Case study summary 1: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Yafan Duan)

The weather was wonderful, the sea was blue and vibrant, and no one would know there would be a huge disaster in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. That day was absolutely black Friday. The Exxon Valdez tanker, which took 987-foot oil was headed for the submerged rocks and 11 million gallons of crude oil poured out into Prince William Sound. A few days later, 250,000-500,000 seabirds and 2,800-5,000 sea otters were died. The tourism industry and the seafood industry in Alaska were defeated. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-coursed environmental disasters. The captain of this tanker was Joseph Hazelwood, and the third mate Gregory Cousins was taken command when the tanker headed the rock.  The coast guide was notified immediately, and Exxon leadership was notified around 12:30 a.m..

There were three main factors have been identified as contributing to the incident, the first one was that the captain Joseph Hazelwood put the supertanker on autopilot and headed straight for Bligh Reef, some confusion pointed Hazelwood had been drinking that night; the second factor was the third mate Gregory Cousins was not qualified to take command during that critical period; the third factor was the Exxon’s corporate culture, the company cut the number of people worked on the tanker, so the employees worked too long time and didn’t have enough rest.

Exxon was one of the five largest companies in the United States in the later of 1908s.  The CEO of Exxon was Lawrence G. Rawl, who was considered a strong leader, which disliked publicity and the media.

There are strength, weakness, opportunity and threat for the company to handle the crisis.

Strength: there are three heroes in this crisis. The first was Don Cornet, he became Exxon’s pubic relations manager later the crisis, as soon as he knew the accident, he reported to the head of public affairs and suggested the company to focus on the cleanup effort. The second hero was Frank Iarossi, Iarossi dealt with the logistics of the spill response. After the initial spill, the Exxon’s main representative at the Valdez site Frank Iarossi faced many problems; there were 5 main problems.

First, is the CEO of Exxon need to fly to Prince William Sound and show regards? Second, where should media center have been? In New York or Chicago, a city that could better accommodates such a large gathering of reporters and photographers? Or put the media center at the local site?  Third, Exxon didn’t respond this damage immediately. Ten days later, Iarossi released ads expressing concern and vowing to clean up the spill. Forth, the leaders of Exxon ignored this crisis in public; the CEO of Exxon didn’t show accept responsibility for the damage. Fifth, there is a large number of money need to pay of the company.

The third hero was George Mason, APR, was the vice president of Alaska’s largest relations firm. He pointed three main areas would be future concern: the tourism industry, the animal rescue centers and the seafood industry.  He let the medias involved in animal rescue and let public knew about this. He designed a crisis plan, which was quickly funded by Exxon.

Weakness: the biggest weakness in my opinion was the CEO of Exxon, Lawrence G. Rawl. Rawk declined to visit Alaska at first time and showed no emotion over the impact of the disaster and no apologies to the people who suffered in this disaster. There was no cleanup efforts had been worked in the first four days after the accident.

Opportunity: after this accident, all oil company in Alaskan has crisis plans. Exxon Company also has its own equipment for cleanup and the equipment was sent to help work on the cleanup in BP spill accident.  Now other oil company know better way to prevent spills, how to cleanup the oil and how to faced the public after spills.

Threat: even ten years later, the affect of Exxon Valdez oil spill still existed.  The recovery could not end and there was a large number of money need to pay of Exxon.

The CEO of Exxon Company didn’t do a great job at first time of the accident, when the crisis happened, he didn’t fly to the Prince William and showed regards, this made people think that he didn’t care about the animals and citizens, customers began to cancel their Exxon credit cards.  Three days later, media people from the entire world went to Valdez and hundreds of environmentalists arrived in Valdez to help and save animals. People in the United States the leaders of Exxon Company didn’t give any apologies for the accident and public was upset for Exxon Company.

In my opinion, first, the company needs to give apologize to the animals and people which got suffered in this accident; at the very first time of accident, the CEO need go to Valdez and showed the company cared about this accident. The media center should build in Valdez and let the public knew the situation of this accident as soon as possible; we can see the company gave ads in newspaper ten days later, the company need to knew all the situation at very first time, then they can control it. The Exxon Company gave response too late, the public would think they want hide the truth. In our book, the Exxon Company didn’t do a great job of “Apologia Theory”.

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5 Responses to Case study summary 1: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Yafan Duan)

  1. kurtcomm642 says:

    Mr. Rawls gets a lot of heat for his performance, or lack thereof, and he certainly deserves it. BP’s Tony Hayward could have taken a lesson from him, but apparently didn’t, being evasive, too optimistic, and, especially, his complaint that he wanted his life back. Well, as long as there are CEOs who need instruction, there will be jobs for crisis communicators.

  2. lilly1989 says:

    “It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-coursed environmental disasters. ” I think the Exxon oil case is not only an environmental disaster, it is also a corporate disaster. I feel that the manage idea in the Exxon has its own problem. Besides that, I regard that this case relates to the Apologia Theory. They just attributed the problem to their employ–Captain Joseph Hazelwood. It is an example of redefinition.

    • duanyafan says:

      Even though Exxon oil spill was an environmental disaster and a corporate disaster, but it gave everyone a lesson for this kind of disaster. It let everyone know how important the crisis communication is for a company. I am so glad to have this course, I feel it is so useful!

  3. krmorel2 says:

    I completely agree — the company should have apologized more than they did! The CEO absolutely needed to step up and act as a CEO should! Althought it wasn’t directly his fault, it’s his company; hiding from the problem was not the answer.

  4. dijiang313 says:

    Public cannot clam down without apology from the CEO, it is a disaster for the sea, the animal, and the fisherman, so the delay of apology to the public still is an obstacle for the following recovery process.

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