Public Relations in a Postmodern World
Chapter 3: British Petroleum’s “Voices From the Gulf”
British Petroleum’s “Voices From the Gulf”
Narrative communication, while essentially mimetic of real life, is functionally transcendent of lived experience, so that narrative constructions of knowledge or information necessarily effectuate a distancing from the lived experience they reflect or report. Stories told about and during a crisis, however, are dependent on their proximity to events for credibility—to be an eye- or ear-witness to events is to be within seeing and hearing distance of them. Thus, in crisis communication, the use of narratives can allow an organization to simultaneously position itself as situated in and removed from the crisis. The dually situational and transcendent function of narrative crisis communication is evident in British Petroleum’s use of “Voices From the Gulf” in its “Making This Right” campaign, which emerged in American public discourse in the aftermath of the April 2010 explosion and leakage of their Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico.
This chapter examines BP’s use of narratives of residents of the Gulf Coast in messages constructed as information about BP’s cleanup efforts. These narratives were circulated at critical moments in the crisis and directed to external publics (external to BP and the Gulf communities). Our objective in examining them is twofold: first, to illuminate the role of narratives, both petit or local and grand or meta, in BP’s crisis communication about the oil spill and its aftermath in the Gulf of Mexico; and second, to indicate the principles of Neo-PR...
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