Week 2 – Crisis Communication Theories

Chapters 2 & 3 contain quite a bit of information. Very theory based information – so in an effort to create rich discussion I’m going to expand the time we’ll be disucssing the material here.

I have put out a few of my thoughts on the various theories (mainly Ch 2) – respond to one of my statements, then please include which theory you found most interesting, profound or meaningful and then tell us why.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are 8 people in our class – only 2 can choose the same topic.

Last minute inclusion into the discussion – this article just came through on Carnival Cruise line’s crisis response to the Italian ship sinking – please add a couple thoughts on this as well related to the theories presented.

Image restoration theory can be an intriguing theory to maNy. Ferns-Bank (2011) states “Sometimes, it’s better to remain silent on the issue. At other times, it is best to tell your own bad news” (pg. 52). In class I’ve said we should always speak – how do you react to this statement by our author? Also, when would it be appropriate to stay silent?

Some argue that Decision Theory is the “foundation theory” of all crisis communication theory.  It is about helping leaders make the most effective decision in dealing with crisis in an organization.  With that being said, how would you handle advising leaders through a crisis?

Your workbook includes an excellent question – “what makes it difficult to use Model 4 of the excellence theory in a crisis?” So what makes it so difficult – please also include your thoughts in general on the Grunig/Repper theory.

Finally, build upon some arguments our author made regarding the excellence theory. The book mentioned that at least 15 percent of practitioners practice the first model, despite how poor it is. What are your reactions to this?


26 thoughts on “Week 2 – Crisis Communication Theories

  1. I decided to write on your first question about image restoration theory. I had read this chapter prior to our last class, and that is why I asked the question in class about always remaining silent. I realized that your advice about always making a statement was in slight contradiction to our author. In class we discussed some situations that some may think you should remain silent, when in reality a small statement is really better than nothing at all. For instance, in a crisis situation, you wouldn’t want to comment about the crisis if your organization doesn’t have the facts about the situation. But instead of remaining silent, making a statement like, “we are gathering facts and fully cooperating with officials’ investigations,” would be much better than stating nothing at all. If the author is specifically talking about answering reporters questions and holding a press conference, there are circumstances in which those forms of communication should be put on hold. You don’t want your spokesperson to be bombarded with questions that they aren’t ready to answer. In these types of situations, using social media and press releases to make an initial statement would be the way to go, while prepping your spokesperson to answer questions from media members. I believe although making a statement quickly is important, there is a fine line because you don’t want members of your organization answering questions about situations that they don’t fully understand. These situations are why PR professionals need to understand how journalists’ minds work so they can prep their spokespeople with the questions they anticipate from the media. Obviously, research, and sometimes extremely quick research, is key to understanding why an image is being tarnished and what can be said and done to begin the process of restoring that image.

    The theory I found most interesting is the Diffusion Theory. I like the way this theory is adopted when your organization needs to evolve. This is something that most companies and organizations will face at one time or another. The diffusion theory addresses the steps necessary to attempt to evolve an organization. I found it interesting that the success of this process can be directly affected by the decision-makers in the company. This shows that a PR practitioner’s job isn’t only to sway the feelings and thoughts of its publics, but sometimes the people in charge of the organization itself.

    In the Carnival Cruise case, there are a couple things of note that is interesting and relevant to this discussion. First off, the owner of the cruise line has only offered apologies via social media. This isn’t an adequate response, and I’m surprised there isn’t more of a PR push by Carnival to combat the huge amount of negative press. The company needs to do more, like show through video and pictures its ship captains being re-briefed on emergencies. These types of press would ease fear of future passengers, and help restoration of Carnival by showing that what happened was unacceptable, and that they are doing everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
    Secondly, it seems that the company is using the captain as its primary scapegoat. To me, this shows that Carnival is trying to use “redefinition” by putting the entire blame on the captain. Initially, this seems to be working, as the publics’ venom has been directed at the failures of the captain. But will this strategy work on its own? I highly doubt it. Here is the first story I’ve seen that is defending the captain’s actions. http://yhoo.it/w2DDVu Although I’m not convinced on the validity of the source, it shows that the captain and the people around him understand the PR battle lines that have been drawn.

    • Glad you brought up the whole online statement situation, Sam. Social media is a valuable source for releasing updates, videos, pictures and small apologies here and there, but that cannot be your sole attempt to apologize. People want to see a face, they want to hear a voice, and they want to be able to read the nonverbals. A point that is stressed and stressed is that the publics want visuals with the statements. In a way, it makes it easier for them to believe. They want to witness the changes and improvements so they can ease their own worries, concerns, anger and so on.

