This paper discusses the application of key crisis communications principles by reviewing messages delivered during the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that began in April 2010. This particular case study was chosen for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the substantial amount of media coverage of numerous communication events from which to analyze the messages and activities of the various organizational and governmental representatives.
Case studies are valuable tools for the study of risk and crisis communications as they allow organizations not impacted by a particular event to clearly view the tremendous problems associated with delivering messages in the current media culture that provides constant access to a variety of images and reports. Crisis management in the current environment places many organizations in a seemingly impossible position as it attempts to both accept responsibly and limit liability, as key management listens in one ear to in-house or external media relations specialists and in the other to legal counsel, as members of the organization work to both deal with the immediate needs of the crisis and simultaneously try to find answers to what happened. And all of these events occur under the relentless and hypercritical eye of the current media culture which requires constant access to key organizational spokespersons for extended periods of time and is quick to pounce on even the smallest error by an exhausted spokesperson who may be dealing with the crisis sixteen to eighteen hour days for weeks or months on end.
While it would seem that an organization faces an uphill battle just to stay afloat, the lessons learned by applying basic principles of risk and crisis communications provide much for other organizations to use in the future if they end up in the unfortunate position recently experienced by BP and several of its prime subcontractors including Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron.