BP’s Media Management – Brilliant! Insidious but brilliant

Brilliant?  Tony Hayward and the cast of Gilligan’s Island… brilliant?  Well, perhaps as the Skipper he has left a lot to be desired, but virtually everything else the BP media machine is doing is text-book perfect and likely to be studied as a model for crisis communications and disasters of tomorrow.

BP is using the media, the web, social media and is literally crafting stories right before our eyes.  They have mastered the concept of producing and distributing their own media and communications.  Believing in the long tail of the web BP has hired its own reporters to gather news stories under the guise of journalism. Under banner headlines “BP reporters Tom Seslar and Paula Kolmar are on the ground in the Gulf, meeting the people most immediately affected by the oil spill. Read their regular updates” are an apologia of unimaginable guile and proportion featuring heartfelt reports of clean ups and mitigating the severity of the disaster. BP knows that some of these stories will fall into mainstream media either through a lack of checks and balances or an absence of editorial scrutiny. BP knows that while they cannot rebut all the stories produced by the press the corporation can muddy the water by producing and distributing its own look-like news. Clever. Perhaps even diabolical. Effective nonetheless.

Aggregating electronic media is also used to build what masquerades as a social media-oriented site where true news is co-mingled with corporate pieces.  They create and maintain a look so responsible, so balanced and fair.  Why not?  They cannot prevent the cascade of negativity so they might as well co-opt it to fit their presentation and advantage.  And goodness let’s watch them use You Tube as one of the silos to distribute their material to the main stream.

Union Carbide and Exxon were the poster children for how to bumble and fumble corporate responses to a crisis. Johnson & Johnson, Odwalla, even fast food outlets have done a better, more comprehensive and responsive job in managing a crisis over the recent past. But BP has set a new bar in how to handle the media on the ground, when to stonewall, when to provide selective access to those it favors (most notably FOX news, perhaps based on their British Sky News affiliation AKA Rupert Murdoch?), and now creating content thanks to their own news team juggernaut.

After Katrina all the networks pledged to establish and maintain news bureaus in New Orleans in response to what was perceived to be the national anguish over the tragedy. Slowly but steadily the New York based, east coast centric news producer’s interest waned until the economic costs of sustaining gulf coverage was deemed to be too high with respect to the newsness and news value of what was produced. No network executive wanted to blink first, that is to be perceived as caring less about the minority impacted city, but inevitably the networks scaled back and withdrew their staffs. Watch for the same in the gulf… the story will move from just Louisiana on to Mississippi, Alabama and ultimately the prize jewel Florida. As the floating story sails the gulf the reports will migrate too, a nomadic news team on the prowl for the oils next landfall. Meanwhile the audience’s attention to oil soaked birds and families-with-ruined-lives will become tiresome. The birds will be featured in pieces on Nat Geo. The families will become features on anniversary occasions and special events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Cynical perhaps but predictive too. And as time passes the only ones covering the story, crafting and creating faux news will be the one organization with the most money to spend and the most reputation to change… BP.
Watch it and weep.

Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

71 thoughts on “BP’s Media Management – Brilliant! Insidious but brilliant”

  1. Just thought I’d point out: “British Petroleum” is a hugely out-of-date name, by which BP hasn’t been known since 1998.

      1. I tried – thank you for noting – it wont let me change that! Not sure why – but it wouldnt allow me to even reduce it to BPO – kept rejecting any effort to change or retype.

  2. I disagree with “one organization with the most money to spend and the most reputation to change… BP.”

    “We the people” have the most money to spend if used wisely.

    BP’s reputation can, will change – with us changing it. Not them.

    An example, BPAMA is asking their members on advice about “developing programs and assistance that can be implemented where the need arises.”

    BP should at minimum MATCH gas purchases.

  3. watch it and weep …yes …what worry me is the very passive attitude of the universities students dont they have all the power and the clues to talk? But who want to talk when you’re looking for a high paid job ?watch and weep …

  4. moderation …are we not moderated enough already ?
    somewhere i have written something and I could not recOgnized it after …I think journalism or spychiatrist is the same who want to say something that clash with big bang and black hole …The science of journalism and the science of what equilibrium is supposed to be : we are customer for information customer for the exponation of our destiny …we know that countries dont really exist and that money is paper …the game of the rule is moderation if you are small and spychotic if you are powerfull offhore drilling is more than accident it is the result of a mentality and that mentality is encouraged among most universities …education is pollution because there is no place for a real personnality unless you are prepare to accept insecurities and anguishes not labelled yet …
    that why the student watch and weep

  5. Interesting view point. When you put it in that perspective, they just may come of this ok. I just hope that they clean up their act and get their violations down for over 700 to under 5. It’s time.

