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- 01.10.2012 | BP Crisis 2010: Update 2012, "BP Makes Amends"
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BP Crisis 2010: Update 2012, "BP Makes Amends" E. Bruce Harrison
Adjunct Professor, Public Relations and Communications Graduate Program,
Georgetown University, and
CEO, EnviroComm International
January 10, 2012
A halo headline in the New York Times for an oil company is not something you expect to see very often. It is especially rare for a company blamed, condemned, excoriated and sued for its role in a disaster that inflicts severe damage, death, economic and environmental pain and suffering. That's what makes the op-ed, entitled BP Makes Amends, important reading in analyzing the 2010 crisis centering on BP's role in the Deepwater Horizon accident and Gulf Coast oil spill.
The climax of the crisis itself was stopping the underwater leakage of oil into the water. The dirty bubbling — available for view on any person's computer, continuously, day and night for weeks on end — reminded the world, stakeholders and critics, of BP's culpability. When the bubbles turned clear, the crisis condition changed from cause to effect. The climax aftermath question put to the oil company, and its associates in the Gulf, such as Deepwater Horizon, was no longer "when will you stop the damage?".
The longer running questions were about repairing and restoring and compensating for loss. People, critics, government and lawyers — back to that shortly, since that's the nub on the Nocera column — were pressing BP, especially BP, which had the high profile and the deep pockets in this crisis, for answers to highly complex question. How would BP prevent further harm to fish and wildlife, how would they address the human impact, the loss of jobs, revenue and good-will of people who rely on the Gulf, its waters and its shores for their income and well-being? How would BP make amends?
Nocera, a veteran writer on business who graduated from the Times' business section to the editorial section a year or so ago, delves into the back story: the resistance of trial lawyers to what is basically an orderly, widely approved process that involves BP spending many billions of dollars in compensating people and businesses whose claims of damage have been considered and qualified.
Read this commentary to understand the ramifications of this particular, highly significant and still current crisis case. And think through the corporate communication challenge. Start with the chief communication officer's handy opening question — what's it all about? (who, what, when, where, how?) — and consider how this company is handling its response to the crisis in this post-climax phase, and how this piece by Nocera factors in. What is the reaction in the ongoing, open, worldwide and unfettered social conversation in the highly interactive media?
Bruce Harrison is an adjunct professor in the master's program at
Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He and Judith Muhlberger teach
courses in leadership communications and corporate crisis communications.
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