PR Analysis of British Petroleum

Term Paper, 2010

15 Pages, Grade: 73



Introduction to BP & Case Studies
Texas Oil Refinery
Alaskan Oil Spill
Market Manipulation

A Framework from which an analysis can be drawn

Analysis of PR response to the Texas oil refinery explosion

Analysis of PR response to the Alaskan Oil Spill

Analysis of PR response to the Price Manipulation

Mistakes made and potential changes in strategy

BP at the moment


Appendix 1: The Anatomy of a Well Managed Crisis
Appendix 2: The Anatomy of a Mismanaged Crisis

Introduction to BP & Case Studies

British Petroleum is an international energy provider with a large degree of focus on both upstream and downstream oil assets and operations as well as continued diversification into alternative energy sources. It has a market capitalization of £117,929 million as at the close of business 29th March 2010.

The 'Beyond Petroleum' campaign stemmed from late nineties and early noughties merger (Amoco) and acquisition (the Atlantic Richfield Corporation and Burmah Castrol) activity. BP approached Ogilvy PR with a brief to "Position BP as a new type of global energy company that confronts such difficult issues as the conflict between energy and environmental needs and takes actions beyond what is expected of an oil company." (Ogilvy, 2010 & Leopard, 2010)

This 'green-washing' campaign went on to win two PRWeek Campaign of the Year awards in 2001, however in the same breath it did draw public criticisms from environmentally focused organizations citing a cynicism within BP.

'Beyond Petroleum' was a campaign that had twofold objectives looking to both demonstrate that BP were an industry leader with a unique position as a green and socially conscious oil and gas company as well as uniting several recently acquired companies as well as existing employees under one unified banner.

Texas Oil Refinery

In 1998 BP gained control over a large Texas oil refinery as part of the acquisition of American firm Amoco, which in March 2005 was the location of a large explosion seeing the death of 15 employees and injuries to over 170. Negligence was the main theme of both public and prosecutorial focus.

Alaskan Oil Spill

BP's operations in Alaska initially came under scrutiny in July 2005, following the reported oil spillage of over six-thousand barrels of oil onto the North Slope region of the National Wildlife Refuge. Questions were raised over the lack of action by BP and the internal communications structures at the company.

Market Manipulation

The accusation that BP undertook anti-competitive behavior to artificially manipulate prices came to the fore in 2005 when the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) made allegations that this practice occurred with the knowledge and consent of senior management. This was then followed by an accusation in 2006 that a similar incident took place regarding the pricing and storage of crude oil, again to artificially manipulate the market. The main concerns revolve around malpractice, misinformation and calculated deception.

A Framework from which an analysis can be drawn

Drawing on the work of Coombs and Benuit, whose research into organisational responses to crises gives a good starting point to examine the PR response by BP with regard to the three aforementioned incidents or issues. We can then attempt to create the basis of an adequate framework from which to launch our investigation.

The identification of four categories of crisis communication strategy that can be used by an organisation in response to particular crisis will form the basis of the analysis. These categories are non-existence, distancing, ingratiation and mortification (Coombs, 1999).

The use of four categories to encompass specific crisis communication strategies allows the organisation to use a varied selection of tools that is tailor made for each situation.

According to Coombs (1999) the nonexistence category appears to be utilised when the crisis is rooted in an unconfirmed rumour in the media, or a direct challenge to the organisation. Specific strategies may appear nonchalant, cavalier or arrogant in their basis however the uses of "denial, clarification, intimidation and attack the accuser" can be seen as psychological tools to counter unverifiable claims.

The inclusion of distancing strategies can be part of an optimal solution when the organisation has the ability to remove itself from the situation enough that it is not seen as sidestepping the issue. Coombs (1999) states that these distancing strategies are categorised as "excuse,justification, misrepresentation, minimising injury and deserving victim".

The ingratiation strategies is an appeasement strategy, where the placation of certain stakeholders is the most effective solution, ingratiation strategies can in some cases be seen to have a 'quid pro quo' element to them. Coombs (1999) follows that "bolstering, transcendence and praising others" are typical strategies used.

When it can be shown that there is a historical trend or organisational failure as a cause, Coombs (1999) asserts that the Mortification strategies, namely redemption, repentance and rectification allows an organisation to take responsibility for the crisis but show to its publics that it is prepared to compensate, consider reparations and take corrective action or implement policy decisions to prevent repeat crises.

The four strategies each have their place in crisis communication options; however the effectiveness of these is very reliant on stakeholder or affected publics' opinions and perceived accountability or responsibility of the organisation.

Benuit (1997) talks about the need to identify where the 'attack' is coming from and the motivations behind it whilst asserting that the "theory of image restoration discourse is a viable approach for use in developing and understanding messages that respond to corporate image crises". Drawing on the nature of public relations activity he does point out that the truth behind the incident such as whether or not the organisation is actually at fault may be considerably less important or even irrelevant from whether the organisations publics believe the firm to be responsible.

Cohn (2000) shows the potential dynamics of bad crisis communication by outlying the implications of a well-managed crisis compared to one that is mismanaged (see Appendix 1 & 2). We can see that at the epicentre of the mismanaged model is 'poor communication'. This does not necessarily mean a lack thereof but can also include using inappropriate communication strategies given the circumstances. In the aforementioned PR responses it will be this model that I look to and identify some aspects of a mismanaged process.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


PR Analysis of British Petroleum
University of Hertfordshire  (Business School)
MA Marketing
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
484 KB
BP, British Petroleum, Greenwashing, Public Relations, Alaskan Oil Spill, Texas Oil Refinery
Quote paper
Christopher Ulph (Author), 2010, PR Analysis of British Petroleum, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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