    1. Take your meds, David. We knew what he was talking about and whether you call them BP, British Petroleum or the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, there is no defense for the way they are handling the whole thing.

  6. Tony Hayward looks funny ….roflmao. Big ole goofy headed talkin head , spin doctor ass puppet boy!

  7. That company is no longer called British Petroleum, it changed its name, and ownership many years ago.

  8. desafortunadamente asi pasa con TODAS las tragedias que aquejan a la humanidad.la gente se cansa y brinca a la siguiente tragedia. en el inter los que manejan estrategias deben pensar como prevenir este tipo de desastres que afectan a todo el mundo. y en efecto, BP tiene todo el dinero para mantener solo la informacion que conviene que la gente consuma. solo ellos….

  9. BP seems to have gone extra lengths to ensure their reputation is damaged as little as possible. By using the internet as a tool (even purchasing prime advertising on google) they have indeed mastered the concept of producing and distributing their own media and communications. I am not surprised, however, given the amount of money they have and the scale of the disaster in which they are responsible for.


  10. Good article, pity about the over-use of “British Petroleum”. Anti-British maybe or are you just copying your ridiculous President? Yes, the man who enjoys pointing his finger at large corporations when he leads a country that produces some of the largest amount of carbon emissions in the World. I suspect he might be using this opportunity to shift blame and attention from the almighty USA. If you, like your President, feel the need to spout anti-British propaganda then it would probably benefit you to remember who is supporting your war in Afghanistan with a large number of British troops dying every day. It’s beyond me why we continue to stand beside a country that is so ready to stab us in the back any chance they get.

  11. As far as I am aware, when British Airways, British Leyland, British Petroleum, British Telecom, and the other socialist nationalised (government-owned) industries were sold off (privatisation) way, way, back under Dr. Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, they stopped being called “British anything” from then on — and they changed to BP plc, BT plc, BA plc and so forth.

    It is not British Petroleum, it is BP, and has been for ages. BP does NOT stand for British Petroleum; it is not an abbreviation. It is a legal entity in its own right, a group of companies. Companies from all over the world, including the USA.

    BP is now the fourth largest company in the entire world, but it began life as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company which changed its name to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. So what if it started life as Iranian? At least Obama (and you) didn’t remember to mention that!

    Here’s another example of international and multinational businesses…

    The UK-government-owned South of Scotland Electricity board (SSEB) was sold off and became Scottish Power plc, which acquired Pacificorp and Utah Power in the USA, and Southern water in England & Wales, it developed a business called Scottish Telecom, which they sold off as Thus plc. Then it was taken over by Iberdrola (meaning that Scottish Power is actually now Spanish).

    If you referred to Thus as Scottish Telecom or the SSEB, people would think you were insane.

    Scottish Power and Utah Power are Spanish these days.

    My sole point is that it is just a name for an international business. This is not about nations, this is not war, this is not the World Cup or The Olympics.

    Obama make a mistake, but there is no need to repeat his error, no reason to compound it, and no reason to target a particular country.

    You’d think the British were attacking the USA! Wave goodbye to a “special relationship” because of stupidity.

  12. BP has not been called British Petroleum for years.
    Get off your anti-British high-horse, and look at the cold hard facts.
    The US is THE biggest polluter in the world, and it took W. an age to respond to Hurricane Katrina.

    1. First, thank you for the correction. Changes duly made. Anti-British high-horse? Goodness where do you get that viewpoint? If anything, from a media perspective they have set the bar quite high. BP will be used as an example within the industry and in university classes for some time to come. Is that “anti-British”? Maybe your sensitivity is set on too high a level?

      1. Am I allowed to join this? I guess it is easy for us Brits, watching Fox News, CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg, via Sky satellite and Virgin Cable, to react to the use of the out-of-date name ‘British’ in application to this substantially American-owned company. YOU are not anti-British? OK. But many interviewed people on the four above-named channels come over that way.

  13. Just to point out it’s not called British Petroleum, and hasn’t been since 1998 when it began to merge with US companies.

