Morrell to lead merged BP comms, government affairs

Energy giant BP has promoted Geoff Morrell to SVP and head of US communications and external affairs as it merges its communications and state, federal, and international affairs teams.

WASHINGTON: BP has appointed Geoff Morrell as SVP and head of US communications and external affairs to oversee the company's newly merged communications and state, federal, and international affairs teams.

Effective this week, Morrell is leading a consolidated department that includes media relations, social and digital media, speechwriting, internal communications, research, government relations, community affairs, philanthropy, and political giving programs in the US. Based in Washington DC, he is continuing to report to group head of communications Peter Henshaw as well as BP America chairman and president John Mingé.

Previously, Morrell led BP's US communications team since 2011. The company also had separate teams for federal and international affairs and government and public affairs, which was focused on state issues. EVP David Nagel led federal and international affairs from BP's DC office, while VP Crystal Ashby oversaw government and public affairs, based in Houston.

Nagel and Ashby will serve as advisers to Morrell through the end of the year as he restructures the communications and external affairs organization. Their roles beyond 2013 are “to be determined,” Morrell said.

The communications reorganization is “by no means a cost-cutting exercise,” Morrell said, adding that he does not expect layoffs to result from the consolidation. The combined teams consist of a couple hundred people in the US, he said.

“Good communications is good government relations, and vice versa. To cordon them off diminishes their effectiveness,” Morrell explained. “I hope by the end of the year we will have a new structure uniquely suited to BP. We probably won't be fully staffed out by then, but we will have a clear sense of the right organizational structure for the long-term.”

Morrell joined BP in September 2011 as VP and head of US communications. Before that, he spent four years as Pentagon press secretary and chief spokesperson for Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the US Military. He was previously a White House correspondent for ABC News.

BP continues to face reputational and legal challenges stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. Following Morrell's arrival at BP, the energy company became more proactive in reaching out to press and the public about its Gulf restoration efforts and role in the US economy, Morrell said. For example, during the last two years, Morrell has collaborated with BP's branding team to develop content and strategy for corporate reputation advertising – efforts he plans to continue, he said.

Last month, BP sued the US government to overturn a ban by the Environmental Protection Agency that prevents the oil giant from obtaining new federal contracts. The EPA imposed the ban in November, accusing the company of “lack of business integrity” after the oil spill. In the suit, BP claims the ruling could cause the company “irreparable harm” and that it unfairly includes subsidiaries that had nothing to do with the disaster.

BP is also fighting a settlement it agreed to last year that allowed the company to avoid thousands of potential lawsuits by paying claims to those who suffered economic losses from the spill. Twice a week for the past two months, the company has taken out full-page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal that say some businesses and law firms are filing illegitimate claims, and it has also set up a hotline for people to report those frauds.

“We are reorganizing [communications and government affairs] to ensure we are carrying our message as loudly and effectively as possible,” Morrell said. “We have an extraordinary impact here, and yet people don't fully realize it.”

BP, which is the second-largest oil and gas producer in the US, says it has invested $55 billion over the past five years in the country, and an additional $26 billion on spill response, cleanup, and claims payments.

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