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“A company must not only deal with the emergency but also do so with the entire nation, if not the entire world, looking on." John Holusha, NY Times

THE EXXON CRISIS, 1989

Oil Pooled among rocksWhat happened?

On March 24, 1989, Exxon was faced with a crisis when it spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound with the Exxon Valdez oil tanker. Some species were slightly affected by the oil spill like the brown bear, but others like the harbor seals, sea otters and cormorants suffered a great loss in their population. Furthermore, Alaska’s fisheries, national parks, beaches and forests were greatly affected, which in turn affected tourism (Fritz-Gerald Piquion)

How did it happen?

One of the crew members was unable to properly maneuver the ship due to tiredness from work overload. Also, the crew master was under the influence of alcohol and could not give the proper directions to his crew. Although the errors occurred once on board, one of the mistakes was Exxon’s insufficient supply of trained crew members and the availability of inadequate equipment on the ship.(Fritz-Gerald Piquion)


Reaction: Exxon vs. Tylenol

One of Johnson and Johnson’s crisis management techniques with the tampering of Tylenol capsules, that was very effective was its quick response to the product tamper. Exxon on the other hand, waited a long time before responding to the oil spill and sending aid to Alaska. For example, an advertisement ran in the newspapers 10 days after the spill, and Exxon’s chairman, Lawrence G. Rawl, did not fly to Alaska until two weeks after the spill. Instead, he sent a team of individuals who were not trained in crisis management. This showed the public that Exxon didn't consider the spill a truly environmental problem.

Furthermore, the communication between management
and its publics was inefficient. Exxon chose to communicate only to the people of the town of Valdez and not to the rest of the world. This made the dissemination of information difficult. Unlike Johnson & Johnson, who immediately recalled its product and made public announcements about the suspension of its usage through various media outlets.

It is the duty of the company to report to its publics and the reporter’s responsibility to obtain information about the matter to distribute it to the population. When Exxon’s spokesman first answered the press with “no comment” after the spill, it took credibility away from the company and made the public feel like top management was either hiding something or had not yet gathered all of the information. Booms preventing oil refloating

Finally, Exxon never took responsibility for what happened. On the other hand, it was proven
that Tylenol was not associated with the tampering, yet it still immediately assumed responsibility. This in turn restored the confidence in the consumer about the safety of its product. Exxon completely failed at this task since it took a few days to send individuals to help clean up the oil spill in Alaska. It proved to the people of Alaska and the world that it did not care about the environment or the damage to the tourism and fishery industries in Alaska, which the country greatly depends on. (source: John Holusha, NY Times).

Picture provided by the Office of Response and Restoration, National Ocean Service,
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

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