More bad news for Andrew Gowers as BP looks for PR supremo

PR has proved to be something of a vale of tears for former Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers. First he joined Lehman Brothers shortly before the US investment bank imploded in 2008 and then he took up the reins as head of media at BP on the eve of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in April this year. Talk about a gift for timing.

Now, according to PR Week, BP is looking to appoint a new PR supremo above both Gowers and director of communications David Bickerton. This is ostensibly to replace Anji Hunter, former British PM Tony Blair’s ‘gatekeeper’ who left and then joined miner Anglo American.

The appointment is presumably the brainwave of new CEO Bob Dudley who replaced the beleaguered Brit Tony Hayward a couple of weeks ago. Dudley is an American. He may reckon that a Hunter-type figure, used to hobknobbing with heads of government and the like is what he needs in the event of further disaster striking, which it well might with endless law suits pending.

But this is to completely overestimate what any comms executive can achieve when disaster strikes. All you can do is help out with damage limitation, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle.

It also emerges in PR Week that BP paid UK PR firm Brunswick an ‘eight figure fee’ (so £10m plus) for its work helping out when BP oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, inflaming, among others, numerous US politicians including a very rattled president Obama. And Brunswick wasn’t the only PR firm whispering into its corporate ear. Strewth!

Would the presence of an Anji Hunter have improved on whatever invaluable services Brunswick provided? Somehow or other you can’t imagine her sidling up to Obama and saying “Give us a break for old time’s sake, pal.”

Anyway Gowers and indeed Bickerton can look forward to a new boss to work for, unless they decide to hop it. Gowers is a fine journalist after all, maybe he could get himself a cushy billet with, say, Richard Desmond?

And who will be the new BP PR boss?

Well Peter Mandelson needs a job although him being a lord and all that probably wouldn’t play too well with the Americans just at the moment.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.