BP’s Crisis PR Slow and Lacking Strategic Focus, Says PR Executive Brian Dobson

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Crisis PR expert Brian Dobson of DobsonPR.com said BP was too slow to act as its oil spill polluted U.S. waters, adding, “In effective Crisis PR implementation, a CEO should communicate prompty, calmly, confidently and in the case of the BP oil spill, contritely.”

Like many companies in crisis, BP was slow in the early days. When news breaks fast, companies that are slow to engage the media with accurate open communications, end up chasing the story in escalating efforts of damage control

“As one of the world's most powerful companies, BP seemed remarkably ill prepared to react as its Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis rocked the BP brand, spoiled U.S. waters and threatened the ecology and economy of Gulf states,” said public relations executive Brian Dobson of Dobson Communications.

“Corporate culture stems from the top. The attitude and priorities of the CEO set the tone in a corporation and it seems that BP did not have CEO support or understanding to respond with speed,” said Dobson, who’s firm is online at http://www.DobsonPR.com .

“Actions have to match words and clarity and accurate information are vital in crisis, both to assist in solution and to salvage reputation. BP failed to act like the concerned global citizen its advertising had claimed it to be and BP's crisis PR was too slow and lacking in strategic focus," Dobson said.

The PR executive, who had previously covered the oil business as a journalist, added, “BP was mistaken to initially downplay the spill rates as oil was gushing into previously pristine waters and should have more quickly engaged the Gulf of Mexico-based fishing vessels that its spill is putting out of business and that are now deployed to help in the clean up.”

“BP, which changed its name from British Petroleum ten years ago, finally put its CEO into high profile media interviews after visiting the spill area and various Gulf states following a long delay reminiscent of the slow response that Exxon had in sending its CEO to Alaska following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prudhoe Bay,” he said.

Dobson noted, “A CEO sets the tone and should measure words carefully during crisis. However, BP’s CEO Tony Hayward in a Times of London interview was not respectful of Americans when he said BP would honor legitimate, not illegitimate claims. He said, ‘I could give you lots of examples. This is America, come on. We’re going to have lots of illegitimate claims. We all know that.’ As the CEO of a company polluting U.S. waters, his comments were ill advised.”

“In effective Crisis PR implementation, a CEO should communicate promptly, calmly, confidently and in the case of the BP oil spill, contritely,” said Dobson.

“The Crisis-Arch™ in a major development is predicable, yet BP was flat footed and slow to act at the outset to effectively communicate its actions, control developments and contain the media blitz,” according to Dobson, who was a journalist before entering PR.

“Like many companies in crisis, BP was slow in the early days. When news breaks fast, companies that are slow to engage the media with accurate open communications, end up chasing the story in escalating efforts of damage control,” said the public relations expert.

“A focus of Crisis PR preparation is anticipation of problems and set action sequences to address a variety of major problems, many of which get identified and fixed in the process of considering what might go wrong,” according to the Crisis PR executive.

“In our Dobson Crisis-Arch™, we have seen that crises have elements in common, but each is unique. Sound principles, flexibly applied with common sense, are important," said Dobson.

Before forming Dobson Communications, Dobson headed PR at a Fortune 50 company, the former American Brands, and was a member of the Crisis Committee of the global firm that had businesses ranging from tobacco and insurance to alcoholic beverages and food products. Prior to entering PR at the New York Stock Exchange during a securities industry crisis, Dobson was a news reporter, first as a Petroleum News Editor at the Journal of Commerce, then for the AP-DJ newswire of Dow Jones and then with Reuters Financial Newswire, where he wrote the daily stock market commentary.

Based in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and online at http://www.DobsonPR.com, Dobson Communications has managed a variety of brand building PR campaigns in several sectors, and has handled PR in major crises for companies including a major Japanese pharmaceutical and nutritional products company, Japan’s lead supplier of blood, a major US food company and other clients in crisis situation, in addition to marketing and brand building PR. Importantly, DobsonPR has prepared firms for Crisis and in the process helped identify potential problems that were addressed. For information contact Barbara Green at 203-894-9240 or Barbara_Green (at) DobsonPR (dot) com.
(c)Brian Dobson 2010

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