In the early morning of March 24th 1989 the Exxon Valdez a tanker carrying 55 million gallons crashed into Bligh Reef which is part of Prince William Sound. Prince William Sound is a small isolated town in the outskirts of Alaska. The Exxon Valdez spilled over 38,000 gallons into the waters of Prince William Sound.
The toxins from the oil injured 33,000 people and eventually killed 8,000 Alaskan fishermen after years of suffering from side effects from the spill. The Valdez’s accident ending up costing Exxon 2.5 billon dollars in damages and went down as one of the most devastating environmental disasters but it is how Exxon choose to handle it that also made this event one of the biggest mistakes in public relations history. Exxon’s publics were greatly affected with this event
The main publics who were greatly affected were the people who work for Exxon or associate with them which would be their internal publics. The citizens of Prince William Sound and its environment they would be considered the primary publics in this case. The people of Exxon where effected because of the companies poor public relations strategy.
This strategy by Lawrence Rawl the chairman and chief executive of the Exxon Corporation at the time of the spill consisted of many communication errors. His mistakes consisted of not visiting the Prince William Sound area after the event to help express the companies concern and put the public at ease.
His second mistake was not consulting with the public at all. But the biggest mistake was that Exxon's chairman, Lawrence G. Rawl, sent a succession of lower-ranking executives to Alaska to deal with the spill instead of going there himself and taking control of the situation in a forceful, highly visible way. This gave the impression that the company regarded the pollution problem as not important enough to involve top management.
Exxon decided to concentrate its news briefings in Valdez, a remote Alaskan town with limited communications operations, complicating the problem of disseminating information. Even Oil & Gas Journal, hardly an industry critic, complained. ''Exxon did not update its media relations people elsewhere in the world,'' the journal said. Instead, it ''told reporters it was Valdez or nothing'' (Holusha, 1989). Exxon’s public relations mistakes destroyed their credibility in the eyes if the public and media and also ending up costing the company 2.5 billon dollars in damages and a major loss in consumers of their product.
Another major group of publics who were greatly affected were the citizens of Prince William Sound. They were majorly affected by this accident not only because their main source of water was filled with oil but also their environment was greatly damaged because of the spill. Walsh (Mar. 2009) stated this in his article, “Thousands of sea otters, seals and eagles and a quarter of a million seabirds died as a result of the spill, one of the worst ecological disasters in history, and the populations of those species have yet to fully recover. The lucrative herring and salmon fisheries are still damaged — by one estimate, the spill cost local fishermen nearly $300 million” (p. 1).
The secondary and external publics during this case would be people who use products from Exxon and they were affected because the way Exxon choose to handle this situation therefore losing credibility and losing consumers because of what happened in Alaska. The marginal publics in this case would be people who follow big news stories and environmental news. They were not greatly affected because they were not in the area this is just a story that caught their attention.
One thing Exxon did right is they released news from the event but it was mainly focused on how the ship repairs are going to cost them copious amounts of money. The news releases should have been for the concern of the people of Prince William Sound and its environment but they failed to do that. It took a week after the accident before Exxon responded about the accident this left the media and the community with a bad impression of the communication with the public. The mistakes continued when Exxon released an article in the newspapers 10 days after. This left the readers and public with the impression of “too little too late.”
With this poor communication that Exxon had with the people and the media left people confused. What would have happened if this crisis occurred with today’s media and technology? Technology could have greatly helped the people of Prince William Sound because with aspects of Facebook, Twitter and many other ways to communicate with the public this could have brought people to try and help clean up the environment and repair some of the damage that the disaster caused. This could have also greatly helped Exxon with communicating with the citizens and the media and also make it easier voice their concern.
Today’s technology could have made people more aware. Bryan Walsh one of the leading writers for Time magazine wrote, “It’s been Twenty years since the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in southeastern Alaska on March 24, 1989, spreading an 11-million-gallon crude-oil inkblot into Prince William Sound, the formerly pristine coastal waters once again appear clean and untouched” (Walsh Jun. 2009) Could have the time for the clean-up been shorter with today’s technology?
With recent events like Hurricane Sandy they have used social media to try and get people to donate and help. The global market would have greatly helped this situation. Global news could have a big hand in helping with repairing the damage and communicating with the public about the accident. Organizations across the world could have sent representatives to help and voice their concern. The global market could have affected Exxon in a negative way because the massive global media is also seeing their mistakes.
An organizations main goal should be its image in the public eye and to always have great communication with the public and the media. If an organization fails to do that it can lead to a disaster. Exxon's actions are a main example with what not to do when faced with a crisis. The Valdez’s accident ending up costing Exxon 2.5 billon dollars in damages and went down as one of the most devastating environmental disasters but it is how Exxon choose to handle it that also made this event one of the biggest mistakes in public relations history.
Reference Page Holusha, J. (April 21, 1989). Exxon's Public-Relations Problem. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/21/business/exxon-s-public-relations-problem.html Walsh, B. (Mar. 24, 2009). Remembering the Lessons of the Exxon Valdez. Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,,1887165,00.html Walsh B. (June 04, 2009). Still Digging Up Exxon Valdez Oil, 20 Years Later. Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1902333,00.html