Monthly Archives: November 2016

Case Study in Crisis Communication—The Santa Barbara Oil Spill

[Instructors: You can download this exercise here.
An earlier version of the file was corrected.]

Following an oil spill in March 2015 caused by a ruptured pipeline, Plains All American Pipeline was indicted on criminal charges for releasing almost 3,000 barrels of crude oil onto pristine beaches and into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the company was indicted on 46 criminal charges, including felony violations for hazardous releases into state waters. But Plains also faces charges for how it reported the spill to state authorities.  Federal charges are also pending.

shutterstock_90532210California officials criticized Plains for taking too long to shut down the leaky pipeline and causing delays before reporting the leak to state and federal officials. According to regulators, the Houston-based pipeline giant faces almost $3 million in fines. The company’s own estimates suggest that Plains may have to pay $269 million in clean-up costs, claim settlements, fines, and legal expenses to resolve the accident.

Soon after the events of May 19, 2015, the Plains CEO, Greg L. Armstrong, sent a message of apology to the residents in the Santa Barbara area. This message offers a rich opportunity for analysis in the business communication classroom.

This case study can be used in various ways, and we hope you will be able to adapt it for use in your classroom. You can download the original message, critical-thinking questions, and two versions of the CEO’s message with annotations to show after the in-class discussion.

Sider, A. (2016, May 17). Plains All American Pipeline, employee face charges in 2015 oil spill. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Possible Classroom Applications: Case Study in Crisis Communication

  1. Display or read to students the brief case scenario to introduce the Santa Barbara oil spill of 2015 caused by Plains All American Pipeline.
  1. Display or distribute the original message from Plains All American Pipeline to the public in the area affected by the oil spill. Give students enough time to read the message of apology. Depending on their experience or business communication savvy, students may need more or less guidance to analyze the message. Either use the critical-thinking / discussion questions provided with this case study for a guided approach, or collect spontaneous responses from the class first. You may want to jot down keywords on the board or onscreen in the classroom.
  1. For a close reading, invite students to highlight or point out words and phrases that indicate regret and apology. Once the class has pointed out the explicit expressions, show them the marked-up message provided with this case study. Students often show a great sensitivity for tone but may not be able to distill the style elements that create a specific tone.
  1. If the class discussion is not free-wheeling and the students need some prodding, use the discussion questions to stimulate critical thinking.
  1. When you feel that the discussion has yielded enough insight and a deeper grasp of the case, show the class the annotated version of the message or make it available in soft copy on your course-management platform, such as Blackboard, Moodle, or similar course website.

Please share with us how you used the case study in your classroom. We welcome your insights and suggestions!

New Rules to Maximize Hirability

Today’s job seekers need a dynamic online presence to be considered for many positions. The reason is twofold. During 2015, 84 percent of organizations used social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and others for recruitment. Without a strong social profile, a candidate will miss out on many opportunities. But that’s not all. An online profile must also be carefully maintained: Over one-third of hirers will use a candidate’s social media presence to disqualify that individual. It’s easy to see why a positive online profile is a good idea.

nov2016_shutterstock_186292982To boost chances of being noticed by hiring companies, follow these guidelines.

  1. Avoid posting personal opinions or beliefs. Although you have the right to share your ideas, think about how a hiring manager could use those factors to eliminate you from the pool.
  1. Build your online presence strategically. Even if you dislike social media, looking for a job makes an online presence a tactical decision. If you appear nowhere on social media, recruiters may consider you behind the curve.
  1. Create a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn should be your first step to creating your online presence. This is a big project, but it’s not optional. All professionals today must be part of this network, so put in the time to make LinkedIn the lynch pin of your online presence.
  1. Choose several other social media outlets. Conduct some research to discover which social media outlets seem to be the most important in your field. Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter are just a few. Join the network and start connecting with others. If nothing pans out, try other outlets. 
  1. Connect. The whole idea behind social networks is to connect. Start by inviting those you already know. Then begin the process of connecting with like-minded individuals. This is how to grow your network.
  1. Post and share meaningful content. It’s not enough to join a network. You must share content. Avoid anything that smacks of politics or religion, and never share inappropriate or offensive material. And pay attention to correctness—there’s nothing worse than sharing a post full of typos or misspellings.

Remember the Golden Rule of the Web: The Internet is forever. Once you post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see, it’s virtually impossible to take it down. If you think that your privacy settings are bulletproof, think again. Providers can change privacy settings at any time, exposing you to the prying eyes of practically anyone on the Internet.


  1. Although it is every American’s right to voice an opinion, why should job seekers be especially careful about what they say or share on social media?
  2. What types of posts could have a negative impact on an online presence? Name at least five.
  3. How would you go about finding interesting and relevant material to share with those in your professional network?