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Back in Business
by Sheila Shayon
November 4, 2011

British Petroleum is back in business in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, having recently received its first permit to drill since the explosion on their Deepwater Horizon rig last year that killed 11 people and ruptured the Macondo well hemorrhaging millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf — the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

That explosion destroyed ten years of green marketing for BP — which adopted “Beyond Petroleum” tagline and cheery green and yellow sunburst logo in 2000 — as the ensuing environmental disaster plunged the brand into a nightmare as deep as the waters it drills.

BP dropped $25 billion plus in assets to bolster its balance sheet since Deep Horizon and assumed a $40 billion-plus charge for the disaster, some of which will be settled by partners such as Anadarko Petroleum Corp’s $4 billion.

“We’ll have a smaller footprint, but one that plays to our strengths,” stated CEO Robert Dudley who assumed the top position after Tony Hayward’s disastrous handling of the Gulf disaster. “Between now and 2016 we should add 1 million barrels a day of new production and the margins will be double our current ones.”

BP plans to begin drilling in a field 192 miles off the Louisiana coast in Kaskida Field in waters deeper than 6,000 feet; the Macondo well was about 5,000 feet down and 40 miles south of Louisiana. “This is definitely progress. I don’t think the ship’s quite turned around yet, but the compass is pointing in the right direction,” said Iain Armstrong, analyst at Brewin Dolphin Ltd. in London, to Bloomberg.

BP still has federal fines and lawsuits pending and critics like Ed Markey, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee thinks renewed drilling is premature. "The fact that BP is getting a permit to drill without yet paying a single cent in fines is a disappointment, and does not serve as an effective lesson of deterrence for oil and gas companies," Markey responded.

Re-branding is a key element as BP moves forward. “Our brand has taken an absolute battering over the last 18 months,” said Jon Tait, head of global attraction at BP, about why the brand recently launched a “people-based” recruiting campaign.

After the Gulf debacle BP conducted research and not surprisingly found that people’s biggest concerns were the company’s financial status, safety record and whether their own long-term career goals were a fit. BP used LinkedIn for the survey, as Tait discussed at a recent user conference in Las Vegas. About 80% of those surveyed didn’t know BP was hiring, he said, while 60% of people BP might want to hire were passive candidates. Half in the survey had interest in working for BP and considered it on a par with competitors.

The “meet our people” and storytelling strategy is “one small step” in BP’s post-Gulf branding, focused on its human resources rather than product or promises. For example, one of its recruitment videos features Farah, a financial analyst who eschewed a career of ‘pencil pushing’ and is gratified in her work “providing energy to seven billion people in the world.”

There’s also Carter, a Production Engineer has benefitted from BP’s Challenge Program for graduates. He states, "What I enjoy most about my job is standing out by the well when they turn a valve and it actually comes back on because of something you designed. It's motivating."

Clearly, BP needed to put a new public face on the company. After the disaster, then CEO Tony Hayward became spokesman and media figurehead fielding blame for the spill until the infamous Today Show interview when he said, “I’d like my life back,” followed by pictures of him sailing on a yacht.

“This is a company that spent the weeks following the blowout concentrating on its PR strategy, making a series of optimistic claims that were invariably at odds with the unfolding reality,” observed Ben Stewart, a London based spokesman for Greenpeace. “Now they’ve been let back into the Gulf of Mexico to conduct the kind of drilling operation that nearly bankrupted the company.”

This summer, BP began the climb back with its first U.K. TV commercial in five years touting its upcoming role as a sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics, and has been releasing a series of spots and ads highlighting its role as the official oil and gas partner (and a sustainability partner) for the next Olympic games. The spots feature the tagline, "London 2012, fuelling the future."

As for the timing of the new campaign, "We thought now people were in the mood to listen to messages about the Olympics. We had to be thoughtful about the project and the brand, and to get the voice right. I’m confident people will see BP in a positive way," commented Duncan Blake, director of brand at BP. BP is aggressively using video to repair and rebrand (and show, not tell) as seen in these recent examples: U.S. Olympic hopefuls tell Northwest Indiana students: Never Give Up

BP Employees Celebrate the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which the company has supported since 2006:

Update on Gulf Shores and Orange Beach tourism - Alabama

“Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand,” said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in his 1997 book, Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.

BP is still the third largest energy company and the fourth largest company in the world, but since April 20, 2010, its public standing has plummeted and its stock value lost nearly half of its market capitalization. And even though BP rebranded in 2000 to make its name synonymous with "Beyond Petroleum," its business is still anchored in fossil fuels. Now, eleven years later, the ante is even higher as it puts its energy on the biggest clean-up of its existence: that of its own brand reputation. Only time will tell if BP’s current efforts will put the brand back in a positive light, even as drilling begins in Kaskida Field.


Sheila Shayon is a senior media executive with 25+ years in television and new media including expertise in programming, production, broadband, start-up models, creative and branding strategies, digital content and social networking. Shayon has worked for HBO, Time Warner Cable and Wisdom Television. She graduated Magna Cum Laude, University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication. Currently, as President/Founder of Third Eye Media, a New York-based multimedia production company, Shayon works with online brands to combine editorial content and social networking applications.

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BP - Back in Business
 There is a difference between "rebranding" as the author suggests and refocusing the brand based on brand strategy that already exists. Having been a part of the BP brand launch I would bet that the renewed focus will only recommit them to existing brand ideology. I think an important distinction that branding professionals understand, and sometimes marketing and advertising does not, is that a new advertising campaign is not a new brand. Even though BP's brand is battered, the original brand that is in place is still serving them well and in fact may be the core that gets them back on track. 
Cynthia Murnane, Creative Director, Murnane Communications - November 6, 2011
 You've got to be kidding me. What “existing brand ideology’ are they going to recommit to? Lying that they are Beyond Petroleum when most of their revenue comes from oil? What a sham. Brand authenticity comes from aligning your actions with your speech, which BP clearly does not. And brand strategists that are creating and perpetuating these lies are part of the problem.The fact that BP is drilling again without paying any fines, just testifies to the extent to which corporations have corrupted our society. I wonder why anyone would spend their lives and use their talent to promote that kind of corruption. 
Howard Adam Levy, Principal, Red Rooster Group - November 10, 2011
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