A photo from a NASA satellite showed the silvery swirling oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico on April 25 
A photo from a NASA satellite showed the silvery swirling oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico on April 25. Photo credit: European Pressphoto Agency, via Wall Street Journal 

With regard to BP’s uphill PR battle surrounding the wrecked drilling rig that has been hemorrhaging oil into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two weeks, we think an article posted today to Wall Street Journal’s “The Source” blog sums it up best: “[When] “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart is cracking jokes about you in which the punch line is ‘Goldman Sachs,’ you know you’ve got an image problem.”

Indeed, there isn’t any good news in sight for the company—or, more importantly, for the shoreline and surrounding communities—as crews struggle to contain the spill, which is the result of the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. As urgency to contain the spill increases and more details emerge, BP’s role in the disaster and subsequent fallout has been murky, to say the least: For starters, the rig was owned and operated by Transocean and leased by BP, which was the basis for BP’s position that Transocean—not BP—was responsible for the accident (a statement that was met with criticism).
More recently, though, reports show that a plan BP filed with the federal Minerals Management Service for the Deepwater Horizon well, dated February 2009, repeatedly said it was “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.” This news cast a shadow on BP’s massive mobilization to contain the spill (which, according to various reports, has been relatively effective). 
Unlikely or not, BP now faces the seemingly insurmountable task not only of stopping the oil flow and limiting its impact ashore, but of rebuilding its reputation in the wake of shattered public trust. According to the New York Times, “Now, the discussion with BP on Capitol Hill is certain to intensify pressure on the company, which is facing a crisis similar to what the Toyota Motor Company had with uncontrolled acceleration — despite its efforts to control the damage to its reputation as a corporate citizen, the problem may be worsening.”
With all hands on deck to accelerate the cleanup and minimize the damage, it’s safe to say that the best PR strategy for now is to stay focused on the task at hand. But then what? 
We’d be interested to hear what all the PR professionals out there think—did deflecting responsibility worsen BP’s image, or was it the appropriate response given the situation? And where does the reputation cleanup start once the oil cleanup ends?


Comment from Constance Hannon
May 6, 2010 at 8:35 am

If I were doing PR for BP, I would send this man out to tell his survival story and have him explain what happened when the rig exploded. I didn’t hear the 4/30 radio show, but my friend sent a link out on facebook. What this man had to say was fascinating. 
Mark Levin 
Mark Levin Show