BP Gets More Opportunities to Repair its Damaged Image

Last Updated May 30, 2011 11:47 PM EDT

In a recent post, my BNET colleague, Christopher Elliot reported that BP was voted worst company in America by The Consumerist. In my post the following day, I talked about an opportunity that was handed to BP by Kim Barker's article in the Washington Post that could help to rehabilitate their image. Now BP has an additional opportunity to improve its image from a just-released U.S. Coast Guard investigation, reported in the Wall Street Journal. The Coast Guard report blames Transocean (a Swiss company that owns and operates the largest number of deepwater drilling rigs) for the negligence that led to the Gulf oil spill.

Credibility of the Report

The report carries added significance because the Coast Guard is an independent, credible, third-party that has little or nothing to gain in the dispute over who is to blame for the oil spill. The Interior Department jointly conducted 25 days of public hearings with the Coast Guard. It is expected to release its own report in the next few weeks. Whereas the Coast Guard report focused on the issues within its jurisdiction (the fire, evacuation and sinking of the rig), the Interior Department report is expected to highlight what caused the blowout and gas explosion.

Coast Guard Report Highlights

  • Transocean "had serious safety management system failures and a poor safety culture."
  • The gas-detection system was ineffective since it relied on operators to manually turn on alarms, shut down the engines and stop the flow of gas-contaminated air into the engine rooms.
  • The bridge crew was not properly trained to execute this manual procedure.
  • Explosions in the engine-room area could have been avoided or delayed if the system was designed to automatically take these steps when gas was detected.
  • Transocean failed to inspect, replace worn parts, and recertify the blowout preventer (this is required every 3 to 5 years).
  • The crew did not follow Transocean's own procedures when the explosion occurred (which is a further indication of poor training).
  • Firefighting systems failed when the rig lost power.
How does this help BP's image?
After initial prodding from the US Government, BP has been following the fact procedure. The Company took responsibility for the oil spill, and to date, they have already paid out over $16 billion. The next logical step in the fact procedure (after admitting and apologizing) is to limit the scope of their culpability and put their involvement in perspective. With the Coast Guard report and a similar finding expected from the Interior Department in a few weeks, BP will have believable data from independent, credible, third parties to shift much of the blame to Transocean and Cameron International, the maker of the blowout preventer that seems to have failed.

Nowhere to go but up and the fact procedure can take them there.
Now that The Consumerist has designated BP as the worst company in America (beating out Bank of America, which was second worst in the voting), the Company has nowhere to go but up. By using report data from US Government investigations, BP can successfully limit the scope of their culpability and continue with the fact procedure to repair the damage to their image from the Gulf spill. The last step of this procedure is to propose a believable solution so that such a disaster will not happen again. And to put some "sympathy" icing on the cake, BP can distribute Kim Barker's article to shine the light on the abuses of the "Spillionaires" that have profited from the oil spill at BP's expense.

The lesson for marketers is that, if executed properly, the fact procedure is the best way to repair a damaged corporate image if the damage comes from a known fact. In employing the procedure, it is critical for marketers to find credible data to limit the scope of culpability and, if possible, shift the blame to others that are responsible.

How might you use this lesson to protect the image of your company from mistakes it has made?

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Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). Follow him on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
  • Ira Kalb

    Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @irakalb