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BP’s Former CEO Talks about Dealing with Vicious Media

June 20, 2011
BP - We're bringing oil to American shores

As far as slogans go...

The story of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the subsequent PR nightmare that unfolded is the monster in the closet that keeps many communications types up at night.

The way this played out in the public’s eyes is now written into the text books of what not to do when facing a crisis but rarely do you ever get an insight into what was happening inside the machine when the wheels fell off.

Now that it’s all over and he has his life back, Tony Hayworth, former CEO of BP and one time “most hated man in America”, has spoken about what it was like trying to deal with the “vicious” media storm of this environmental crisis from inside the fish bowl. Hayward spoke to some communicators at a networking club hosted by a UK PR agency called the Loewy Group. Lucky for us, someone present summarised Hayward’s comments in a blog.

One of the biggest problems at the time was not only keeping the media informed of unfolding developments but also tackling the inaccurate stories proliferating. At its height, there were 50 people at BP working around the clock purely on countering “inaccurate” information being posted on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking platforms.

The appetite for information was insatiable. The apparent inaccuraies in some of the reporting fuelled public hysteria and hysteria fuelled more hyteric reporting. “We were at war with the media every day. There’s no other word for it,” he said.

Possibly the most profound lesson learned is one that all CEOs should heed. He volunteered that despite utmost efforts to communicate clearly, transparently and at breakneck pace, many mistakes were made. “What would I have done differently? I would have had more of the senior team around me to handle communication with the media.”

He said that one of the main communications lessons learned for all large corporations was that plans for crises such as these must be made and tested regularly. BP wasn’t sufficiently well prepared with communications processes and resources to handle what happened, and it showed.

The full report can be found here:

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