Lord Browne was one of UK plc’s greatest communicators. He was a man who saw the green writing on the wall in the mid-1990s, who put marketing and comms at the heart of business strategy – with the Beyond Petroleum campaign – and who was smart enough to hire Tony Blair’s former gatekeeper Anji Hunter as his own PR and lobby adviser.
But in May Browne, a man also human enough to start believing his own hype, fell on his sword. Hunter is now on the way out and the new chief executive, Tony Hunter, appears to need a fresh PR strategy.
Earlier this week Hayward’s use of the word ‘dreadful’ regarding the firm’s third quarter performance found its way into the media, immediately wiping £3.5bn off the company’s value.
Now, one can see how Hayward could see the value in drawing a line in the sand with the world’s opinion formers, before starting his own ‘recovery’ plan, but it feels more like a reaction than a response.
Browne generally recognised the need for a consistent message to all stakeholders, from analysts to workers. Yet Hayward’s harsh criticism of staff and processes, without a new vision being communicated, could drive a wedge between him and key managers.
Hayward has certainly been successful in managing expectations downwards in advance of the company’s third quarter results, but one would advise him to come up with some more positive views by 23 October.
Indeed he could draw lessons from Reuters’ chairman Niall Fitzgerald’s use of Simon Walker, one of the country’s most experienced communicators, over the past year, in keeping the media giant ‘on message’. Walker now has an even bigger task as he moves to private equity’s trade body.