The headline in today’s New York Times says it all. BP is now and for all time the winner of the Worst Crisis Management of All Time Award. [This title had been held for several millennia by the Trojans for allowing the Greeks to get a hollow horse filled with soldiers inside their gates.] The headline:
The key words for most observers is “$18 billion.” That’s real money even for a global oil company.
But for crisis managers the most significant part of that headline is: “Cast as Reckless.”
The facts of BP’s actions in the Gulf are part of a legal and governmental tangle that’s as grimy as the shores of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida were after the well blew.
But there can be little doubt that BP’s executives and their attitudes added millions if not billions to this fine. It’s one thing to be wrong, even negligent. It gets really costly when you try to bilk the public into believing that oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is flowing at a slower rate than your own cameras show; deny it’s your fault or responsibility; blame others; act arrogant and dismissive of legitimate criticism; and show no care for perception, public opinion and the facts that were as plain as oil-soaked pelicans.
“While Judge Barbier did find the other companies had acted with negligence, he concluded that only BP, which leased the well and was in charge of the operation, was grossly negligent. He apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill to BP, 30 percent to Transocean and 3 percent to Halliburton.”
We will never know what amount this fine — if finalized and confirmed on appeal — increased as a result of BP’s months-long crisis mismanagement. But there should be no doubt of one conclusion: It’s higher because of BP’s collective attitude and denial.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.