BP vs Exxon Valdez – learning from prior mistakes?

BP vs Exxon Valdez – learning from prior mistakes?

Well this topic needs no introduction, the BP oil spill is the worst in history since Exxon Valdez. To give you guys a rough idea of the differences and similarities between these two oil disasters, visit this link.

It should be mentioned that the unforeseen and unpredictable weather patterns have inevitably altered the course of this crisis and all efforts made by BP to quickly clean up the oil have been recently threatened by the forecasted  record breaking hurricane season. According to Joe Bastardi of accuweather.com he has predicted 18-21 hurricanes with “at least eight impacts and six hurricanes, and two or three of those hurricanes will have major landfalls.” (accuweather.com). The weather is just one factor influencing BP’s communication message strategies.

Well…what are these companies crisis communication strategies, you ask? Great question! To answer that, let’s take a look at a few of the characteristics of both oil crises.  It may give us some insight to understand the PR team’s  communication message strategies and their approach to handling this crisis.

Exxon Valdez

-No immediate response was given by company – CEO appears uninvolved


-No established spokesperson

-Played down the environmental ramifications

-No Web site to relay their organizational message

Ok, so what about BP?

-Responded quickly

-Accepted blame

-Using controlled tools – (such as their Web site) to disseminate organizational mesage

-Openness/transparency – describing their clean-up efforts on their Web site (click here to visit their crisis headquarters on the web).

-Providing compensation for damages – workers, communities  included

-Some interviews have captured BP playing down the extent of damage in the Gulf

*Keep in mind this is a very brief overview looking at SOME of the differences between these two crisis communication strategies. This is by no means an all encompassing list of similarities/differences.*

 With that being said, did BP learn from the mistakes made by Exxon Valdez in 1989?  Are they doing an effective job maintaing their credibility as an organization? Are they limiting the crisis life cycle?

This is crisis communication in the real world – how fun! What do you think BP needs to do, or continue to do in an effort to keep stakeholders content? What are other various advantages/disadvantages either working for or against BP?

I’d love to hear what you guys think about this situation, so feel free to speak up 🙂

As always, thanks!


3 Responses to “BP vs Exxon Valdez – learning from prior mistakes?”
  1. Amy Bryson says:

    I am so glad you recognized some of the positive efforts BP has made since the Gulf spill. Society can have an all/nothingattitude toward good and bad companies, but that is never the case. Yes, there are things BP could have done better and faster, but that doesn’t mean that none of their efforts should be recognized.

    The interviews that I have seen with BP executives have been very open. They are upfront about their part in creating the disaster and their responsibility for cleaning the disaster, but they are not taking blame for the events that they had no control over e.g. weather inhibiting clean-up efforts and an outsourced company being the actual operators of that rig.

    I have somewhat mixed feelings about BP firing Tony Heyward. People closer to the problem obviously know more than I do, but on paper it appears BP fired their British rep and hired an American to increase public relations with Americans. Granted, Robert Dudley was first runner up for the position when Tony originally took office, so he is obviously qualified. But does that not seem like a plot? I thought Tony was being proactive, but that is definitely a relative perspective.

    I am more disappointed with the media. There are BP-paid ads going over the air about their clean-up efforts. When BP was trying to come up with a solution to plug the spill, they were criticized for not cleaning up their mess. And when they started clean-up efforts the day count started on all the news channels for how long oil has been spilling into the ocean. But you don’t see ONE of those media heads putting on gloves and washing seagulls. If they did that, I would at least respect their opinion.

    I do get teary-eyed every time I see one of those pelicans though 😦

    • wolfpack13 says:

      Thank you! I think you have some great points here. I too have been somewhat taken aback by the overwhelming bad press which BP has been receiving. Granted I understand that this is a huge ecological disaster, but I wonder how BP could reverse this negative press.

      From the outskirts (in terms of comm. crisis and not knowing all the ins and outs), it seems like BP is handling the crisis fairly well. They are accepting blame, trying to clean up after themselves, etc. And yes, they need to do that regardless, but it seems like very few people are recognizing BP’s cleanup efforts.

      Mistakes have certainly been made, but I think you’re right, Amy. Pointing fingers and criticising is much easier than getting out there and doing something productive about it.

      When I was researching this incident, BP has received A LOT of negative press. I can’t say I’m surprised about that but I want to know how BP could turn that around.

      What should BP be doing differently?

      I can only assume why they fired their CEO, but I’m wondering what the long-term impacts will be as a result of that decision. I’ll be interested to see long term impacts and compare the end result to that of Exxon. With a seemingly better and more proactive communication strategy, will BP have less of a negative impact than Exxon had as a result of their crisis?

      It will be interesting to see it play out.

      Anyone have any insights?

  2. Eileen says:

    I think that how this situation is remembered is largely determined on how the releif effort plays out. I also think it’ll be interesting to see if the dispersants they used prove to be detrimental to the health of the environment and the local people.

    Nice post chica!

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