Don’t panic – it’s the crisis management man

Jonathan’s introduction to PR at a Midlands metal-basher was followed by senior positions at three PR agencies, including ten years as head of Porter Novelli’s global crisis practice. Here he advised organisations including Gillette, Disney, the NHS, Yahoo! and his dream client, the International Cricket Council, as it fought to preserve the good name of cricket following match-fixing allegations. With his crisis radar malfunctioning, he launched his own reputation management consultancy, Insignia Communications, one month before the global economy imploded. Insignia has been busy advising clients on crisis and issues management, change communication and online reputation management ever since. His personal blog can be found at

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Hayward’s exit announcement – another lesson in how not to do it

Coverage about Tony Hayward’s exit from BP was all over this weekend’s media, along with news of his successor, Bob Dudley. Media interest has continued this morning: I’ve watched BBC Breakfast and listened to Five Live both debating Hayward’s departure at length, and the rest of the media (including the Drum) are also engaged in exactly the same exercise.

Imagine my surprise then when at 9.05am, BP issued the following short statement:

“BP notes the press speculation over the weekend regarding potential changes to management and the charge for the costs of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP confirms that no final decision has been made on these matters. A Board meeting is being held on Monday evening ahead of the announcement of the second quarter results on 27th July. Any decisions will be announced as appropriate”.

Does this mean that Tony Hayward could in fact remain in post and lead BP into a bright and successful future? Can we really imagine this? If so, Lazarus has serious competition.

I suspect that for whatever reason (maybe the final severance package is still being hammered out), BP is simply not ready to make the announcement. BP’s problem though is that the announcement has, in effect, already been made.

Whilst some may legitimately argue that it’s up to BP and not the media to decide when the news breaks, the company resembles King Canute as it fails to make any definitive statement. And this causes further harm to its reputation.

Most of the recent online, press and broadcast coverage feature the views of “expert commentators” including ex-BP employees, BP investors and branding experts (and people like me!). The only organisation not represented in this discussion seems to be BP. As a result, the perception of BP and its senior management team is being created by a bunch of experts who do not know the full story and who may not have BP’s best interests at heart. This cannot be helpful to BP: they need to start controlling the content and timing of the message, and quickly.

When crisis strikes, filling the information vacuum, communicating key facts and positioning the organisation as credible and in control of the situation, are all important objectives. Several months into this incident, and BP still seems unable to deliver against these basic crisis communication principles.

Jonathan Hemus

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