BP Behind Hype – The True Meaning of an Aggressive PR Campaign

BP Oil Spill Public Relations

We told you earlier this month that PR giant Brunswick Group will handle British Petroleum’s PR strategies in the months to come. What we didn’t give you at the time is the true meaning of this marriage made in heaven.

British Petroleum has never accepted responsibility for the accident that is practically killing the Gulf.

“This wasn’t our accident. This was a drilling rig operated by another company [TransOcean]. It was their people. Their systems. Their processes. We are responsible not for the accident, but we are responsible for the oil, and for dealing with it and cleaning the situation up,” BP boss Tony Hayward told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos earlier this month.

Days later after this brilliant (!) statement, BP hired Brunswick to help them deal with the media. But in a pathetic attempt to minimize BPs responsibilities, Tony Hayward did it again:

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume,” he said.

In the meanwhile, BP’s PR campaign became very focused on a demonstration of power. The company accepted responsibility for cleaning up after an accident that wasn’t their fault (! – oh, the altruism!) and transformed the cleaning up efforts into a public relations event.

“We will fix it. I guarantee it,” BP boss Tony Hayward told the media, with a heroic pose. Journals all over the world describe now in detail the work and dedication of the BP engineers who are trying to stop the leak with a pipe, and conveniently succeed to put this in place, after the news that the oil leak caused the oxygen around many plumes to drop 30 percents, a situation that harms the ecosystem in those areas, endangering many species.

The world celebrates BP’s victory:

“Atlanta Engineers hoping to contain oil gushing from the mangled pipe beneath the Gulf of Mexico appeared to make important headway Sunday, as robot submarines jammed a suction tube into the pipe in an attempt to coax the oil to a ship on the surface,” the Los Angeles Times reports. BP officials estimate that this will suck up as much as 75% of the leaking oil.

This is BP’s first victory, and you can expect the company’s PR dust in your eyes (or oil in your eyes) efforts to intensify. Their next public statements will continue to minimize the true impact of the spill on the ecosystem in the Gulf, for example. There’s an important lesson to learn from a similar event back in 1989, when Exxon was in the headlines for the Valdez oil spill:

“In Alaska, fishermen didn’t fish for as many as three years after the Valdez spill. Their boats lost value. The price of fish from oiled areas plummeted. Prince William Sound’s herring have never recovered. South-central Alaska was devastated,” Brian O’Neill writes for The Washington Post.

To make a long story short, BP will attempt to make you believe that, after assuming responsibility for cleaning up the damage caused by an accident that wasn’t their fault (!) they are heroes. Today’s victory powers up this strategy.


  1. Steve says

    Whatever emotional/ideological feelings one might have towards the ‘evil’ oil companies that make modern life possible, BP did not operate this rig. No way around it. Unless it transpires that the equipment leased by BP was faulty, it’s just not their fault, no matter how much hipsters like to hate them.

    The real tragedy is that 11 people were killed doing work to make our lives possible. There is little doubt the accident and the deaths are a result of being forced to operate at such depths by political restrictions on our own resources. On the upside, this is actually a fantastic oil find.

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