BP’s decision to stream video live from the sea floor to show how they are managing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may have seemed a good idea at the time: evidence that the company is technically committed to capping their spill. If all had gone well with the capping of the well, the video streaming might have been a PR coup. Instead the video has operated almost like a trojan horse undermining all their PR campaigns.
Problem 1: you only need to look at the oil “gushing” out to know that you are watching more than 5000 gallons a day entering the ocean. Combined with BP’s earlier refusal to allow researchers near the well, this live evidence has provided America with reality TV show from the ocean floor. The fact that the gusher is brown and therefore mud rather than oil does not change perception that BP has failed. The visual perception of failure allied with the increasingly rabid and hysterical utterances from the White House is stoking the embers of a PR conflagration. For President Obama, approval ratings plummeting, this is all about allocating blame to BP and keeping it as far away from the White House as possible.
Not all Americans are responding in the same way. There is within the USA, an increasing sense that this disaster is a logical outcome of a situation where the country has an increasingly desperate need for oil leading to more and more marginal drilling. This constituency does not necessarily hold BP to blame, but realises that all oil companies are behaving the same way. The cost of oil is enviromental disaster.
For BP (“Beyond Petroleum) the spill is increasingly uncontained, to the extent that analysts are talking of break up and takeover. In this torrid arena, CEO Hayward looks increasingly out of his depth, not helped by the disastrously absent chairman. At first BP seemed too relaxed about the spill, now they are looking incompetent. Their failure to marshall the facts of the argument and the failure of USA CEO to be able to clarify the events before the explosion made BP look incompetent. BP also failed to understand the full political context of their spill and the likely response from Obama.
As mud, oil and gas gush from the well, perhaps it has been failure in a smaller way. Why have BP not taken the opportunity to shape the news agenda by providing some interpretation of the live cam. Some text explanation of what viewers are seeing would have been technically simple and ensured that they debate could be swayed their way. Typically, BP have failed to set the agenda.