A lot can be said about a company from the press releases they issue to the public, especially after a mistake made within the industry. So when the BP oil spill happened, we expected the other oil companies to have a change in their press release frequency and content. After all, some websites claimed that important events should have an impact on how often press releases are published. Although we did not find much evidence online to support our prediction, we expected to see a significant amount of direct references to the oil spill, BP and the Gulf of Mexico in the months following the BP press release.
How did the frequency and content of press releases from other oil companies change following the oil spill?
In order to answer the above research question, we looked at seven other oil companies: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Anadarko, Shell, Transocean, Conoco Phillips, and Marathon. We compared the frequency and content of press releases after the oil spill to those prior to the spill. Our focus was on how the companies portrayed themselves to the public. To do so, we paid particular attention to the tone of each press release.
For each of the companies we graphed the total number of press releases versus time. For the most part, the companies had a linear plot, which signifies that there was no change in frequency of press releases over time. Those that did show a deviation from their previous frequency of releases, such as is the case with Transocean, had a bigger part in the events following the incident. The change in frequency for other companies, such as Marathon and Shell, were unrelated to the BP event. BP, on the other hand, increased how often they published press releases by a factor of 5 immediately after the oil spill. BP wrote one press release on average over 5 days before the disaster, after which BP increased their press release frequency to one every day.
The change in frequency of press releases from other companies, or lack thereof, was rather anticlimactic, but what about the content? How did that differ? The answer to that is that each company reacted differently. However, there was a general trend among most of the companies in which there was increased talk about the safety of facilities.
For Chevron, five of their press releases in the months following the BP incident were focused on safety, stressing how important it is that their facilities operate safely and reliably. This contrasts with their previous habit of focusing on project details, quarterly reports, and topics investors would be more interested in than safety. A couple of press releases did directly mention the oil spill, indicating that Chevron was not ready to ignore the incident entirely, like some did.
In the case of ExxonMobil, their press releases following the incident focused mainly on every day reports and business. There were a few that focused on the spill, safety or the Gulf of Mexico, but most were unrelated. They also issued a statement offering BP any assistance that they might need in cleanup efforts. A good portion were actually oriented around their monetary donations to educational institutions.
The company that perhaps had the biggest change in tone following the spill was Anadarko. They quickly shifted the blame to BP, claiming the event was “the direct result of BP's reckless decisions and actions."
Another one of the companies that stressed the importance of safety in a few of their releases was Shell. Some of their other releases had information pertaining to operations in the Gulf.
Following the initial reports of the fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean released four informative articles detailing the facts about the situation. A little later, they issued a statement of clarification to the public. Two other releases provided insurance based information.
Conoco Phillips had very little press releases pertaining to the BP oil spill. In fact, only one of their releases was related, and it was one that was shared among three other companies detailing plans to implement a system to prevent or contain any similar future events in the Gulf.
Of all the companies, Marathon Oil seemed to be the most oblivious or ignorant of the situation with the spill. There were a few news releases about operations in the Gulf, but none of them mentioned the BP incident. There was a slight increase in frequency of releases following the spill, but they were all unrelated to the event.
From our analysis, we can conclude that the BP oil spill did not have much of an impact on the larger oil companies and their frequency and content of press releases. The biggest change was the stressing of the importance of safety amongst many companies. However, we noticed that there was not a clear trend in how the companies would respond. Some acknowledged the disaster directly while others feigned ignorance. This demonstrates that oil companies use a variety of methods to deal with a disaster in the industry, and how they respond is usually an indication of how they wish to be portrayed by the public and especially investors. We were initially wrong in our theory of how the press releases would change, but after our research, we found that each company reacted differently to the events, and a lot of that was a result of much more than just the BP incident.