Support Marketplace

BP faces criticism from PR experts

A protester outside of the British Petroleum (BP) company offices in Chicago, Ill.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The CEO of BP has the quote of the day today this Friday. Tony Hayward told a British newspaper that the big oil spill is "tiny" in relation to a "very big ocean." It has, as you can imagine, gotten a lot of play. But with reports that the spill is far larger than earlier estimates, it goes to illustrate a more relevant point. The enormous public relations hole that BP keeps digging for itself.

Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.


BOB MOON: The president himself has called it "the BP oil spill," and today, Mr. Obama stepped up his public criticism with a blast at the blame-shifting during a recent congressional hearing.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn't.

Phil Butler is a marketing consultant at Pamil-Visions PR. He says BP's initial willingness to do the right thing has given way to legal language.

PHIL BUTLER: BP started with sort of a passive-submissive stance, which is a little bit the way they should have been. Like, "We're really sorry, we're doing everything we can." And then they've shifted to -- it's almost like the company got mad or angry.

That's not playing well with the president or the public.

But Brian Dobson of Dobson Communications thinks he understands what's behind it: The tension between BP's image-makers, and its lawyers. He points to the promise from BP CEO Tony Hayward to pay "all legitimate claims." Hawyard added that he expects a flood of illegitimate claims because -- he told an interviewer -- "This is America. Come on."

BRIAN DOBSON: That may be something that happens and is likely to happen in any situation, but to say that in the midst of a crisis!

PR expert Phil Butler says the lawyers have their job to do, but right now, BP executives should pay attention to their image.

BUTLER: The PR firm is Brunswick Group, which is one of the most powerful PR firms in the world. Somebody there, it would seem to me, would be saying, "Hey, wait a minute. We need to get away from the bean counters and the attorneys, and think about the long term." You can't worry about a trillion dollars if you're going to lose $10 trillion."

Butler says a day in court won't matter if no one's buying BP's gas.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...