BP needed to act early and decisively

It is too early to conduct the definitive post mortem on the BP Gulf oil spill and the way it was handled communications-wise, but the recent stemming of the leak and appointment of Mississippi resident Robert Dudley as the company's new chief executive officer at least provide a suitable moment to pause for thought.

It is too early to conduct the definitive post mortem on the BP Gulf oil spill and the way it was handled communications-wise, but the recent stemming of the leak and appointment of Mississippi resident Robert Dudley as the company's new chief executive officer at least provide a suitable moment to pause for thought.

As already widely documented, outgoing British chief executive Tony “I want my life back” Hayward did himself no favors with his clumsy comments and seemingly laissez faire approach to the crisis – neither did his boss Carl-Henric “we care about the small people” Svanberg.

On reflection, the embattled oil firm will reflect that it misplayed the situation right from the start. The first 48 hours of such crises are absolutely crucial in the communications process. This was the time for BP to set the communications agenda and reassure people it had good, strong people in charge at the scene of the crisis and was as much in control of the situation as it could be in the circumstances.

Deploying the CEO as the front person for the response was not a smart move, especially as he was British – and British in a very traditional way – and not a particularly sympathetic figure to the natives of the southern states of the US. The CEO should have been in situ and seen to be working with senior executives, the wider oil industry and the US government to solve the problem, but he didn't have to be the primary focus of communications and media activity.

It has been suggested BP could even have brought in a senior figure from outside the company to lead the communications response, someone with gravitas and credibility such as former US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

BP certainly learnt from this shaky start and acted more sensibly in grooming former Amoco executive Dudley for a more senior role, gradually introducing him to the public in communications and advertising before confirming him as the new chief executive on Tuesday.

With the oil leak seemingly sealed and a new regime in place, BP can start to contemplate looking forward, though a period of keeping heads down and getting on with business away from the media spotlight is definitely in order.

Its share price has stabilized since Tuesday's announcement and it may yet be possible for the company to avoid being broken up and sold off piecemeal in an asset fire sale.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in