Think of Big Oil, and you probably think of Mobil Corp.
Few companies in any industry have been as visible -- and as controversial -- over the past two decades as Mobil. Its regular advertisements taking strong positions on national issues, its attacks on members of the media who have crossed it, its heavy sponsorship of the arts, particularly on public television -- all have given Mobil a very distinct and not always favorable image in the public mind.
Mobil's aggressiveness and independence have long raised eyebrows in the normally staid oil industry as well.
"I don't think anybody in the industry approved of Mobil's tactics," said an executive of another major oil company. But at the same time, he added, the rest of the industry was glad that Mobil was out there taking the heat and getting Big Oil's views across to the public.
Mobil's public image has been toned down somewhat under the administration of Allen E. Murray, who became chairman and president of the company in 1986. Although the company still funds the arts and regularly offers its opinions in advertisements on newspaper op-ed pages, many observers say the rhetoric seems toned down, and Mobil seems less inclined to pick nasty fights with the press and other enemies of the past.
Some observers attribute the calmer attitude to the departures of two key architects of Mobil's tough-talking image: retired company president William P. Tavoulareas and longtime public relations chief Herbert Schmertz, who wrote many of Mobil's strongest ads himself.
Nonetheless, Murray says Mobil will continue to be an active voice in the national debate over issues in which it has an interest. Indeed, it has run advertisements over the past few months attempting to debunk critics of the oil industry and explain the reasons behind rising oil prices.
"When it comes to the economy, when it comes to world affairs, when it comes to taxes, when it comes to energy, I think we have as much right to speak out as anyone else," Murray said. "In fact, I think we have an obligation."