A year on from BP’s Deepwater Horizon fiasco, many lessons should now have been learned. From a PR perspective, they include the short-comings of the crisis comms effort and the leadership style of Tony Hayward.
Parallels are being drawn with Andrew Lansley and the communication of his plan for NHS reform. Both are learning a lesson in strategic leadership. Simply put, unless the ‘story’ is both accessible and credible, it will not be understood, let alone generate support. Hayward failed to build support at both local and national levels. Lansley has studiously courted vested interests, but ultimately failed to bring them on his journey.
He may always have been destined to fail given the nature of his reforms, while Hayward may never have pacified public opinion. However, both have seemingly aggravated their situations – Hayward spectacularly.
Ultimately, both did not successfully articulate their plans for their audience, instead surrendering the agenda to critical voices. When this happens, it is almost impossible to reverse media and public opinion. Lansley’s attempt to do so, by now engaging in a public listening exercise, shows shrewd judgement.
The key question may be whether the voter feels engaged enough to listen and able to understand his plans. If they are deaf to reform, he will need to think again.