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CEOs. Are you Wayne Rooney or Tony Hayward?

Last week, after Rob Green’s fumble, some wags on Twitter started suggesting that finally here was an English spill the Americans could love.

This week, there aren’t any jokes. And there is even an understanding that it is fatuous to compare the talisman of a perennially under-performing England team to the CEO in the eye of the storm.

But both Hayward and Rooney have had to say sorry this week to their various audiences. And in both cases, it appears that neither of them have bothered to consult their comms advisers.

Rooney’s case is more easily dealt with. While his apology for Friday night’s rant lacked both charm and grace, it could probably be said to be on brand for precisely those reasons.

In the last five minutes, I’ve seen two links on Twitter to articles on BP’s PR gaffes. Unsolicited links. Type ‘BP PR gaffe’ into Google and you’ll get 2.8 million links. Hayward’s yachting weekend is only the latest mishap. At this point, people sigh and ask what BP’s PR chaps are up to – as though they are the ones who have come up with the idea for Hayward’s nautical adventure.

The most basic PR issues management course tells you that the most important things to do are to be open about the problem, show that you’re taking it seriously – and sort out the crisis. Let’s be clear that while doing the first and second of these are very important, without the third you might as well give up. Back in the day, when I was studying for my CIPR diploma, you learned about the catastrophic PR handling of the Exxon Valdez disaster. I suspect that the BP team will be more familiar with it than I.

In Rooney’s case, if he sorts out the crisis this coming Wednesday, then no one will care about his petulancy lastweekend.

But BP’s problem is on a far different scale. First, their plan isn’t clear. No one knows when they will sort out the crisis. And if they don’t understand the plan, then the journalists will write about the symbols (some will do this in any case). It is a complex story, laced with bad guys, tragedy, anger, plot twists and (according to today’s Sun) sex. The comms guys at BP definitely understand this. They will have been advising for all they are worth. Yet they appear not to be able to influence BP’s chair or CEO. It may be that Messrs. Svanberg and Hayward are so wrapped up in fixing the problem that they can’t find time to take advice on reputation. The results speak for themselves.

So. Questions for other CEOs. When things go wrong, as they will, can you act like Rooney, in the knowledge that he has the potential to put things right on the pitch in a few days’ time? Or do your stakeholders demand more? Are you taking advice? Do you take advice? Will you, when you have to, take advice from your reputational advisers? Are you Wayne Rooney or Tony Hayward?

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This entry was posted on 21 June 2010 by in PR and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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