Judge and Jury: BP beats the odds with slick handling in the PR department - The outcome of Greenpeace’s recent protest on BP’s Stena Dee platform in the Fionaven oil field may mark a new PR strategy for the oil industry, says Carl Courtne

Rather than get embroiled in a protracted environmental debate, BP acted quickly, harnessed a pro-active PR strategy with legal bite and within two weeks succeeded in getting the environmental issue off the agenda without either side being seen to have suffered an unfair defeat.

Rather than get embroiled in a protracted environmental debate, BP

acted quickly, harnessed a pro-active PR strategy with legal bite and

within two weeks succeeded in getting the environmental issue off the

agenda without either side being seen to have suffered an unfair

defeat.



Events started with a true PR-staged, guerilla-style, dashing assault on

BP’s rig, in an attempt to stop oil exploration on the Fionaven field,

which Greenpeace believed would have inevitable environmental

damage.



Greenpeace’s opening success was guaranteed by the pre-primed media navy

that followed the protestors to capture more great adventure action

images.



Ironically, the natural environment was to give BP a major opportunity -

and the company seized the chance, issuing statements that illustrated

its human concern for the safety of the protesters as force seven gales

raged.



At the same time, BP attempted to shift the attention, from emotive

environmental concerns to legal responsibility and Greenpeace’s unlawful

interference.



Statements prefacing BP’s crucial decision to draw and wield the sword

of legal justice captured the mood.



Many comparisons have been drawn between BP’s handling of Greenpeace and

McDonald’s McLibel case. Yes, both unleashed the legal rottweilers

against a target that was the proverbial David, but vitally BP was not

seen pettily disagreeing with Greenpeace’s opinions. BP shifted the

action onto the higher ground of legal responsibility when it issued a

pounds 1.4 million writ for damages.



This, coupled with an open communicative stance, appears to have been a

smart PR move. In the melee that ensued, Greenpeace was forced to change

its stance. From a limited demand for BP to redirect its investment in

Fionaven to develop solar power, Greenpeace suddenly turned its anger

against the UK government that had issued the exploration licence which

it claimed contravened the EU Directive. This gave BP the perfect

opportunity to secure an agreement with Greenpeace and drop the writ

within the next few days. Concluding the event so swiftly meant that BP

did not get embroiled in a McLibel or Brent Spar-style battle, and

Greenpeace did not have the opportunity to focus public opinion on BP’s

’corporate thuggery’.



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