Transocean’s Gulf Spill Response: It’s BP’s Fault

If you want to read about an effective crisis PR strategy (so far) that goes against today’s common wisdom, read the June 30 cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek. The story concerns oil drilling contractor Transocean, whose Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, killing 11 of its workers and causing untold billions of dollars in environmental and economic damage to the Gulf region.

What’s interesting about Transocean is that the company isn’t all touchy-feely, transparent and contrite in its response to the crisis—which is really the recommended response to most PR crises today. Instead, they blame BP, plain and simple. Consider this: so far Transocean hasn’t contributed one penny to the $20 billion victims compensation fund started by BP; the company looked to cap its liability to less than $27 million for workers’ injuries and deaths by invoking a 169-year-old maritime law that was put in play by owners of the Titanic; shortly after than move, Transocean announced it would issue $1 billion in dividends to its shareholders; and declared that despite the accident in the Gulf, 2010 was the company’s best year for safety.

Yet there’s method to Transocean’s madness: the company could go under if it admits liability and has to fork over billions for the clean-up. Leading the PR charge in this effort is Wall Street crisis agency Financial Dynamics. Honestly, you have to give this agency and Transocean some props for so far deflecting blame to BP. However, there is still lots of litigation to come, and it will be very interesting to see how Transocean’s contrarian strategy plays out in the coming months.

–Scott Van Camp

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