  14. As a somewhat cynical and very bohemian, free-thinking lady, I am surprised at people’s disillusionment with BP; after all, this is a corporation, and corporations are designed to be vampires – and not the sexy kind! Corporations are like the thug-vampires depicted in Poppy Z. Brite’s novel “Lost Souls”: brutal, amoral, gory.

    The sense of trust corporations pretend to engender, i.e., that they are good for the economy, is totally fake, since corporations have a vampiric sense of self-survival; they suck the lifeblood out of anyone and anything. To quote William Burroughs, “A regular job drains one’s very lifeblood. It’s supposed to. They want everything you’ve got.”

    People really need to stop being so naive about the corruption and amorality of corporations and their CEOs. And people need to stop putting so much faith in the corporate business world as our “saviour”. As Poppy Z. Brite wrote in “Lost Souls”: “Too much faith in anything will suck you dry. In this way, all the world is a vampire.”

  15. Saying “BP” doesn’t stand for “British Petroleum” is like saying “AARP” doesn’t stand for the American Association of Retired Persons. Everybody knows what it stands for. Nobody’s fooled by the swtitcheroo. The same people who say “We’re not British Petroleum” are the ones saying “The Gulf is a big ocean,” “The amount of oil released will be miniscule,” and “We’ll have this taken care of in a week.” It’s all smoke and mirrors, telling people things that are clearly inconsistent with common sense — and then ridiculing us for thinking otherwise.

    Somewhere the spin has to… well, spin out.

    Not all of us are idiots. And not all of us fall for it.

  16. So basically BP is doing the same thing the government already does through “network news”.

    All “news” today is scripted, refined propaganda aimed at selling someone’s version of “reality”.

  17. As someone who studied Public Relations, the job that BP is doing is brilliant at its worse. They can’t change people’s minds, but rather what they are doing is not reporting us the truth but rather their version of the truth. I would love to be working on this project right now, it would be an invaluable resource for me.

  18. Lets leave the semantics to the politicians and the details to the lawyers.The focus should be on the input of each citizen on the planet who ever stepped into a car that led to the greed of the corporation,which led to the negligence that led to the fire. If they must be punished subsequent to the clean up – the alternatives need to ratcheted up and used on an urgent basis.

  19. Very nice insight. I think they have done a nice job with funneling communication as much as possible. They have done a really good job with adwords on Google. Not many people realize that the first couple of listings are ads.

    There will be many books written on BP’s response to the oil spill and not all of them will be negative. Thanks for the post.

  20. RT1 says all I wanted to say, with many more stats that I have. But I would add (1) George 3 and Establishment power was stomping us ordinary working class Brits too; and (2) the guys chucking tea into Boston Harbour were biz barons and slave-owners, not just folks. The redcoats are gone. Quit with the anti-Brit s***.

    1. Nothing anymore British about it than there is American. The European Unions politicians are in charge in the U.S. to.., But on a lighter note, you know, if you guys had of worn a better camouflage, than RED COATS in our Green Forrest…well, you might have stood a chance.

  21. But BP is under public scrutiny they are merely responding and doing their job to safeguard their reputation and interests. Institutions can no longer stand against the individual powers anymore.

    Wonder what happened to Trafigura after the twitter frenzy of them dumping toxic waste in Ivory coast.

  22. Great insight,and report. I also recently posted an entry about the Gulf spill(Oil Volcano)…with somewhat of a different angle, yet, while reading between the mind…I see that you also know more than you are letting be known in your post, about the golden rule, that rules the world:

    He who controls the Gold, makes all the rules.

  23. This is an interesting post. Thanks for writing it. Nice to see another perspective.

    I am not as close to this as you are, but from what I can tell BP appears to be committing a cardinal PR sin. Are they not relying on cunning vs. action to improve their position?

    The strategy that you point out seems to be how they are taking facts and putting them in their preferred light. Could these examples not backfire? BP has a target on its back and the public doesn’t like spinmasters unless they are cool-headed protagonists in hollywood films who are working for a greater good. Why not use action to create new facts?

    I understand that the $20 B compensation guarantee/dividend recall etc. was action. I am on the outside of this but it sure appears as their hand was forced? Why were they not in front of this leading the way or were they. That would be a story. If we knew it was coming, didn’t they? And, what about matching or entirely donating proceeds from oil sales to get people behind them. That seems like another story based on action.

