The devastating Gulf Coast oil spill has increased the coffers of media companies and angered one Florida congresswoman. BP has told Congress that it spent $93.4 million in advertising from April through July, more than three times what it spent a year ago in the span.
But Florida Democrat Kathy Castor, who requested the spending information from the oil company, has forcefully suggested that BP should use the money to assist affected small businesses and fishermen, and not as a PR tool. BP, under siege for causing the spill, says it is trying to inform victims about opportunities to file claims for damages, and provide updates on clean-up efforts.
From BP's standpoint, its spending rush has given an endorsement to traditional wide-reach marketing, and so-called old media. Only a "small portion" of the spending boost went toward the Internet. The bulk of the increase went to print outlets and TV, both national and local.
No further details on breakdowns were available. BP's media-buying agency is Mindshare, which may have grabbed some increased revenues for added work.
BP also said that in 2009, it ran newspaper ads in two states and in Washington, where it was looking to reach government types. This year, from April through July, BP offered some proof that the campaign is an image-building initiative as it expanded into 126 markets, which included California, New York and Texas, along with the areas affected by the spill.
The details are from a letter received by Rep. Castor on Sept. 1. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak, who heads an oversight and investigative subcommittee, received the information from BP on Aug. 30 and shared with colleagues.
In a statement, Castor, who represents a part of the Florida Gulf Coast, said BP's campaign is "solely focused on polishing its corporate image in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster (and) is making people angry."
"While BP's advertising campaign ramped up, businesses and the Gulf communities struggled to deal with the costs of the disaster ... while BP certainly has the right to advertise, its approach has been insensitive to the taxpayers and business owners harmed" by the tragedy, she added.
Castor encouraged using some of the $93.4 million to help promote the Florida beaches as open for business, since its tourism economy suffers.
BP told Congress it also doled out $89.5 million in grants to help promote tourism in four Gulf States including Florida, and states may have used some of the monies to run their own advertising.
A BP representative wrote in an email that its increased marketing is part of a "commitment to keeping Gulf Coast residents informed" about multiple aspects of the spill that affects them directly. And it is "consistent with BP's dedication to transparency during the recovery process."
Kantar Media figures show that BP spent $94.9 million in all measured media for the full year 2009, down from $106.7 million in 2008.