Free «Case Study: Exxon Corporation’s Oil Spillage» Essay Paper

Case Study: Exxon Corporation’s Oil Spillage


The oil spill that occurred in the 1980’s dampened the public image of Exxon Corporation. The activities surrounding the spill also worsened image of the company as they failed to take control of the situation. The company took so long in addressing the issue. The public relations’ arm of the company did so poorly and the company suffered the consequences of their actions. Successful communication has turned out to be one of the most essential factors in any institution. Communication can be both external and internal, and both are crucial in the working of a company.

For a business to work well internally, there must be a good communication strategy, whether it is horizontal or vertical. Vertical communication involves lower level employee communication with their superiors, while horizontal communication involves communication of employees of the same level. Whereas internal communication is very important, public relations are as vital as before,  as they encompass communication with the consumers and other outside issues that influence the operations of the business. Therefore, it was more important for Exxon to carefully hatch good plan to deal with the crisis than what they applied. 

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Public involved in the Exxon’s Oil Spill Crisis

The public involved in the Exxon Corporation’s crisis were media, government agencies, environmental activists, oil industry, and Exxon stakeholders. This public was then divided into two, internal and external. Internal public includes Exxon stakeholders and oil industry, which focus on the business profitability to continue and safe their face without jeopardizing the whole operation. The main objectives were to maximize profits, minimize legal and financial results and criticism, which they were facing.

External publics include environmental activists, government and government agencies, and the media. They were focusing to investigate, give potential punishment, regulate, clean up the organization, demand immediate information and seek restitution of the corporation. The intented public went against the mindset of the organization. It happens because the corporation did not the concern, failed to involve the media, did not respond to the environmental activists and showed only very little leadership in it. The message could have been delivered in a more effective way. The corporation had its own designated representative and accepts to communicate openly.

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Public Relations communication tools and techniques

that were used in Exxon’s oil spill crisis

The business was formed with a strategy of being a silent business. Communication with the outside world was made minimal in the construction of business and in the management tactics of the company’s chief executive officer. The company used two strategies, which are (a) the use of non-specific spokesperson for the company regarding the crisis and (b) a refusal for open communication. These strategies were used to confuse the public on whom to blame for the crisis. The company sent various representatives to the site with the intention of delaying the blame while they designed mechanisms for dealing with the situation at hand. Exxon’s principle of little or no open communication at all also affected the strategies used, as the public relations department had to follow the set guideline of the company.

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Although these methods were deemed to work well for the company, they had negative impact on the company’s image. The media, government, the affected country, the environmentalists among other publics took it as a diversionary tactic to help the company evade its responsibilities in the crisis. The company should not take the aggressive approach because taking on various stakeholders concerned with crisis, the crisis could backfire and the situation could worsen. This development could upset more people, which is not good for the company. The moderated strategy should have been used in the crisis with the company first informing the public of the happenings and taking full responsibility for it while asking for forgiveness from the affected people. The company would then structure measures to deal with the crisis as soon as it happened to save its public image. The low-lying strategy used by the corporation upset many people because the company was seen as doing nothing to rectify the situation.

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Impact of technology on the communication process

The prominent rise of the internet the past two decades has revolutionized the major happenings in the world, including communication. The internet has made communication easier with the development of social sites, such as Facebook and Twitter – tools that are used for communication. Video streaming sites, such as YouTube, have also revolutionized communication in many ways. Had the crisis occurred in our current setting, the public involved would have been informed in a matter of seconds. The management would have sent a message through these sites informing the concerned parties of the strategies it wanted to employ to remedy the situation without appearing in the glare of public. This development would have salvaged the company’s image as well as its finances.

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The way Exxon Corporation handled the crisis displayed some weaknesses of the public relations department within the company. This situation made the company a textbook example of what not to do when a crisis occurs. The handling of the situation also taught a number of lessons in public relations that it is a very difficult matter to deal with any crisis internally with objectivity because it goes against the principles of the organization. First of all, it is necessary to involve the external publics in order to help deal with the matter. Importance of effective communication in public relations cannot be more underlined.

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