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Crisis Communication

Summary and Keywords

For organizations, crises are pervasive, difficult to keep quiet in today’s global multimedia environment; they are challenging, potentially catastrophic; they can even be opportunities for organizations to thrive and emerge stronger. Crises come in many shapes and sizes including media blunders, social media activism, extortion, product tampering, security issues, natural disasters, accidents, or negligence, just to name a few. The first research on crisis communication appeared in 1953, and since then the field has grown steadily. However, in the last five to six years there has been an explosion of theoretical development, international engagement, methodological diversity, and topic diversity within the field to reflect the growing multinational and multiplatform environment in which organizations and people interact.

Therefore, in order to understand the field of crisis communication, as a public relations and management function, it is important to focus on the critical factors that affect our understanding of the concept and proliferation of research and practice in the area. There are five critical factors that drive our understanding and research in crisis communication: (1) issues and reputation management as crisis mitigation and prevention, (2) crisis types in a modern global environment, (3) organizational factors affecting crisis response, (4) stakeholder factors affecting crisis response, and (5) response factors to consider in crisis response. In addition, it will review the critical trends in crisis communication research, challenges within the field, and resources for further development.

Keywords: crisis communication, crisis type, ethics, stakeholders, crisis response strategies, issues management, reputation management, intergroup communication

Crises and Crisis Communication in a Modern Context

A crisis is typically defined as an untimely but predictable event that has actual or potential consequences for stakeholders’ interests as well as the reputation of the organization . . . That means a crisis can harm stakeholders and damage the organization’s relationship with them . . . Respond well and survive the crisis; respond poorly and suffer the death of the organization’s reputation and perhaps itself.

(Heath & Millar, 2004, p. 33)

Heath and Millar’s (2004) description of a crisis lays an effective groundwork for understanding the critical components of crisis communication in a modern organizational environment. Crises have been defined in a number of ways but most of them center on the crisis itself being a low-probability, high-impact event that may threaten the viability of the organization (Pearson & Clair, 1998). Accordingly, authors often point out that a central challenge for organizations in managing crises is that the crises are often ill-structured and complex in nature (Mitroff, Alpaslan, & Green, 2004). Certainly, these kinds of crises are well-documented with examples ranging from crises where the organization is clearly at fault to situations that are entirely out of the organization’s control (e.g., extortion, product tampering, security issues, natural disasters, accidents, or negligence). However, in the early 21st century the assumption that crises are low-probability events has been called into question. In fact, Coombs and Holladay (2012) argued that in the emerging social and global media environment organizations are also likely to face high-probability but low-impact events primarily threatening their reputation and broad relationship management approaches with a range of stakeholder groups. This suggests that for the practitioner or scholar who is interested in the field of crisis communication, the environment is constantly changing and increasingly complex to understand.

Because crises are inherently public events (Moore, 2004), there has long been a connection in crisis management and crisis communication to topics such as strategic planning (Fishman, 1999) and issues management (Heath, 2002). As the field of crisis communication has evolved as an area of study since 1953, beginning in the early 1990s the field saw an explosion of interest and research (see Figure 1).

Crisis Communication

Figure 1. Frequency of Crisis Communication Journal Articles per year, 1953 to 2015 (Diers-Lawson, 2017a).

Much of the modern focus in crisis communication research has focused on identifying different crisis communication tactics and strategies with taxonomies describing them (see Figure 2). The literature around this dominant approach to crisis communication has emphasized factors such as message evaluation and the development of descriptive theories such as image repair theory (Benoit, 1995) or situational crisis communication theory (Coombs, 2006) with an emerging body of research providing a menu of response tactics and strategies that organizational decision makers could use when developing crisis response strategies. Therefore, this entry’s purpose is to not only present an introduction to crisis communication and the factors most directly influencing it but also to present an initial conversation about the state of the field, its strengths, its weaknesses, and future directions for exploration. The entry will first provide the context for understanding crisis communication by exploring the five dominant types of factors that influences crisis communication and then explore the crisis communication literature itself.

Crisis CommunicationCrisis CommunicationCrisis CommunicationCrisis CommunicationCrisis Communication

Figure 2. Taxonomy of Crisis Response Tactics Potentially Used By Organizations (Diers & Tomaino, 2010).

Five Critical Factors to Understand Crisis Communication

While the discovery and categorization of different crisis response strategies has been the most prevalent feature of crisis communication studied, the literature also suggests that there are several factors that are critical for understanding crisis communication as a more fully developed area of study. For example, Seeger (2002) argued that understanding factors such as crisis characteristics and organizational factors are critically important for identifying the potential success of crisis response. Likewise, the importance of stakeholders and their reactions to crises has been a cornerstone of understanding crisis communication since the first studies emerged in the mid-1960s (Chesler & Schmuck, 1964). Stakeholder importance, however, has received substantially more focus since 2000 with the emerging relevance of social media in a global information environment (Ki & Brown, 2013). Our understanding of crisis communication has also been enriched by a growing assumption that the practice of crisis communication begins before the crisis emerges (De Bruycker & Walgrave, 2014). As such, although there are many “testable” factors that will affect crisis communication practice and research, there are five that have emerged as essential. First, issues management is an exercise in mitigating or avoiding crises is essential factor to understanding crises in a modern context. Second, identifying the type of crisis helps researchers and practitioners to more effectively identify the risks of the crisis to the organization. Third, to understand a crisis and its impact, there are organizational factors that must be understood. Fourth, introducing stakeholders factors helps to provide an inside-out and outside-in perspective on crisis communication to help tailor responses effectively. Finally, naturally understanding crisis response is critical in developing a working understanding of crisis communication.

