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The case of the Exxon Valdez can be seen as a lesson in how not to handle crisis management. In 1989 the oil tanker Exxon Valdez hit the Bligh Reef spilling over 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska. This was said to be one of the “last best places on Earth” and as of 2010 only 13 of 32 monitored wildlife populations had been deemed to recover fully (Holleman, 2014). Through this incident, Exxon’s top executives have not shown the compassion of a company who is regretful about this crisis and did not put forth full effort in helping repair the damage that had been done.
Many mistakes were made by the Exxon Company in handling the spill. One of the largest mistakes was made by the Exxon chairman, Lawrence G Rawl, who sent low level executives in place of himself to handle the repercussions of the spill (Holusha, 1989). This gave an impression to the public that Exxon did not see this as the major crisis that it was. The company held its new briefing in a remote area where there was a small communications window which made it complicated for media relations in the world to disseminate the correct information. Unlike Johnson and Johnson, who had a crisis concerning their Tylenol brand, the top executives of Exxon declined to comment for a week after the incident which led people to believe this incident was not important to receive vigorous attention (Holusha, 1989). While Exxon did create a printed ad in the major news publications apologizing for the spill; they never did take complete responsibility for what had happened. This incident shows that while there will always be unforeseen accidents beyond our control; a company’s PR must have a plan and be ready to step-up to take immediate action to allow the public to have confidence they know how to handle crisis situations.
Exxon did not do many things right during the PR disaster that was the Exxon Valdez oil spill. They did apologize, but never actually took blame for the captain being intoxicated and running the tanker into the coastline and spilling gallons of oil. Exxon sent clean-up crews, but the top executives did not help nor did they take ownership of the problem. From a PR perspective it’s not easy to see anything that says this was handled in the correct manner to instill faith from the public again. However, Exxon has made a conscience effort to have stricter safety measures that have proven to be effective. There has not been any recorded incident since the Exxon Valdez showing they have taken internal steps to prevent a crisis like this from happening again.
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