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Examining The Corporate Image Of BP

As BP continues to try different ways to stop the persistent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, experts on corporate image say the company may have dodged a bullet when it comes to how the public and marketplace will react to the disaster in the long run. Jack Williams explains.


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“This is not a gas pedal on a Toyota where you have crashes and people. This is sort of an impersonal thing.”

Terry Hemeyer is executive counsel at Pierpont Communications and teaches crisis management at the Jones Graduate School at Rice University. He says the BP case isn’t like others, like Toyota or Tiger Woods. 

“It’s a hard leap. It’s not the same kind of issue. Tiger is sex and that’s different. Toyota is people getting, supposedly, in accidents because of this. This is hard to define because it’s so impersonal.”  

Hemeyer has studied high profile corporate rehabilitations and says so far, BP has done a pretty good job of handling the crisis, taking responsibility and promising to pay for damages. He says full page ads in the Houston Chronicle and other newspapers are aimed at employees and other stakeholders.

BP shore cleanup

“The employees have a little more comfort when they see a whole page in the Chronicle that kind of gives their side of the story. So, that’s good. Now how much this will influence what happens and what government is going to do, I don’t know. I think it’s probably worth the money to get this out if it’s nothing else to say here’s what we’re doing, here’s our side of the story.”

He says a good example of a company refocusing its message after a crisis is Toyota, which ran ads featuring American workers.

“(TV ad) I mean, I got a family too. I got a mother, a grandmother, kids and we all drive in these cars.”  

“You wanted to see Americans making these cars here. I think that softened the blow a little bit, I think. If you’re going to hurt Toyota, you’re hurting Americans.”

Partha Kristnamurthy is a marketing professor at the University of Houston. He says consumers typically aren’t attached to the gasoline they put in their vehicles, something that could allow BP to come through the current crisis with virtually no market impact at all.

“It’s typically a commodity with very little emotional involvement and the product itself is not consumed in a personal way. Because it is not consumed in a personal way it does not tend to have a marketplace impact on the mind of the consumer who is buying it.”   

He says BP won’t come through without some damage though.

“What is going to be affected is the corporate image. For that, the best way to get out of that is to redouble your efforts toward safety and make it visible, embrace the importance of alternative technologies and do more than what you have done before and be seen as doing more than you have done before.”

Kristnamurthy says BP is primarily concerned about government fines and new regulations, which could impact its business far more than unhappy consumers.