BP Attempts To Repair Image After Oil Disaster

BP America Chief Executive Tony Hayward (right) leaves the Department of the Interior last month. i

BP America Chief Executive Tony Hayward (right) leaves the Department of the Interior last month prior to the oil spill. Since the spill, Hayward told reporters he plans to win the hearts and minds of locals along the Gulf Coast. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
BP America Chief Executive Tony Hayward (right) leaves the Department of the Interior last month.

BP America Chief Executive Tony Hayward (right) leaves the Department of the Interior last month prior to the oil spill. Since the spill, Hayward told reporters he plans to win the hearts and minds of locals along the Gulf Coast.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Oil giant BP has a history of working strenuously to maintain a positive image: Ten years ago, it launched its Beyond Petroleum campaign, and even though BP is a multinational oil company, its logo looks like a sunflower.

Since the rig it was leasing exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, spewing an estimated 200,000 gallons a day of oil into the ocean, BP is already trying to repair the damage the disaster may have on its image.

At the beginning of the week, BP's Chief Executive Tony Hayward told reporters he plans to win the hearts and minds of locals along the Gulf Coast.

As part of its campaign, BP announced $25 million grants to each of the four affected states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The money is for states to spend however they wish to prepare for the possibility oil will wash up on their beaches.

Stephanie Pate of Mobile, Ala., says she's not won over that easily.

"It's going to be a long time before people can forgive and forget, so to speak. I know that now when I see a BP station, I just keep on driving," she says.

But Linda Peters of Ocean Springs, Miss., calls the grants "one step forward," and she has some advice for BP.

"Be humble and say, 'We're sorry and we're going to fix it,' " she says.

BP has admitted a few missteps along the way. Early on, the company offered coastal residents cash payments in exchange for giving up their right to sue the company later. BP's leadership put a stop to that.

If the company is going to win over locals, it must make amends with the fishing community. A lot of fishermen — especially shrimpers — are losing money because of the oil spill.

BP has held a series of well-attended meetings along the coast for its Vessel of Opportunity program, which begins with safety training. Under the program, boat owners can earn $1,200 to $1,500 a day doing things like laying booms in the water to protect coastlines.

Luke Harris, a fisherman from Long Beach, Miss., attended a meeting in Biloxi, Miss., even though he already signed a contract a week ago at another meeting. Some of his friends in Louisiana have been hired, but BP hasn't called him in yet.

"I haven't felt any love yet!" he says with a laugh. "I've got a family to take care of ... I've got bills to pay and I know my creditors would love for me to be working."

BP will win him over after he starts seeing a paycheck again.

BP spokeswoman Lisa Houghton says she understands the company isn't going to win over people with merely words.

"You're going to win over hearts and minds by actions," she says. "And that's why we're here in the community. There are BP people deployed across the coastline — in the communities trying to say, 'We're here and how can we help?' "

Houghton says the most important "action" BP can perform right now is stopping the flow of oil into the gulf — something her company is working around the clock to accomplish.

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