BP America, facing a spate of investigations and lawsuits stemming from the catastrophic Gulf oil spill, has chosen former Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell as its head of communications, signaling an aggressive new effort to recover from past communications debacles and improve its image in an essential market.
Morrell, who starts Tuesday, will remain in Washington, with frequent travel to BP headquarters in Houston and London.
The company said in an internal email: Geoff will oversee external and internal communications for BP in the United States. He will be responsible for leading our communications efforts in the US, as well as playing a critical role with our broader global communications and reputational activities. He will report directly to Peter Henshaw, Group Head of Communications, and will join Lamar McKay’s BP America Leadership Team. He will work with senior leadership across the USA businesses and functions.
Morrell, 42, has worked both sides of the podium: He covered the White House for ABC News, then was Pentagon press secretary throughout the tenure of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, spanning two presidencies and consumed by two wars. BP, despite a Justice Department inquiry and increased regulatory scrutiny, has continued to pursue aggressive and creative deals, and has said it wants to set the safety standard for the industry. BP American calls itself the United States’ largest producer of oil and natural gas, and is about 40 percent of BP Worldwide.
The BP email continued: “Geoff comes to BP from the Department of Defense, where he spent the past four years as Pentagon Press Secretary. In his position, Geoff served as chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the United States Military. He was appointed by President Bush in June 2007 and was asked to stay on in that position by President Obama.
“Prior to joining the US Government, Geoff was a White House correspondent for ABC News. He spent 7 years at the network and 8 years prior to that reporting for local TV stations across the country. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and received his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. He will continue to reside in Washington with his wife and twin 3 year-old daughters while having a significant and regular Houston and broader US presence.”
Reaction to the decision, in emails to POLITICO:
—Robert B. Barnett, partner, Williams & Connolly LLP: “Geoff was one of the most sought-after public-to-private clients that my partner, Michael O'Connor, and I have represented. He is a man of experience, skills, judgment, contacts, and good humor. He has the respect of people of all political stripes. He had options with corporations, public relations firms, lobbying firms, and could readily have started his own firm with a wide variety of clients in his stable.”
—Dan Bartlett, President and CEO Hill & Knowlton US, Chairman and CEO Public Strategies, Inc.: “In hiring Geoff Morrell, BP is sending a strong signal they are stepping up their game when it comes to reputation and communications. Geoff is top notch and will serve them well.”
—Lamar McKay/President & CEO of BP America: “I am thrilled to have Geoff on board. He's just what we need at this time for the company. As demonstrated at the Pentagon podium, Geoff is an energetic communicator and a strong advocate. By all accounts, behind the scenes he was a trusted advisor and key strategist. I look forward to him playing a similar role here at BP.”
—Peter Henshaw/Global Head of Communications for BP: “Geoff is obviously new to the energy business, but he seemed to be a quick study at the Pentagon and I expect he will make an impact on our issues in very little time. His fresh perspective, strong work ethic and communications track record make him an excellent addition to our leadership team and I look forward to working closely with him.”
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