      – Cherese

      • Cherese – I agree with your take. My point was regarding a situation when time is needed to brief a spokesperson or head of a company before they can speak on the crisis. You wouldn’t want to put an unprepared person in front of the media unprepared to answer questions from the media, as this could make the situation worse. This is when a old-style release or a statement via social media would work to buy time to get the spokesperson up to speed on the issues at hand. Using both communication techniques are important, and it is important to have the face of the organization speak as soon as possible, but not before they are prepared to speak on the issue at hand.

    • I really like what you wrote in regards to the image restoration theory, Sam. During a crisis, PR practitioners HAVE to say something. Saying “No comment.” not only makes it look like the company is hiding something but it also makes it seem like that company is in the wrong (even if they aren’t!). The past few months I have talked to a couple of PR professionals on this topic and they all told me that saying “No comment.” is setting yourself up for an even bigger nightmare. Making quick statements, even if the statements are about the company looking into the situation, will allow the company to hold onto the trust from consumers during the crisis (afterall, the consumers want to be updated and if the company is the one updating the public about what is being done, the public will trust that the company is taking action to correct the problem instead of sitting by and doing nothing).
      Laura Taylor

    • Yes, I do sometimes disagree with the authors 🙂

      Being in the corporate world for so long, I know you can’t stay silent. Now, am I saying it doesn’t happen? Nope. But then one day we’ll be reading about it our text book and analyzing what the company did wrong. More often than not, it’s because the company decided to evoke silence.


  2. I decided to answer the question regarding the Decision Theory. I liked this question because it tends to come up a lot in my PR classes. This theory brings up a sticky situation. It goes with the whole feeling of overstepping your boundaries as a ‘subordinate.’ There will be times where you’re met with no resistance or rejection, but of course there are going to be times where they don’t want to hear what you have to say. Not to mention you have to worry about the leaders satisficing or trying to pick the option that will merely put a Band-Aid over a gunshot wound. That’s why you need to be confident and prepared no matter the response. When suggesting a decision to the leaders it is important to have supporting facts and the pros and cons of your suggested decision as well as the alternative decisions. This way when they ask why Decision A is better than Decision B and C, you have something to show them that will allow them to easily compare. Having this information ready to hand over will probably increase your chances of the best possible decision (hopefully yours) being made. Your approach should be something like, “I understand why you believe…, however, the research I gathered shows that Decision A may best benefit the company because…” You’re letting them know that you hear what they have to say, but you believe they can do better.

    I found the Apologia Theory interesting because of the different types of apologies described. As I was reading the section I was thinking of different examples of the apologies and the outcomes of those apologies. For instance, the redefinition method of apology almost seems like a sacrifice. The company is taking the weakest link and throwing them out to the wolves in order to save their own reputation. It may help the organization at that time but what happens when the person who was blamed reveals additional negative things and it causes further investigation and speculation into the company. Now if the person voluntarily removes themselves like in the instance of BP’s ex-CEO Tony Hayward, that’s OK, but just blindly throwing someone out there to slightly cool the fire may not be the best choice. The other two methods, diffusion and conciliation, I see as the better choices because they involve actual explanations and apologies.

    As far as the Carnival Cruise response, it’s not really looking good. As Sam said above, they’re hoping that by throwing out a distraction, the captain, or redefining the issue and blame, they will have time to gather their thoughts. It may work for a bit but once the captain has been squeezed dry, the media is coming right back. When this first happened, they were just going through the motions without realizing what result each step should bring. First, the CEO released a statement online expressing sadness over the losses. He didn’t actually apologize and it was four days too late. Second, it was only online. Anybody can go on Twitter and say “sorry” but to get out in front of the press and say you were wrong, where you went wrong and how you’re going to fix it will make a greater impact. Then there should be some follow up with actual evidence that things are being done. They have begun this process by initiating a review of all safety and emergency response procedures for all of their cruise lines. They have also agreed to ‘take care of’ all of the passengers and their families with counseling among other services. It’s a step in the right direction, but they’re still going to need the positive images to counteract the ones of the ship sinking.

