The diagram below (Figure 1.1) is a representation of some of the multifaceted relationships between BP and its publics/stakeholders. It is clear that the assortment of communication channels used to reach key publics is somewhat diverse.
Whilst consumers and investors are perhaps most likely to be the primary focus, these two groups are highly influenced by surrounding interrelated groups and channels and generally rely on these sources (not the company) for accurate information. Environmental and other similar lobbying groups are always a concern for oil companies such as BP. It was in fact a combination of such groups and media coverage that led BP to withdraw financial support from Arctic Power: a proposed oil drilling project in Alaska – a region in which oil projects will always be shadowed by the ghost of the Exxon Valdez. Chappell (BP Spokesman) cited in Gerth said of the situation “We’re leaving this to the American public to sort out”.
BP would perhaps have benefited from having a more primary two-way communication channel with environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the WWF. They would then be able to preempt any unfavourable circumstances and can structure their PR efforts accordingly. In contrast, they can use the media to maximise any good relations with environmental bodies. The benefit of this can be seen in the 1995 situation with Shell’s disused Brent Spar storage platform which Greenpeace successfully campaigned to have dismantled instead of sunk (after much debate and physical protest) (http://www.uyseg.org/risked/pages/spar/spar_index.htm). Veer (cited in Einsiedel 2002, p. 11) stated:
“Initially, Brent Spar for example, was a classic example of what I term the old- fashioned DAD approach to decision-making – Decide, Announce, Defend. Genuine dialogue however, requires companies to adopt the DDD approach – Dialogue, Decide, Deliver. DDD is an attempt to come to terms with the realities of a new “show me” world. The days when people trusted business and government to take decisions on their behalf are over. Today, it’s no longer enough for companies to simply say “trust me.” Companies are in the spotlight as never before. The show me world has already had profound implications for the way in which Shell and other companies conduct business.”
Since 1995 Shell has hired PR consultants to help evaluate past incidents and current situations. This strategy has now transformed into a reputation for social responsibility that extends throughout the global Shell network and has certainly placed the company as top performer in this area for the oil industry. This kind of attitude eventually also translates to positive conditions for investors.
“Through sustainable development we integrate the economic, environmental and societal aspects of our business to achieve sustained financial success, safeguard our environment and develop our reputation as partner and provider of first choice for all of our stakeholders. Sustrainable development is not just about the environment and social concerns; it’s very much about economic performance too. For these reasons it makes good business sense” (www.shell.com 2003).