Will Hayward’s ousting improve BP’s dismal PR?

The former chief steps down following a multitude of public gaffes.

The former chief steps down following a multitude of public gaffes

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Tony Hayward’s stepping down as CEO of BP is … what took so long?

Ever since the April explosion and leak of the oil platform that killed 11, injured 17 and polluted the Gulf of Mexico, much of the story has surrounded Hayward’s communications ineptitude.

There are a lot of things a company must do within a crisis from both an action standpoint and a communication standpoint. Failing at either one of those can be catastrophic. BP should have realized long ago that he was part of a public relations problem seriously impacting the company from a financial and a public perception standpoint.

Much of what BP engineers tried to do to stop the leak were likely the right things to do, or at least attempt to do. But if others, like Hayward, are saying and doing the wrong things, guess where the attention will be focused?

The result of Hayward’s mistakes has contributed to everything from the public’s distaste of BP to the falling price of BP stock.

Maybe he should have been gone when he said he “wanted his life back.” Maybe he should have been dismissed when he said the leak was only a minor problem since the Gulf was, as he said, “a big ocean.” Maybe he should have been fired when his company was constantly distributing incorrect information (like how much oil was actually leaking daily). Maybe he should have been sacked when he participated in a Yacht Race as his company’s crisis continued. Maybe he should have been terminated after embarrassing the company by avoiding answering just about every question thrown at him during a Congressional hearing.

It is quite a list. Some organizations might have realized after only one or two of these incidents that it had a serious problem on its hands.

Lest anyone be concerned about Hayward’s future, the BBC says he will get an annual pension of about $930,000.

It didn’t have to happen this way. The company should have either provided him with better communication training and support or, if he was simply not the best person to represent BP due to this weakness, position a more qualified communicator to do the job.

With Hayward gone, should we be relieved? Maybe not. After all, the company is still run by a board that did not fire him (BP says he is leaving by mutual agreement) despite all the problems he caused. The board is run by a man (Carl-Henric Svanberg) who referred to the residents of the Gulf as “small people.” The board has had to hire two new CEOs in the last three years (John Browne was given his walking papers in 2007). Let’s hope they have added “strong communicator” to the job description.

Stay tuned.
Tripp Frohlichstein is founder of MediaMasters Inc. His firm specializes in media and presentation coaching, along with message development and message mapping. Contact him at www.mediamasterstraining.com or e-mail tr3@aol.com.

Topics: PR

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