BP has embarked on an aggressive campaign to repair its public image in the wake of its disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It has repeatedly run full-page ads in major newspapers, retained high-powered lobbying and public relations firms, and launched a series of television ads with CEO Tony Hayward looking apologetic. The company has even hired Anne Womack-Kolton, a former top aide to Vice President Cheney, to be its new spokesperson.
Now, joining Womack-Kolton in helping BP repair its image is former chief of staff to President Bush, Josh Bolten:
The former European Commission president Romano Prodi is understood to be assisting BP in its attempt to restore its battered reputation in the United States.
The Times understands that Mr Prodi, who twice served as Italy’s prime minister, is a key member of an “international advisory board” assisting BP that also includes Josh Bolten, the former chief of staff to President George W. Bush. Both Mr Prodi and Mr Bolten are former employees of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that advises BP. BP’s former chairman Peter Sutherland also held a senior role at Goldman.
The group has been helping the oil giant to defend its interests against a fierce onslaught from the US Government, which intensified yesterday as it emerged that 44 US Senators have signed a letter demanding that BP does not pay a dividend next month.
Bolten became most famous during the Bush administration when the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Bolten and former Bush counsel Harriet Miers in contempt after they refused to cooperate in an investigation into the administration’s firings of U.S. attorneys.
This aggressive PR campaign by BP may actually be having the opposite effect of what the company is hoping for. Last week, President Obama chastised BP for devoting its resources in this area instead of to the people along the Gulf Coast who are struggling to maintain a living because the spill took away their occupations:
My understanding is, is that BP has contracted for $50 million worth of TV advertising to manage their image during the course of this disaster. In addition, there are reports that BP will be paying $10.5 billion — that’s billion with a B — in dividend payments this quarter.
Now, I don’t have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations. But I want BP to be very clear, they’ve got moral and legal obligations here in the Gulf for the damage that has been done. And what I don’t want to hear is, when they’re spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they’re nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time.
BP shares “plunged” in London today, with investors “shaken by the prospect that the British oil giant might cut its dividend.” UK business leaders are upset at the criticism the Obama administration is directing at BP, and Prime Minister David Cameron will be speaking with Obama about BP this weekend.
In response to its tumbling stock prices on the New York Exchange last night, BP said it was “not aware of any reason which justifies this share price movement.”