Expected departure of BP chief Tony Hayward will 'help brand's PR', says experts

A new CEO for beleaguered oil giant BP could help turn things around for the brand, PR experts have concluded.

In the media spotlight: BP
In the media spotlight: BP

Existing boss Tony Hayward is widely-tipped to stand down today after a tumultuous few months for the firm following an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

Hayward faced heavy criticism for his handling of the spill after a series of PR gaffes including telling the media ‘I want my life back’, and that the environmental impact of the spill would be ‘very, very modest’. He also received criticism after attending a yacht race on the Isle of Wight during the crisis.

3 Monkeys Communications founder Angie Moxham said: ‘Tony Hayward had to go. It could have been different had he communicated better. Whether he meant it or not, he displayed a distinct lack of care for the victims and their families; nor did he seem to be prepared to take responsibility for the disaster, which is the ultimate role of a CEO in such circumstances.

‘BP has a lot of ground to make up. A new CEO with the right attitude and advice could turn things around in time, but this is yet another example of the untold damage a tragic crisis poorly handled can do to a company’s reputation.’

Inevitable departure

Insignia Communications founder Jonathan Hemus concurred and added: ‘Tony Hayward’s departure is not so much a good PR move as the inevitable consequence of his poor communication during the crisis: it was simply not in BP’s best commercial or reputational interest for him to soldier on. Assuming his replacement is indeed Bob Dudley, an American accent and links with the southern states will play well in the US and provide a start point for reputation recovery in the States.

‘Given that Tony Hayward was seen to be a key contributor to this crisis, his removal will be seen externally as a positive step towards BP protecting what is left of its reputation.’

Pension deal

Media reports suggest that Hayward is expected to walk away with a pay and pension package worth £11.8million. His expected departure has made all of the national newspapers this morning with a front page story in The Times, which features the headline: ‘BP chief to walk away from crisis with £12m’.

Fleishman-Hillard head of corporate comms and issues management said David Hart: ‘BP will hope that Hayward’s departure draws a line under the incident. However, his successor will need to show that BP has learned the lessons from the past few months to begin to rebuild reputation in the States and further afield.’

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