BP Deepwater Horizon – Crisis Communications Advice for Tony Hayward

Ever since Sir Michael Bishop of British Midland took charge of the air crash on the M1 in the UK, the conventional wisdom has been that the CEO assumes full control and responsibility in times of crisis.  This is why Tony Hayward stepped forward to lead the response to the explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, emphasising from the outset that BP would step-up to meet all its responsibilities in the region.

Severe, though they are, few crises last this long.  A few days under media pressure can be exhausting.  After several weeks in the spotlight, repeated cycles of hope and failure, relentless media pressure and now extreme criticism from President Obama, Hayward must feel crushed.

On top of this comes the plunge in BP’s share value.  The BBC reports 55 billion has been wiped off the value of the company since the start of the crisis.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/10281079.stm).  With this comes the danger that a predator may take this as an opportunity to make a hostile takeover.

It’s time to come home Tony.  You have stated clearly that BP acknowledges its responsibilities so now is the time to hand over to a local man.  The person in charge in the US needs to be an engineer or geologist who can talk now of the technical issues and show step-by-step how you are binging the crisis under control.   You need a credible spokesperson, with a local accent that is in sympathy with US culture and values.

Investors are the new crisis frontier for BP.   Hayward needs to rebuild their confidence.  Confidence that the continuing long term strength and profitability of the company are not undermined; especially since suspending the 2010 dividend to placate political forces in America.  Confidence that BP will emerge stronger from this crisis; in fact they may be the only company with the practical experience and technology to deal with such deep sea hazards.

Crisis communication experts will be watching this story closely and re-writing some of the rules.  But the basic principles remain pretty much the same.  Here is our take on coping with a crisis – not a full action plan, but a starting point for any other CEO, in any size of company, who suddenly finds the media camping outside and her/his business in the spotlight http://www.free-pr-advice.co.uk/handlingacrisis.htm.

Kevin Ainsworth, Partner, Ainsworth Maguire Public Relations

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