Considering everything that has happened with the British Petroleum disaster, it’s safe to say that the company’s public relations and marketing departments have a tremendous challenge ahead of them.
As extremely profitable but questionably eco-friendly oil company, BP already has a large struggle keeping a positive image with the general public. Now, when you add a full-fledged environmental desaster—millions of gallons of crude oil in the ocean, scores of sea creatures and birds killed, harm to natural habitats, property damage, loss of human life, and accusations of negligence by the president himself--things go from bad to worse.
The constant bombardment by the media for the “best, freshest coverage” means showing the worst angle possible of every aspect of the disaster. Compound that with the continuous joking by satirical channels (@BPGlobalPR on Twitter comes to mind) and other countries now trying to shine their own “light” on the issue does nothing to help their situation.
Just to make something clear, I’m not defending BP or at all saying that the situation has been handled properly pre- or post-explosion. Instead, I will trying to set my personal issues aside and think not of the implication that this disaster will have on our yearly (usually beautiful) trip to the beaches of Destin, FL, and only analyze the issue from a marketing perspective.
As the disaster continues to worsen in severity, BP more than ever should be implementing the strategic marketing plans already pre-planned by their PR department. The development of the multi billion financial fund for disaster relief was step one of this process.
At this point the company has two very different, very broad marketing approaches to choose from.
One option is to completely abandon all former brand names and marketing efforts and start over. Pretty big, I know. This is similar to what Blackwater did after realizing that no marketing or money in the world can repair the image of the company after the events of Nisour Square in Baghadad in 2007. Now, Blackwater hopes that the general public will not realize that Xe is one and the same, and if they do, the company’s message preaches a complete change and turn around.
Judging from the initial steps of BP’s marketing strategies, it doesn’t seem like this is the option they are exercising. But in all honesty, as disastrous as the BP oil spill has been, it still doesn’t come anywhere close to the former Blackwater’s doings.
The alternative is the approach that BP has decided to take, and, in my opinion, is probably the best route. The plan seems to be to implement proper public relations strategies that will eventually lead to improving the image of the company. The goal of BP’s marketing department should be to involve itself into the efforts of rehabilitation of the shore lines, the company’s involvement and assistance with general rescue efforts, and everything from ocean and shore cleaning to visits to the communities effected by the spill.
The allocation of 20 billions dollars to the relief fund is definitely a good start, and so is the establishment of The Gulf Research Institution funds. Contributing money to the communities helps subside the negative opinions of the general public. That said, mere money may be seen as a passive, disconnected way to help, especially when many hold the view that the company practically pumps money out of the ground.
Another approach could be for BP executives to visit or temporarily relocate to the affected areas and speak to the public regarding their commitment to recover, issuing some “sincere” apologies. Executives may be wary, however, as there is a strong resentment for them in the area. Come to think of it, Xe may be able to provide protection…
There are countless ideas that BP could implement as part of their image recovery process and a 20 billion dollar capital budget to draw from will surely help. Smaller, more “personal” efforts would go a long way, not only for the people directly helped by the efforts, but also to help personalize the company with the public. It could put a more personal, caring face on a company that today is viewed as “big, corporate, evil BP”.
It will be interesting to see what marketing strategies BP is going to implement, how successful they will be, and how long it will actually take to fix the damage—both to the environment and their image.