"June 8 (Bloomberg) -- Ever since oil started gushing from its well in the Gulf of Mexico, the British energy company BP Plc has responded precisely the way youâd expect from a massive corporation caught up in a terrible mess.
It has sent its public-relations staff out to grovel abjectly on television. It has run around trying to make it look like itâs doing something, even if it is only stuffing old socks into the leaking well. Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward has been wringing his hands at every available opportunity.
But this is a catastrophe on a whole new scale. Traditional responses wonât work. In fact, there are no words BP can use to apologize sufficiently for the damage the leak has caused. Whatever it says, itâs still going to be the most reviled company in America.
Instead BP should try a different tack. It should tell the U.S., and everybody in it, to go take a hike. In reality, the U.S. is guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy. Itâs too late to rescue BPâs reputation now; all it can realistically hope for is to salvage as much money for shareholders as possible.
It isnât hard to understand why BP is in trouble. The biggest oil spill in U.S. history has soiled at least 140 miles (225 kilometers) of coastline, halted new exploratory drilling in the Gulf and shut down a third of its fishing areas. Politicians are baying for BPâs blood. The media is kicking the company to pieces. The New York Daily News last week described Hayward as âthe most hated -- and clueless -- man in Americaâ for his handling of the crisis. Publicity doesnât get much worse than that.
So far, BP has been playing this right out of the chapter in the spin doctorâs manual headed, âWhat to do when your company is about as popular as the Third Reich in 1946.â It has apologized, and apologized again. It has simpered, felt peopleâs pain, and promised to learn from its mistakes. Responsibility has been taken, errors owned up to.
No doubt we can expect some pretty hefty donations to environmental charities over the next few years. And donât be surprised if we see the Hayward family canceling its summer vacation and getting down to the Gulf beaches with a bucket and big mop.
The trouble is, none of it is going to work. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has more chance of getting the Ford Motor Co. franchise for Lubbock, Texas, than BP does of staying in business in the U.S. So why not try a complete reversal of tactics instead? Tell everyone in the U.S. to go stuff it where the oil donât leak.
U.S. Double Standards
Here are three reasons why it should:
First, the U.S. is guilty of crazy double standards. Hayward should go on TV and say: âExcuse me, which country is the biggest oil consumer on the planet? Who refused to do anything about climate change, or even to put sensible taxes on gas? Heck, your president even flies around in a 747 when a modest Gulfstream jet would get him there just as fast. So of course the oil companies have to drill in more and more dangerous places. If you insist on being addicted to cheap oil, you have to recognize there are risks attached. So grow up, and stop acting like children.â
Next, BP likely is finished in the U.S. There is no form of apology that will make any difference. The average American consumer now hates BP and isnât about to change that opinion for a generation or more. So BP should just hire the nastiest, meanest lawyers that money can buy -- the one commodity the U.S. has in over-abundance. Fight every lawsuit. Refuse every claim above the bare minimum. Youâre going to get hammered anyway, so you might as well go down fighting.
Whatever you do, donât waste a lot of money on an army of advertising agencies and public-relations consultants trying to restore your image. Itâs not going to work, so there is no point even trying.
Finally, BP needs to protect its shareholders. So sell your assets in the U.S. to one of the other energy majors while you still can. Just remember thereâs a big world out there, with a lot of oil and cars in it. Your job is to look after the owners of the company, not make yourself acceptable to a country that doesnât want you anymore.
Of course, doing this really will make Hayward the most- hated man in the country. But then, who cares? George W. Bush was the most-hated man in France, but since he wasnât looking for any votes in Bordeaux, it didnât count for much.
BPâs image in the U.S. matters only so long as it tries to do business in the U.S. If it cuts its losses and gets out now, it can carry on fine in Japan, France, Argentina and all the other countries where no one is really that bothered by what happens in the Gulf of Mexico.
Just say: âThanks for everything guys. It was good while it lasted. Sorry about the oil spill, but so it goes. Goodbye and goodnight.â
Itâs the only strategy thatâs going to work now."
You are vastly overestimating the attention span of the average US citizen. All we seem to care about is who's going to win American Idol and how much is the gov't going to pay me today.
I said at the very beginning of this disaster that BP will leave/be kicked out of the US market, a few years will pass, gas prices will rise, BP will be back under a new name.