hoosing the right
spokesperson to represent your organisation in a crisis is critical to maintaining its reputation and future viability.
When BP’s former CEO, Tony Hayward, made his infamous comment about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he not only became one of the most vilified men in the USA, his responses have gone down in PR history as the classic example of how NOT to respond to a crisis.
His poor crisis leadership and apparent disregard of the scale of the disaster – “tiny in relation to the total water volume”; the catastrophic impact on the environment and wildlife – “very modest”; for the eleven workers who lost their lives – “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do; I’d like my life back”; and playing the blame game – “Well, it wasn't our accident”, impressed no one – least of all victims, their families and stakeholders. Nine years on and BP estimates costs of nearly US$65 billion in legal fees, clean-up and settlements.
Whilst the scale of the disaster was unprecedented, Mr Hayward is not the first – and certainly won’t be the last – spokesperson to make mistakes when speaking during a
resolve the crisis. The secret to this is to think about what they would want to know if they or a loved one were affected by the crisis
and to put people first.
Key to this is the ability to be concise, speak clearly and steer away from jargon and language that sounds too corporate. It’s important to remember who they are speaking to – and it’s not the media, who are just the messengers.
crisis. In nearly all cases they weren’t prepared, didn’t stick to agreed messages, showed very little empathy for those affected and ultimately, cost their organisation money.
What makes a good spokesperson?
A good spokesperson is one who can resonate with their audience whether it is staff, stakeholders or the public. They need to be at ease in front of them – albeit through a camera or microphone – and be able to demonstrate the right amount of empathy, gravitas, knowledge and reassurance to build confidence and trust in what is being done to
They need to stay calm, particularly when journalists are asking questions that can’t or shouldn’t be answered in the early stages, such as the cause of the incident and who is to blame. Part of the media’s role is to hold people to account and ask the questions their audience or readers would want answers to – particularly when tensions are high.
“There’s no one who wants this thing over more than
I do; I’d like my life back,” Tony Hayward, BP’s former CEO
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