BP chief executive Tony Hayward makes 'biggest mistake yet' in sailing gaffe

Beleagured BP spokesman Tony Hayward has made his 'biggest mistake yet', a crisis comms expert has warned.

Criticised: BP chief executive attends sailing event
Criticised: BP chief executive attends sailing event

The chief executive at the under-fire oil giant has been roundly criticised by the media for attending a yacht race on the Isle of Wight. Hayward was pictured spending the weekend on his private yacht at Cowes.

Insignia founder Jonathan Hemus said: ‘This is quite possibly Hayward's biggest mistake yet. He made the conscious decision to go sailing for a day, which shows a real lack of judgement.'

He added: ‘Some of his comments have been ill-judged, but these can be explained by the immense pressure he has been under. But to be pictured enjoying himself sailing is incredibly unhelpful and shows a lack of empathy. It subliminally reminds people of his comments that he "wants [his] life back".'

The British press has today picked up on negative headlines in the American media, which nicknamed Hayward ‘Capt Clueless' and ‘BP Bozo'.

The Independent ran with the headline: ‘Tony Hayward's latest PR gaffe is pilloried in US', while The Times covered the story in a double-page spread with the heading: ‘BP chief sails into storm at White House after day off on his yacht.'

Fleishman-Hillard head of corporate communications and issues management David Hart said: ‘The most important things for an organisation in crisis response mode is to show that you care and that you are in control of the situation. These pictures give the impression of neither.'

Jonathan McLeod, chairman of corporate communications at Weber Shandwick, concurred and added: ‘I think there is no doubt that he was and is entitled to a break. However, in his shoes I would have opted for something not involving the enjoyment of clear blue seas.'

A BP spokesman told The Times it was Hayward's first non-working day since the crisis started and that he is always in touch with what is happening.

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