This research builds upon the scholarship in crisis communication strategies and apologia employed by companies during a crisis.
Within the expansive domain of crisis management, this work evaluates the media coverage and crisis communication strategies during three major oil spills: the Exxon Valdez, the American Trader, and the BP Gulf oil spill. The purpose of this study is to provide practitioners, researchers and others additional insight into the impact of media coverage on prior, current and future crises and how this coverage, coupled with the communication strategies of companies during a crisis, can influence public awareness or perception. Furthermore, this work examines how some crises are referenced over time and can be linked with other crises and that the public awareness of a crisis through continued or sustained media and scholarly references can exist well beyond the presumed resolution of a crisis.
The study reveals that crises spread to others, can be overshadowed by other crises, and can result in an echo that lasts for years. This research expands on the work of Hearit (1994, 1995, 1999, 2006), Benoit (1995, 1997, 2004) and others by incorporating public statements by CEOs and executives into a holistic evaluation of the communication strategies present during crises. Specifically, this work contends that unscripted or spontaneous comments made by top executives often contradict or undermine prepared, planned crisis communication strategies implemented by a company during a crisis and can influence media coverage, narratives of the event, and public perception. As such, additional categories were identified to encapsulate the expanded variations of rhetoric and strategies often displayed during a crisis. This study concludes that scholars and practitioners need to continue to expand the crisis domain through the use of interdisciplinary evaluation approaches with a continued emphasis and focus on the importance communication plays in the perceived success or failure of a company’s management of a crisis.