    Perhaps, I am missing something. It would always be better for the company to get some good consumer press than be remembered positively in business books.

  24. What this is all about, has been happening in our world for thousands of years. It is called, “Screw You and It is all about me.” An attitude of power hunger to build riches beyond the lives of ordinary people in this world. It is the few, controlling the lives of many, for their own pleasures and gratifications. We have destroyed this world long before its forthcoming burnout. Our Lord weeps in the destruction of His creation.

  25. BP has been allowed to get away with murder in the USA for years, the previous Bush administration has blood and crude oil on their hands!

    BP have been allowed to pay their way out of US lawsuits regarding their fragrant abuse of US health and safety regulations, now we’re witnessing the results of this approach to justice.

    The US must take shared responsibility for this disaster and stop blaming everyone else!


    Respect and Peace!

  26. Great Post Peter and very thought provoking, BP are acutely aware of the bad press they’re receiving and I’m sure will spend big to redeem any credibility they possibly can!

    Let’s hope the Gulf can recover from this toxic enema!

    Respect and Peace!

  27. If we were not all being so bitter and spending our time blaming BP for this spill, we’d appreciate we have been watching a ‘Spectacular’ needing really careful examination, so that we makes sure it will never happen again.
    Deep offshore drilling won’t be stopped. It can’t be stopped till we find a high gain energy production system on par with oil.
    Any failure to arrive at such a new system, or the stopping of drilling, or running out of oil, will cause a mass die-off (like that of the dinosaurs), amongst the ever-fast-growing human population.
    And that is that !!!

  28. Regardless of how ‘savvy’ you think BP have been – ultimately it is the overall perception on a global scale of how they have reacted to this crisis. Certainly on my side of the world, in Ireland, the perception of Tony Hayward and the BP campaign has been nothing short of abysmal.

    I think you should go back to PR and Media Studies class if you think the BP PR team are performing par excellence. The ultimate weather cock indicator of how well the communications team is performing is reflected through investors and the share price. Right now the share price has plummeted and Hayward has been moved offstage. ‘Nuff said

    1. My post was not about the share price – nor the response from an engineering stand point. There has been plenty written about that already. But from a social media stand point BP is mastering technology and communications. Hayward? That was a miscalculation and I dealt with him quickly and dispatched it. I covered the Exxon Valdez and have watched that story unfold for more than 20 years. This disaster will live on for that long, perhaps longer, and certainly over a wider area. From a PR perspective this will be a fight for hearts and minds, to influence public policy and state regulations, juries too. I am taking a view at the long haul and what BP has implemented is truly astounding from a global perspective of the problem. I may not like what I think they are doing in terms of manipulating stories but I am calling attention to a massive media machine. Oh, by the way, I am hired to teach crisis communications to corporations and am also a college professor.

  29. The last paragraph is the scariest. If you’re right and Harvard Biz, et al, throw this approach out as a model…and there are no true news networks and gonzo journalists to counter them, we are in deep do-do. As one of your commentors said, corporations are designed to be vampires and we need to stop seeing them as saviors gone astray who can be corraled back into the flock. We need “news entities” to counter them.

  30. The terrible irony is that if BP had spent enough money to prevent the oil spill in the first place, it would have been more cost-effective than launching this massive propaganda program, never mind the price they will pay for lawsuits and potential clean-up (although I’m not holding my breath on the latter).
    When will corporations realize that cutting corners for short-term savings can be economically disastrous in the long-term?

  31. Good post on the fascinating topic of damage control. One need only look at how, after months of safety related recalls, Toyota is running ads patting themselves on the back for their safety record. I’d like to say Anderson Cooper is the man to trust in a crisis, but he’ll likely have to move on too when the story moves to another location.

    History is written by the winners, I’m afraid, and the winners these days tend to have the most money.



  32. Your piece had to do with BP’s horrendous image and how they are manufacturing “news” to try to save it isn’t it? And as time passes the only ones covering the story, crafting and creating faux news will be the one organization with the most money to spend and the most reputation to change… BP.

    We believe BP should take a more concrete approach to fix their image – like turning their company into the clean/green machine they promoted themselves to be.

    Matching fuel purchases would be a first step that would help the gulf. So yes – in that context I wanted to tag the link. I was also offering a solution to JessieStark.

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