    – Cherese

    • What a great way to explain the Decision Theory, Cherese. I completely agree with you. A PR practitioner should go into a meeting with officials being 100% prepared. This means having previously explored all the possible outcomes of any options the company may take. This shows the officials that the PR practitioner has taken the time to go over all of the facts to find the best decision for the company (they’re aren’t just giving their own biased opinion). Having done this, the officials will develop trust and respect for that PR practitioner because they were honestly looking out for the well-being of the organization and they were prepared (which is apart of their job description 🙂 ).
      Laura Taylor

    • Agreed! As the PR practitioner, it is your job to be versed on all the possible ways to deal with a crisis situation. In other words, even if you feel there is an obvious course of action that needs to be taken, you need to make sure you can back up that claim with facts that prove to the talking heads why your course of action is the best for the organization overall. Many times organizational leaders may want to come up with a quick “easy” fix for a problem, not thinking of possible future consequences. So, like you said, you have to be a confident communicator and willing to stick you neck out and disagree with leaders if needed.

  3. The Excellence Theory…despite its name, it doesn’t always mean “excellence”. When I read this section, I was really surprised to find out that 15% of practitioners follow Model 1. When I read through all of the four models, I was naturally drawn to Model 4. It is the BEST model listed. Why wouldn’t the practitioners who follow number one follow number four? Especially with the new dawn of public relations (where it really is gaining a new positive definition and function within organizations), why would PR practitioners willingly follow a model that supports lying and incomplete facts? Sadly, I agree with something the authors listed. I believe this is because this model requires “little or no research and there is no feedback” (Fearn-Banks, 21). A lot of businesses look for the easy way to accomplish projects and it saddens me to think that in an age where we know better than to do these unethical acts, people still do them.
    Despite the negativity that is in the Excellence Theory, I found Model 4 to be really meaningful. To me, Model 4 is what public relations should be! The author wrote that, “The PR practitioner is an intermediary between the organization and its publics. The practitioner tries to achieve a dialogue, not a monologue as in other models. Either management or the publics may make changes in behavior as a result of the communications program” (Fearn-Banks, 21). This is what PR is all about; the company and its publics “working together” to achieve certain goals. If more businesses had their PR department function in this way, I believe that the PR profession would gain a positive perception from the public.
    Carnival is definitely not on the right track with their crisis communication. The Apologia Theory definitely applies to this situation. I feel as though Carnival is using dissociation for their response to this crisis. The captain is taking a lot of blame for the incident (which is rightfully so) but the captain worked for Carnival, as such Carnival is involved with this crisis and they need to show the public that they are doing everything possible to prevent this from happening again. If all they do is say “Sorry this happened.” they’re not going to keep their clientele for future cruises. Why would customers want to put their well-being in the hands of a company who didn’t take the appropriate actions after a crisis? That company didn’t care then, so what makes them care about us now?

  4. I believe the Excellence theory is best because it seems more up-todate and standard for what many use today. The excellence model does have a noticeable amount of flaws that companys will run into, but other theories cover those flaws as well. But I believe using the excellence theorys of model 1 and 4 will take someone the furthest and will avoid the most crisis, if two way communication is steady, if PR practicioners could include model two of using the journalistic approach then little to nothing would be held back, but public trust will come in full force if done correctly. I found this theory to be profound because it could potentially lead to publics having what the public wants at all times, depending on how the two-way communication is handled. Reading the theory I imagined a corporation such as Mcdonalds using twitter to create the next great sandwich and using suggestions from costumers to make sandwiches offical (my imagnation just got the best of me) but the unlimited use of two way communication is what grabbed my attention.

    Ferris Banks statement is decent advice, but the smallest of issues should remain silent, I’m really not sure whats considered a small crisis but the bad part of that statement is addressing a issue that you feel is worth addressing while remaining silent on another issue the public would want you to address comes off as your company wanting a desperate pat on the back for slipping up, but refusing to step up to the plate at all times. So to contridict what I said previously, I really don’t feel anytime is a good time to stay silent.

    Back to my favorite theory, I feel model 4 could potentially become a hastle if during the middle of a crisis simply because the state of the public. The public may sometimes be the naturing supporter that a company would hope for, or the evil person who kicks anyone when their down. So public communication could become harsh, depending on the form of communication, Model 4 could be the downfall of a company depending on the agressive form of internet that often comes forth, but if the internet comes forth in a supportive mood, model 4 could come across as the best model for a crisis.

    and to anwser your final question. The excellence theory would be justy fine in my opinion, 15% is not enough, I wish there were more

  5. The only time I would remain silent was if I was informed not to say anything but I would make some form of comment. Something along the lines of “we’re looking into this issue and we can report more later.” I would also remain silent if there was a court order saying to do so. I believe it’s always important to say something because something is always better then nothing.

