By Heather Francey

The communications department at BP just can’t seem to catch a break. Six years after the biggest spill in U.S. history occurred on their watch, the British oil company remains in the spotlight.

With the recent release of “Sully” and “Snowden”, there has been no shortage of Hollywood docudrama movies painting Big Business as the villain. “Deepwater Horizon” is the latest saga to take to the silver screen, and this time, Big Oil takes the hit. The film depicts the events that led to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010. The incident killed 11 people and resulted in an environmental catastrophe. BP, who was leasing the rig at the time, is portrayed as a bunch of money-hungry suits with no regard for the safety of their blue-collar workers.

The dramatization of famous corporate snafus can have a profound impact on public perception even years after companies have fought tirelessly to redeem themselves. The last thing BP needed was for Deepwater Horizon to be thrust back onto everyone’s radar in the form of an emotionally gripping theatrical representation. It’s not surprising they tried to impede its production. In an article for The Guardian, director of “Deepwater Horizon”, Peter Berg, refers to BP as “a very effective disruptor” during the movie’s preliminary stages. “BP may very well sue, but we believe we have defensible positions.”

In a statement made on the company’s website, senior vice-president of U.S. communications and external affairs at BP, Geoff Morrel, said, “The Deepwater Horizon movie is Hollywood’s take on a tragic and complex accident. It is not an accurate portrayal of the events that led to the accident, our people, or the character of our company.”

That may be so – but does it matter? BP’s communication strategy immediately following the 2010 spill failed to exhibit much remorse or obligation, thus the credibility of the oil and gas supermajor is far from pristine. In this digital age where the spread of information is so fleeting, a movie’s ability to captivate viewers’ attention for two hours is truly valuable – and exceptionally threatening to the antagonist’s image.

BP is currently experiencing a leak in the North Sea where one of their rigs has seeped 95 tonnes of oil into the water. With public attention at a peak following the release of “Deepwater Horizon”, BP would be wise to batten down the hatches yet again and seriously contemplate how their response to this current crisis will reflect on their brand.

(Photo by Ahmet Yalcinkaya via Unsplash)

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