PR Crisis- 2010 BP Oil Spill

The BP oil spill happened more than two years ago, and it’s still talked about today because it’s known as one of the largest oil spill disasters in the petroleum industry. But that’s not the only thing people are talking about.

BP is a well-known multinational oil and gas company and it is the fourth-largest company in the world. In the past 10 years, BP has had some unfortunate accidents with its oil rigs; in 2010 it looked like it would be no different.

The U.S. was shocked and appalled at how BP’s public relations handled the situation, or rather how they didn’t handle the situation. PR crisis communications is supposed to fix impending problems, not create more. This situation has gone down in history as one of the worst examples of a public relations response to a national crisis.

In April 2010 an oil rig exploded due to a blowout spill in the Gulf of Mexico and it caused havoc among U.S. citizens. The accident killed 11 workers and extensively harmed marine animals and wildlife. BP’s CEO Tony Hayward was in no way prepared to respond or comfort the public in their time of need, and as a result the U.S. was infuriated and lashed out.

Here’s what BP did wrong:

  • BP chose to avoid confrontation with the public, and disabled negative comments about the crisis on its’ Facebook page and YouTube channel.
  • Hayward downplayed the extent of the accident. In an interview Hayward said the impact of spill on the environment would be “very, very modest.”
  • Hayward elected himself as the official spokesperson rather than choosing the VP of communications or another leader in BP. A news article reported Hayward was “ineffective and awkward in TV interviews.”

BP and Hayward’s PR strategies were so off point. They blocked all opinions from the public and didn’t provide a real solution to the problem or comfort the public. It would have been a better idea to let the public express their thoughts and opinions and listen to what they have to say.

Engage and interact with your audiences. Ignoring them only makes you look unfavorable. Hayward shouldn’t have been the spokesperson because he didn’t know what to say to the media.  The spokesperson should’ve been the VP of communication or another leader in BP.

Lastly, be honest. Don’t lie to the public about the problem; it’ll only make the situation worse, especially when you are downplaying the impact of the problem. Tell the public what has happened and what you’re going to do to fix it.

How do you think BP handled the situation? What suggestions would provide them as a PR professional?


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