    I would handle advising a leader by giving he/she the best advice for that particular situation. But I also think how you advise a leader has a lot to do with how the leader’s personality is and how they’re handling the crisis. If he/she likes everything done their way and no one else’s, I can see it hard for me to give them any advice but i still would attempt to advise them to the best of my ability.

    I think it would be difficult to use Model 4 of the Excellence Theory because changes in behavior might be made by either management or the publics

    I feel like 15 percent of practitioners practicing the first model, despite how poor it is, is wrong. If you believe it’s a poor model than you should use a different model. One you believe can work. If that model is working for them then to them it isn’t poor and they should continue to use what works for them.

  6. I can’t wait to discuss this further tomorrow. All you have included such great input. I’m going to challenge you a little though –

    While Excellence Theory focuses on Model 4 as being the most desirable, would a “variegated” or muti-model approach work?


    • Definatly, the excellence theory was made for multiple models to be used at one time, I believe WWE is doing this to have more viewers, by having each of their wrestlers create a twitter page (as their persona) and use two way communication with the public so that more viewers would become more drawn in to story lines, but thats just one main example that comes to my mind when combining two models together.

  7. The Image Restoration Theory is very stimulating as it relates to this class. It states that “Sometimes, it’s better to remain silent on the issue. At other times, it is best to tell your own bad news” I found this to be something that is over analyzed as it relates to PR because I feel the best way to get out of a sticky situation that the company has gotten into is just be honest and truthful. A company needs to always maintain a good relationship with the public in any good relationship a critical piece that keeps things flowing is communication. It’s just like a relationship with your significant other if you mess up and don’t say anything and let the speculation and rumors build up it is more likely that the relationship cannot be restored and put back in good standings but if you admit your wrongdoings and apologize while coming up with a solution then the chances of having that good relationships significantly are a lot higher.

    People often forget that that PR people who represent these big companies, the media and the public all use rational thinking and usually base things off of ethics which is why something always should be said when a Crisis in communication occurs. Not speaking or delaying a response to long will always lead to speculation and rumors which have to be tracked and explained in addition to why there was an issue in the first place. It makes things a lot more difficult and can take away from someone’s trust and confidence they once had in the company. If a company just comes out and admits their faults then they are telling the public what has occurred and can give a solution on how to improve things from happening again. This may also shake up some people’s trust but the truth is out and in time if you continue to deliver good services and maintain a healthy relationship while keeping things the same and continuing to get better then I feel that the image and safety of the company is not tarnished. No one person or thing is perfect and for that very reason things don’t always go as planned the way you respond and bounce back from an incident is the true measure of a company and how firm it stands in today’s world.

    The Carnival Cruise line is one big mess; it’s almost an example of what not to do in a crisis. As I say in my previous paragraphs it is always good to come out with some type of statement to exploring tin the situation and what can possibly be done to improve. The captain abandoning the ship is one part that is shaky with the media but as the video footage of people franticly running around and evacuation efforts looking like they were unrehearsed and not how carried out properly just adds to how bad the situation looks. Someone’s got a lot of speaking to do and needs to start soon and be truthful and honest with the public.

    Kyle Smith

    • I agree that ethics is what stop the silence from happening! I feel being ethically correct in responding to a crisis is very smart, than just being silent. Silence can sometimes come off being ignorant. Therefore, at most moments in crisis situations, silence isn’t the answer.

    • I like that you brought up ethics, Kyle. It’s so important to the profession of PR that they actually have a code of ethics that all PR practitioners should follow. One of those codes is honesty which you addressed very well. I feel like it’s always the best option to be honest from the very beginning with the publics even when you don’t know what’s going on. Honesty establishes or strengthens the relationship between the company and the publics which is going to be essential in the recovery stage of the crisis. Also, if the company keeps the public updated, the media doesn’t have to fill in the information gaps with speculation.

