Former BP Oil CEO Tony Hayward gives a textbook interview to CNN in the days following the Gulf oil spill.
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Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those hurt and
killed in the recent oil rig explosion and resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

While there's no question it's an environmental disaster of unprecedented
proportion in the U.S., it's the loss of lives that will stay with us forever.

The incident raises the issue of how to respond to media inquiries when a
crisis or reputation management situation strikes.



Express Sympathy

Provide Specific Details on How You'll Resolve the Situation

Don’t Speculate

That’s exactly what BP CEO Tony Hayward did in this interview with CNN on
April 28th. The Insider encourages you to watch the video now, and then read
the rest of the discussion. Be sure to note a few things as you watch…

Hayward’s genuine reaction to the question of how the explosion occurred,
and how he immediately changed the subject to concern and sympathy for the
families who lost loved ones.

And, how he discusses specific details of the efforts that were already
underway to contain the spill, but declined to speculate on why the fail-safe
mechanism failed, or whether the spill will reach the coastline.

Crisis Management 101 teaches us to express empathy and/or sympathy in
situation such as these, even if the reporter does not solicit it. CNN reporter
Brian Todd did not, but Hayward came right out of the gate with both.

"I feel great grief and sorrow because of the people who have lost their lives".

Just as importantly, Hayward’s words and tone of voice expressed those

It’s also important to note that as of the date of this interview, April 28th, we
knew a lot less about the cause of the explosion and spill, than we do now.
Hayward handled Todd’s questions about the cause and the potential for the
spill to reach the shore, exactly as he should have. He declined to speculate,
pointing out that federal investigators would make a final determination on what
happened with the fail-safe mechanism, and that others are much more
qualified to talk about whether the oil would reach the shore.

Hayward also did an excellent job of briefly and concisely elaborating on the
specific efforts to contain the spill.


The Golden Rules: Apologize. Express Sympathy. Provide specific details
about how you’re resolving the situation. Don’t speculate about future events.

One other key, critical rule that applies to a crisis control/reputation
management situation is to control or funnel the flow of information. You do that
by appointing one person to act as a media spokesperson for the
organization, and that‘s the only person who talks to the press.  

As a final tip, it’s no secret that some industries are more prone to front
page/top of the news coverage than others when the news is bad. If you work
in one of those industries, consider getting some media training or coaching
in how to respond to a crisis management situation, and consider developing
a crisis management media strategy or outline. Do it now. Waiting till the crisis
hits is too late.

Related Articles:

The Tiger Woods Affair
The John Edwards Media Disaster
Toyota: The Next Tylenol or the Next O.J.?

Posted on 5/5/10
The Golden Rules in a P.R. Crisis
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