Deepwater Horizon are two words BP, its employees, shareholders and more importantly still, the people living along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, wished they had never heard of. Deepwater is the polite term for what BP currently finds itself in. For the poor people, and the trouble is that most of them are poor, around the Gulf the deep oily mess they find themselves in is worse still. Fishermen find themselves fishing for oil, not fish. Tourism in the region has been devastated. The final environmental impact of the disaster has yet to be properly calculated. Now in its tenth week, the cost to BP so far amounts to $2bn and climbing. And on Barak Obama’s insistence, it has set aside $20bn to meet compensation claims.

Worst still is that ten weeks on oil is still spilling in the Gulf at a rate approaching 40,000 barrels worth a day. The company estimated it collected 23,900 barrels-worth last Sunday but the US administration estimates 60,000 is pumping into the waters each day. A relief well to finally stem the flow will not start operations until early August so the environmental disaster continues. The Exxon disaster pales into insignificance by comparison.

Even worse still for BP are other leaks. Those revolve around the company having allegedly bribed officials and cut safety corners. Like aircraft, oil rigs are designed with back-up systems. If one shear ram fails, as happened on Deepwater Horizon, another should kick in. However, in the BP case, the second one didn’t due to leaking hydraulic fluid, something that had been observed weeks before in one of the control pods and reported to the company. Normally, the rig would have been shut down to repair the fault but BP allegedly just shutdown the faulty unit and in so doing didn’t have a back-up system.

Nor should it be forgotten that 11 workers died on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, when an explosion triggered the current environmental disaster. Something that beleaguered chief executive, Tony Hayward significantly failed to do, writing on Facebook that he wanted his life back! Ouch, PR disaster number one!

Then came his appearance at the US Congressional Committee last week where his performance was shambolic to say the least. Caught in the lion’s den, under the full glare of the media and facing naturally hostile questioning, Hayward was accused of stonewalling the Committee. In seven hours of questioning he admitted not knowing the answer over 60 times and showed little genuine remorse. PR disaster number two.

However, Hayward still had one more PR disaster trump card. The power of the social media came to the fore when somebody Twittered that Tony Hayward was enjoying life on the high seas in a corporate sailing event off the Isle of Wight. America was apoplectic with rage. PR disaster number three.

As a result of his performance, Hayward was relieved of his responsibilities as leader of the response team in the Gulf. The chairman of BP said that Hayward had damaged the reputation of the company. He declared that this has now turned into a reputation matter, financial and political.

So if any organisation has doubts about the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), or indeed the power of PR, they need look no further than the fine mess that BP is in. Five letters never to ignore – CSR and PR. Shy away from them at your peril.

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