      – Cherese

  8. “Sometimes, it’s better to remain silent on the issue. At other times, it is best to tell your own bad news” (pg. 52). I feel that the author means that being silent could heal a few open wounds before you place a Band-Aid on it. Silence is golden; picking a golden moment to be silent is the key here. For example, in the crisis of Tiger Woods multiple affairs, at first he chose to be quiet, simply because it was the “best thing” to do at that moment. Once a crisis dies down, or calm down is when you become attentive and talkative. Moreover, I’m not saying silence is good, but in some cases it is appropriate. Especially when it comes to celebrity crisis and their beloved fans (or people that look up to their role model), sometimes it’s best to let the public digest what has happen, then come back to the situation for grief. Also in the textbook they mentioned Walmart creating an open information policy to gain their customers trust through product awareness. Walmart took a step back to analyze the problem and rethink a better strategy to gain the trust of its consumers, because they need them. In relation to Tiger Woods, he needs his fans; but he had to approach his crisis in a way that could be understood for the long run, just like Walmart open policy was created through time of understanding their consumers so they can build long-term relationships with those people in the future.
    However, the best theory I found meaningful was apologia theory because it’s the foundation of correcting a wrong. Just like the textbook, this theory is more than just stating “sorry,” but it’s a theory that explains why things happened the way it did and what’s the next step from this ordeal. Also, I like the steps in following after a so-called “sorry” by dissociating yourself (or the company) from what happen, in which allowing another escape from reality of the situation (or crisis). Then, you have conciliation, which states “This is what happens. Can you forgive us?” but PR practitioners must be careful when doing this, because people still need to accuracy in the apology and the seriousness behind it.
    As far as the Carnival Cruise Line, like a tweeted I think once Carnival chief executive n other personnel of Carnival speak about the tragedy then people will come around. Image restoration Theory wouldn’t play a good part in this case, because people need the security to know that the likelihood of this crisis won’t happen again. I think they should introduce a new safety plan that will ensure the possibility of another tragedy like this from happening, and I think that would bring people at ease.

    Carmen Lamb

  9. My reaction to Ferns-Bank’s statement is that I agree and disagree. I disagree with “it’s better to remain silent on the issue.” Just like discussed in class, it’s always good to say something. By remaining silent, you may give others the perception that you don’t know what’s going on or how to answer their questions. I believe the only time I would remain silent was if there was a court order but even then I would be honest about it. I agree with “that it is best to tell your own bad news” so you know the people will be told the truth and you won’t have to worry about someone telling lies about you while you were silent.

    Right now, the Cruise industry is hurting. It was said in the article written by Martinne Geller, published on the Montreal Gazette website that, “Carnival’s shares were up more than 2.5 per cent on Wednesday morning, after tumbling 13.7 per cent Tuesday in their first trading session in New York since the ship struck rocks and capsized off the coast of Italy on Friday.” This is proof to the face that people right now aren’t choosing a cruise for their vacation of choice. Cruise lines need to restore the image of what cruises were which loured them into cruising in the first place.

    • I think I found out the hard way today that sometimes being silent, or at least less talkative, can be beneficial (LOL). But I definitely agree that it’s normally best to be the one to tell your own bad news. It helps keep you in control and helps keep the crisis contained. Although, this new social media climate allows anyone to be a breaking news outlet. I imagine it can suck to be a PR practitioner in a crisis situation nowadays!

  10. “Sometimes, it’s better to remain silent on the issue. At other times, it is best to tell your own bad news” (pg. 52). The remarkable thing about this statement isn’t its relevance to public relations and marketing, but its relevance to communication as a whole.

    Sometimes with PR, common sense reigns supreme. I think the above statement from our author speaks volumes about the simplicity of common sense. If you don’t tell your bad news, someone else will. If someone else tells your news, then you have, in essence, given control to that party over your information (or even your crisis for that matter).

    Granted, silence can be within the realm of common sense at times, too. Why notify the world of an internal issue that was quickly (and quietly) handled? That’s where the PR practitioner’s education and experience comes into play.

    This is a subjective world. What defines a “big” issue or a “small” one? More accurately, “who”? You do. We do.

    Regarding the Decision Theory: I’m uncertain about the impact of this theory. It seems more of a “minimalist” theory than a real, problem-solving plan. Gina, I understand it’s understood as a “foundation theory,” or a baseline to start from, but it seems more like a first step than a full-blown theory. What is your take?

    As Sam had selected, the Diffusion Theory is my ideal theory (if we had to chose one, where I think we all would mix and match in real life). It seems like it would work with small-scale crises (like the book’s example of the movie theater losing older clientele) and large-scale crises. It might be a several-step process, but its simplistic idea is key. What went wrong? Why? How to make it better?

    Now those could be the objectives of every theory, but Diffusion seems to focus in from a realistic, ground-level approach.

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