ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

To the Gulf of Mexico now, where BP announced it had positioned a four-story, concrete and steel box above the main oil leak. Once in place, the device won't stop the spill, but the company hopes it will channel and collect the oil. At risk are animal lives and human livelihoods up and down the Gulf Coast.

Also at risk is BP's reputation. The company has worked hard over the years to keep up a positive image. You may remember, 10 years ago, it launched the "Beyond Petroleum" campaign. And even though BP is a multinational oil company, its logo looks something like a sunflower.

NPR's Jeff Brady is in Biloxi, Mississippi, and reports on BP's public relations effort in communities along the Gulf Coast.

JEFF BRADY: At the beginning of this week, BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, told reporters he plans to win the hearts and minds of locals here. So I asked folks in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, how he's doing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEPHANIE PATE: Seriously?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: Ouch. Clearly, Stephanie Pate is not impressed so far.

Ms. PATE: 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.

BRADY: As part of its campaign to win over locals, 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. Linda Peters of Ocean Springs says that was a good move.

Ms. LINDA PETERS: Well, I think they maybe made one step forward with the grants that they're giving. I think everything they can possibly do, and be humble and say: We're sorry, and we're going to fix it.

BRADY: 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 on. BP's leadership put a stop to that.

If the company is going to win over locals, they must make amends with the fishing community. A lot of fishermen, especially shrimpers, are losing money right now 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.

Unidentified Man #1: BP is going to provide that equipment. We're going to show you how to utilize it...

BRADY: Under the program, boat owners can earn $1,200 to $1,500 a day doing things like laying boom in the water to protect coastlines.

Mr. LUKE HARRIS (Fisherman): I haven't felt any love yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: Luke Harris attended a meeting in Biloxi 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.

Mr. LUKE: 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.

BRADY: BP will win Harris over when he starts seeing a paycheck again. And BP spokeswoman Lisa Houghton says she understands that.

Ms. LISA HOUGHTON (Spokeswoman, BP): You're not going to win over hearts and minds by words. You're going to win over hearts and minds by actions. That's why we're here in the community. BP people deployed across the coastline, in the communities, trying to say we're here and how can we help?

BRADY: And 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.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Biloxi, Mississippi.

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