Danny Rogers: Poor comms skills just magnify a crisis

With BP's Gulf of Mexico crisis entering its third month, one becomes acutely aware of the personalised nature of business in this age of scrutiny. In this way, business has followed politics; transforming into a presidential game, meaning that comms skills are now as critical for business leaders as for their political equivalents.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Ironically it was CEO Tony Hayward's predecessor, John Browne, who became one of the first 'superstar' bosses of FTSE companies a decade ago, initially displaying great comms prowess. But Hayward has now become a case study in how poor comms skills will only magnify a corporate crisis.

Hayward, despite taking advice from City and corporate PR giant Brunswick, and a PR team including former FT editor Andrew Gowers, has made a series of errors, culminating in a basic and unforgiveable gaffe last weekend.

Let's be clear here: the advice of any good media adviser to Hayward, just days after being publicly roasted in the US, would be to avoid any photograph transmitting 'the wrong messages'. Of course everyone needs some time off, but to be snapped enjoying yourself on your yacht in clear blue seas - when just across the Atlantic a BP field continues to spew oil into the ocean - is tantamount to reputational suicide.

It was just the latest mistake by Hayward who, despite correctly apologising on 30 May, stupidly added: 'I would like my life back.'

Now it may be Hayward has ignored good media advice, but this suggests something worse: a lack of judgement in this sphere.

His performance in front of a Senate committee last week was evidence of this. While one sympathises with the pressure he was under, and the fears of his legal advisers, he came across as overly defensive and unemotional, playing into the hands of aggressive US journalists.

My point is that such comms prowess should by now be a prerequisite for aspirant bosses of giant, high-profile businesses. This is not to suggest comms skills are any more important than knowledge of the business, competence or integrity - shareholders would demand nothing less - but they are as important.

This was writ large when Hayward found himself sharing a stage with Barack Obama, a man whose comms abilities are legendary. These are the new rules by which both politics and business play.

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