Come on BP

24 June 2010 Posted by Marcie

Either Tony Hayward’s advisors have lost the plot or he is a poor listener.

We have all watched with dismay as ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has tested BP’s CEO and his many advisors.  Open and honest communications in the early weeks seemed to work while the short term promise of a solution seemed viable (‘though I’ll never understand why they thought a live feed of the oil leak was a good idea).   But it’s been downhill all the way for the past month or so.

BP Oil leak

We’ve heard so much about Tony Hayward’s short comings they no longer surprise us – from ‘I want my life back’ to time out on the ocean with ‘Bob’ on his Birthday, we now know he is not a sensitive man. The media – and particularly the social networks – have had a field day.

But I don’t get it.   Here is a chief exec with BP in his bloodstream; he’s worked for the company for nearly 30 years.  It must hurt.  That is to say, the rising bills, negative PR and relentless pressure from Obama and his entourage.  Not to mention the disgruntled shareholders and the sense of duty Tony Hayward must feel towards the people of Louisiana.  And yet he is giving off few of the caring vibes that would have bought the company some sympathy, if not time.  His actions appear almost defiant.

I have enormous sympathy for Tony Hayward’s growing entourage of advisors but I am confounded by their communications strategy which must surely be a lesson for corporate comms teams in ‘how not to handle a crisis’.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I have a few questions:

  • Why has BP not put other spokespeople up to mitigate the risk of more Tony gaffs?
  • Where are the teams of experts to broker the interests of the local residents and give the media an array of credible voices?
  • Where are the task forces to champion plans on behalf of fishermen, environmentalists and the tourism industry?

BP should make some savvy choices to shift the focus away from its errant CEO and onto the issues at hand – and importantly – the future.  The livelihoods of the people of Louisiana must surely be of paramount importance.  It will be a long time before BP claws its way back into favour but taking a more long term and less defensive approach to communications would surely help.

Of course it’s possible that BP is already doing this stuff but the media’s not listening (they’ve been having too much fun bashing Tony) so we’re not getting the message.  In which case, all I can say is try harder BP.  Stop nursing your wounds and reacting off your back foot and show us how a great British brand can communicate its way through a crisis.


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