongs done. A massive cleanup effort was launched to save the coastline. Payments were promised to the many businesses affected – some perhaps irreparably, such as those of independent fishermen whose catches were contaminated.

The days of apology are apparently over. An article in the weekend edition of the New York Times illustrates a shift in attitude from the international energy giant. BP, once all apologies, is now on the defensive, saying they’re the victim of false insurance claims.

“I think there are really bad public policy ramifications to what’s happening to BP,” the Times quoted Geoff Morrell, senior VP for communications and government affairs at BP America, as saying. “It’s not just bad for this company that illegitimate, dubious claims are being paid to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars; it is bad for, dare I say, America.” It is also bad for, dare we say, BP’s PR

But does BP care how it looks anymore? Last month, the US government allowed BP to bid again for oil and gas leases in the gulf. And two weeks ago, BP officially ended active shoreline cleanup – and, apparently, the cleanup of their image.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for BP. As much as they’d like to move on, those affected by the disaster haven’t.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: You can stop apologizing, but don’t stop repairing. Part of a company’s recovery from extreme damage is presentation of image. Okay, four years on, BP can stop apologizing. But portraying themselves as victims of insurance swindles? It’s more than moving on. It’s an insulting turnaround that, as PR tactics go, is a disaster in its own class.


How Hayward Got His Life Back

 How Hayward Got His Life Back

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Tony Hayward. Two years after the BP disaster, his PR image rehabilitation is underway.

What’s the PR strategy for a CEO who has presided over what is arguably one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the phrase? Can a former CEO, blamed for a multitude of disastrous safety shortfalls, ever return to the PR mainstream? For the answer, look to Tony Hayward, former CEO of Big Oil baddie BP.

Sunday’s New York Times seemed equally surprised to see Tony Hayward bounce back from the oil spill that blackened the Gulf Coast. Much criticized (possibly unfairly) for his handling of the massive Deepwater Horizon spill, his career at BP ended following a series of missteps including his memorable, though understandable, PR gaffe of saying he wanted “his life back.” The Times has now turned that into a positive, with an article proving exactly that: Tony Hayward got his life back.

Hayward gave a lengthy and upbeat interview about life after the disaster. Still in the business, he is now in oil exploration. Not just anywhere, either, but in Kurdish Iraq. Sure, there are problems, and yes, it’s complicated, but Hayward seemed resolutely chipper. Brimming with excitement about his new venture and with a series of illustrious names to back him up, he told the Times that he is now a little guy in the world of Big Oil. Watch his transformation.

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Tony Hayward. Two years after the BP disaster, his PR image rehabilitation is underway. Check back in two more years to see how far the needle has moved away from the red zone.

The PR Takeaway: Follow the basic PR rules and anything is possible. For a CEO as vilified as Hayward, his PR remake might have seemed impossible were it not for the cardinal rules of a PR makeover: Disappear and stay out of the headlines. After a suitable interval (two years seems sensible), emerge with something new to say, unrelated to previous headlines. Avoid talking about what happened previously and settling old scores. Finally, get some big guns to comment on what a great turnaround this is – and how supported you are in your new endeavor. If possible, position yourself as the underdog and the outsider.  Then smile for the camera; your remake is underway.

To read Tony’s PR makeover, click here.

What’s your PR Verdict? Tell us, below!