I really enjoyed listening to this Guardian podcast on ‘reasons to be cheerful’ despite the glum economic environment. A key topic was Tony Hayward’s departure from BP, and with it, the end of some truly lamentable public statements. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll know that Mr. Hayward plus the word ‘gaffe’ have gone hand-in-hand since the explosion at the Macondo oil well that triggered this human and environmental tragedy.
What I found interesting was one of the podcaster’s comments which suggested that Hayward’s many PR failures (the key reason he’s going) may have seriously overshadowed fundamentally ‘OK’ managerial decisions he made during the crisis. There are two different but related themes at work here: ‘good’ PR can define leaders. In the case of Hayward and his predecessor, ‘bad’ PR also has the ability to also take them down. Secondly, I personally don’t believe PR is enough to paper over, or indeed, obscure (business, ethical, environmental) cracks of as profound a nature as those which led to the Gulf oil spill. Which also raises a third question: what is your best asset when fighting a crisis of BP-sized proportions?
The incoming CEO, an American, will have a major job on his hands in helping repair the ocean-sized reputational damage to BP. Let’s hope he and his advisors understand that good communications, as part of a bigger whole that includes accountability and responsible action, are not mutually exclusive.
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