BP Crisis Brings Exxon ...


The BP oil rig explosion just hit the two-month milestone.

At last count, I was one of 10,332 writers (my horseshoe-far number) who weighed in with a perspective or two on BP’s crisis communications.

Make that 10,333, with the BBC highlighting BP boss Tony Hayward’s gaffes.

A byproduct of BP’s PR nightmare involves the resurrection of the Exxon Valdez tanker spill that occurred more than 20 years ago.

Using the Factiva database (global version), we looked at the number of articles that mention the Exxon Valdez crisis up to its two-month milestone. We also look at the number of articles on the BP crisis that included the Exxon Valdez spill, again using the two-month period from point of accident.

For ExxonMobil brand stewards, this must make for a sobering read.

There have been almost twice as many articles mentioning the Exxon Valdez thanks to BP’s “gusher” than during the equivalent period when the Exxon accident actually happened.

Now, it’s true that the Exxon Valdez mainly serves as fringe fodder in the BP stories. Still, there’s a negative halo effect from the words “Exxon Valdez” being recounted 6,134 times in association with the BP tragedy.

Furthermore, as one rakes through this coverage, it becomes apparent that the BP crisis provides a reason for the media to dust off the Exxon Valdez story with a new peg for standalone attention.

That’s what The Guardian did under the headline “Exxon Valdez, and Still Waiting in Alaska“:

I just tripped across this interesting interview with lawyer Brian O’Neill, who has for two decades represented 2,600 Alaskans who made claims for damages against Exxon over the Valdez oil spill.

Those who subscribe to the escrow-fund-as-shakedown thesis might bear O’Neill’s tale in mind. Exxon fought the claims in court for nearly 20 years:

CNN: Did anything surprise you once you started representing the fishermen and taking on Exxon after the Valdez spill?

O’Neill: I thought that — like a lot of people think now with regard to BP — that Exxon would want to settle the case relatively early and move on and I was surprised a number of times with the fact that this was World War III to them, and they dealt with it that way …

For those counting at home, put this one under the negative sentiment category.

That’s why ExxonMobil is going on the offensive by starting a blog (two categories: safety and miscellaneous) and flying CEO Russ Tillerson eastward to throw BP under the bus during testimony before the Energy and Environment Subcommittee last week:

Sticking to this system has required us to make some difficult decisions. We do not proceed with operations if we cannot do so safely. The American people have shown their support for deepwater drilling – but they expect it to be done safely and in an environmentally sensitive way.

Equally revealing, ExxonMobil is proactively reminding the world it spent $180 million trying to drill the world’s deepest offshore well before walking away from the unfinshed job because it was too dangerous.

Think about this for a moment.

ExxonMobil is bragging that it flushed 180,000,000 “Washingtons” down the drain.

I think it’s fair to say that the ExxonMobil communications team has figured that if they’re going to be pulled into the BP debacle, it behooves them to tell their 2010 story.


  • Paul Davis

    What’s impacting these stats more than anything is the fact that in 1989 online news sites, and blogs, and social media feeds did not exist. Given this, it’s no great surprise that the number of references to Exxon Valdez would be at least double those of 21 years ago. There are probably 10 times more “media-ish” outlets today.

  • Lou Hoffman


    Fair point.

    But we specifically searched on publications not including the category called “web news” which includes blogs. In this regard, one could make an argument that there’s actually less of these targets than 21 years ago.

    With that said, you’re right that the social media feeds do play into the equation.

    More than trigger additional articles, I think social media has harnessed the public’s view which in turn increases the importance of story from the media’s perspective.

    Would be interesting if a math wizard could model out the media coverage in 1989 on the Exxon Valdez with social media in the picture to see how such a hypothetical scenario compares to today’s BP coverage.


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