Out with the Old and In with the New

July 29th, 2010

The moment the media caught BP’s now former-CEO Tony Hayward relaxing on a yacht, complaining that he wanted his life back while workers struggled to contain millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, everyone started to wonder how much longer Hayward would stay in charge.  After all, he had committed one too many public relations plunders and it seemed like only a matter of time until BP officials chose a replacement.

Fast-forward a month, and that’s exactly what happened, as BP announced on Tuesday, July 27th that Robert Dudley, a 54-year-old American who had been with BP since 1998, would soon take the reins of the battered company.  It’s a smart move for BP–not only can the company create a fresh start, it can turn the dialogue from the past, from fault, to the future, to responsibility and how BP can move forward.

There is no doubt that BP hopes Dudley will be the company’s shining white knight.  After all, choosing an American, who was raised in Mississippi no less, was strategic.  In the face of this crisis, BP needs a leader who can connect and empathize with Gulf Coast residents—and that’s exactly what Dudley has started to do.

In his Tuesday morning public statement on ABC’s Good Morning America, Dudley appeared calm and confident.  He declared his “special affinity” for the Gulf Coast and not once did he seem impatient, as Hayward so often appeared.  He announced his top priority of sealing the company’s well and restoring the Gulf of Mexico. He also reiterated that BP will certainly work for as long as it takes to meet its commitments in the Gulf.

But Dudley took it one step further.

Too often in crises, companies respond to the incident by merely saying they will fix the problem, ignoring one of the public’s main concern: what they will do differently in the future.  Dudley addressed this concern head-on by proclaiming that BP will learn a lot from this “terribly tragic accident” and in “no question change” as a result of it.

Certainly Dudley’s announcement has momentarily given the American public hope that BP is committed to cleaning up the spill, but it will take more than a few carefully chosen words to truly clean up the mess BP has made.  Now that he’s validated concern, it’s time to show action. Good luck, Mr. Dudley, you sure have your work cut out for you.

Posted Under: Public Relations
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