Crisis Expert With Oil Industry Experience Weighs In on BP

The oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and BP’s response, has the public and some PR executives riled up—one in particular who has gone up against another oil company giant in a similar environmental battle.

Karen Hinton, president of Washington D.C.-based Hinton Communications, has waged a long-term war with Chevron on behalf of environmental groups over the company’s alleged contamination of the Ecuadorian rainforest, resulting from its oil drilling there for more than three decades.

Needless to say, Hinton doesn’t mince words when it comes to BP’s PR response to the spill.

“BP is the poster child for bad PR practices,” says Hinton. “At the beginning of the spill, company executives sounded the right tone, but they couldn’t maintain it because of the lies, misrepresentations and careless decision-making revealed through anonymous sources, leaked memos and, in many instances, the company’s own utterances—many of which have been foolish, half-witted and naive.”

Hinton goes on to say that BP’s latest advertising campaign, designed to make the company look warm and fuzzy, has made the situation even worse. “It comes across as insincere and manipulative in the midst of 24/7 television coverage that hasn’t even begun to capture the destructive images on the Gulf Coast.”

Hinton, who is set to be part of the panel “Leveraging the Media to Win in a Crisis” at the PR News Media Relations Forum on June 17 in Washington, D.C., blames the root of the problem on the culture of the oil industry, and believes this crisis will cause big problems for them, simply because of the spill’s location. “A bribe here, a bribe there—all part of doing business,” she says. “Riots and militants, no big deal cause it’s happening in a third-world country nobody cares about. But this spill is in America, and it’s in our face every day.”

Hinton and fellow panelists Gary Wells of Dix & Eaton and Glen Nowak of the Centers for Disease Control will discuss PR in the wake of the BP spill, among other topics, at PR News' Media Relations Forum on June 17.

  • Sara Brady

    WELL SAID!!!

  • Crystal Borde

    I couldn’t agree more with Ms. Hinton’s assessment of BP’s poor PR practices. PR students will be analyzing their missteps for years to come. I just shared some lessons learned from BP’s communication blunders on our InSites blog:

  • Denny Diehl

    We can pick on BP — and they deserve it – but the industry has now ‘hit a triple’ in U.S. spills (Union Oil in ’68 in CA); Exxon Valdez in Alaska; now BP. With 4,000 wells in the Gulf and many of them now 1 mi. down due to environmental concerns, it isn’t clear where our immediate future lies, no matter what’s done to BP.

    It’s obvious the entire region’s been in danger for a long time, with another catastrophe very possible. Singling out BP ain’t gonna’ solve much. DRD

  • Jeff Holden

    BP this is nuts! Contain this thing now while you figure out a way to stop it. It’s simple. OIL FLOATS and it does NOT MIX WELL WITH WATER if you don’t put any dispersants in it. This makes it easy to contain on the surface. The oil will come to you. You do not have to go down and get it. It takes only the thinnest sheet of plastic to separate it from water. Here’s how. Go buy up all of the Blue Tarps you can find and sew them together. Make a 5000 foot deep and 1 mile long curtain and hang it from really big buoys and weight it with really heavy sand bags then circle the well site. The oil will be contained in the middle where you can suck it up. Sound expensive? Not really. a 100 foot by 100 foot tarp costs $500 on the internet. You need 50 to make a 100 foot by 5000 curtain. That’s $25,000. You need 55 of those really big curtains to make a mile long version with some over lap. That’s $1,375,000 Million. Sounds like a bargain to me and you might even get a volume discount. Sounds too hard to make? A heavy-duty sewing machine can sew a 5000 feet in 2 hours. It would need to do that 55 times so 110 hours for one guy to do the whole thing and I sure he could find some friends to help him. You can assemble it on barges at the site. Do you understand yet????? Also if I’m not mistaken since this would not interfere with your current efforts or require your help so the government or even private industry could do this unilaterally and could do it with out asking your permission.. BP you do not control all the space around the site so why don’t you just hang the curtain before an army of private individuals in fishing boats comes out there and does it for you!!! I’ll send you the first tarp. What address would you like me to send it to? Let’s have a Blue Tarp Tea Party! Jeff Holden in Winston Salem NC

  • Robyn Allgeyer

    Like Tiger Woods, Elliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich – the root of the problem is entitlement!

  • Jeanne Ellinport

    Completely agree with Karen. Every pr class in the Fall should use this as a key case study. It is one of the best examples of a lack of a cohesive crisis communications plan that we have seen from a Fortune 500 company in a long time.

  • Larry Eiler

    The BP handling PR-wise is abhorrent. No common sense. Misleading statements by the spokesman president. A very real disaster not only environmentally, but also truth and credibility-free.

  • Paul S

    There’s no bias in her comments, are there

  • Jim Barbagallo

    BP would have done itself a big favor by replacing its CEO with a trusted spokesperson.

  • Robert Andres, CSP,

    This article reflects my experience with BP in the wake of a fatality at one of their facilities in SC, which I investigated several years ago.

  • Marc Stewart

    It doesn’t take an expert to realize BP screwed the pooch in every way possible. Rule No. 1 in PR tell the truth!

  • David Rosen

    The situation with BP is more a problem of substance than PR. They behaved badly in having lax procedures that caused the disaster and they failed to attack the leak aggressively when it occurred. Their crisis communication response has been fair (not poor or good) until the recent ad campaign, which, as Hinton states, is way off target and doing more harm than good. It highlights the disconnect between the green brand they have tried to project for some time and what has become a black reputation. The spokespeople are doing the best they can with what they are directed to say. They are not believable because, again, there is a disconnect between what they believe and what they are told to say. What a mess.

  • Ken

    Why don’t you get your information from the emergency workers who are working closely with BP and everyone else involved. Instead of someone who is biased BEFORE the spill.

  • Larry Furman

    The system is broken. We need to move from oil, coal and nuclear power to renewable, sustainable energy – wind, solar, geothermal.

  • Linda Wise

    Are we supposed to be commenting on energy and environmental issues or the PR? I think everyone agrees the oil spill is a disaster, in more ways than one. I feel bad for the PR department, as they are doing their best, while the CEO is dismantling their crisis communications efforts by making some of the most stupid, insensitive comments I’ve ever heard from a CEO. He and the PR department need to get on the same page…and as someone else said, be consistent AND truthful!

  • Tito Davila

    In my opinion I don’t believe Hinton is exactly an objective party on this issue. Also, I have found that the media is much more likely to side with a group such as Hinton’s than a big corp. like BP (especially an oil company). The media “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comforted.” Hinton has the easier job than, say, the PR person for BP.

  • Penny, Vancouver BC

    It is always easy to point out mistakes certainly BP has made a few, but what is the other side of the story? I’d be intersted in hearing that.

  • Idalie Muñoz Muñoz

    If Americans were not so hooked on BIG OIL and the automotive lifestyle, then companies like BP would not be driven by greed. Why don’t we take some of the blame for this fiasco, drive our cars less, make fewer trips to the grocery store, use other sources of energy more, and WEAN ourselves off of the _____ oil! That’s the ultimate solution to saving our environment!