Issues and Reputation Management

Heath (1998, 2004) has argued that crisis management is necessary when issues management fails. Heath (2002) described issues management as a process helping organizations to detect and mitigate risks related to trends or changes in a complex sociopolitical environment—it is an anticipatory strategic management process. More importantly, he describes issues management as a process emphasizing an organization’s responsibility to be stewards of stakeholders’ and stakeseekers’ interests in the organization. This suggests then that issues management is also about creating socially responsible organizations—those that stakeholders believe are genuinely stewards of their interests in the organization’s work (Kim & Lee, 2015; Lacey, Kennett-Hensel, & Manolis, 2014; Sohn & Lariscy, 2014; Vanhamme & Grobben, 2009). Yet, even in a modern context event being socially responsible may even represent a risk or issue to be managed (Coombs & Holladay, 2015).

If failed issues management can often lead to the emergence of a crisis, how should issues and issues management be viewed? Heath and Palenchar (2009) argued that issues often represent a violation of stakeholders’ expectations about how the organization should conduct itself within a specific context, that is, regarding a particular topic. They suggest that issues management combines strategic business planning, social responsibility, a clear systematic process for managing emerging issues, as well as a clear communication strategy involving defending the organization and being proactive in engaging stakeholders.

Summary of the Issues Management Process

There are a number of complementary models (Heath & Palenchar, 2009; Larkin & Regester, 2005; Palese & Crane, 2002) for issues management that suggest four recursive stages in the process—scanning, monitoring, decision making, and evaluation (see Figure 3). The critical goal in the scanning process is to understand the organizational environment by understanding an organization’s social (reputation), economic, political or regulatory, and competitive environment.

Crisis Communication

Figure 3. Steps in the Issues Management Process.

By engaging in both formal and informal research methods to explore the environment, organizations should be able to identify potential risks that could evolve into issues. This moves the issues management process into the second stage—monitoring. Although the scanning and monitoring are often conflated, they are separate steps. In the monitoring stage, most organizations create or update their risk register—a document that summarizes information about the emerging risks and allows them to be categorized and updated if the risk escalates into an issue or even a crisis. The critical goals of the monitoring process are to identify a risk’s threat to the organization and identify real or potential influence of the risk among critical stakeholders.

As risks are identified, organizations must make strategic decisions about how to address them, if the resources exist to address them, and how to prioritize the risks in comparison to the rest of the organization’s environment. As such, decision-making represents the third stage of the issues management process. In this stage organizations make three key decisions about a risk or emerging issue. First, they prioritize the risk by assessing its consequences, probability, severity, and timescale of impact. Second, organizations identify their realistic strategic options including risk mitigation actions, the opportunity cost of risk mitigation, and who within the organization will own the actions. Finally, the decision-making process includes the action phase where the objective clarity, contingency recommendations, and prioritization of risk mitigation actions are implemented.

Fourth, the evaluation stage is both a strategic and reflective stage where clear measurable objectives are established for the organization. In addition, the organization should be evaluating its own policies and programs to determine present and future strategy as well as capturing lessons learned from successes and failures in managing risk and emerging issues.

Issues Management, Social Responsibility, Reputation, and Crises

When the process for issues management is considered, it becomes clearer how social responsibility and reputation connect. As part of the decision-making process throughout, an organization’s values and priorities are highlighted. Based on an organization’s decisions and its priorities, stakeholders build a set of expectations for the organization’s actions that can help to mitigate or intensify situations. For example, when expectancy violation theory is applied to a crisis context, findings consistently reveal that relationships that existed between organizations and their stakeholders before crises were among the greatest predictors of the negative reputational impact of a crisis (Kim, 2014a). When it comes to perceptions of an organization’s social responsibility, this means that when the stakeholders believe the organization’s actions are consistent with the sum total of its actions, they judge the organization’s intentions to be socially responsible; however, when there are inconsistencies they are more likely to view the organization’s intentions as being self-serving (Lacey et al., 2014).

As the first factor influencing crisis communication, understanding issues management and how an organization manages its relationships with its critical stakeholders, researcher and practitioners can develop a stronger understanding that crisis communication does not begin at the point that a crisis emerges; rather, it is a long term process of engagement, reputation building, and relationship building with stakeholders.

Crisis Type

However, as crises emerge, the type of crisis that emerges can reveal much about the risks posed to the organization as a result of the crisis, the potential stakeholder reactions to the situation and organization, as well as help guide crisis response strategies (Coombs, 2007b; Pearson & Mitroff, 1993; Seeger, 2002). Table 1 compiles previous research on crisis types (Diers & Tomaino, 2010), with the addition of reputational crises (see, e.g., Coombs & Holladay, 2012), and provides a heuristic that classifies crises into four primary types based on material blame assignment and type of effect they may have on people. Separating crises based on potential for impact and organizational blame follows from the communication needs in these cases. Crisis response has been found to be fundamentally different depending on stakeholder attributions of blame for the situation (Brown & White, 2010; Bundy & Pfarrer, 2015; Kim, Kim, & Cameron, 2009; Ping, Ishaq, & Li, 2015). Moreover, there are also substantially different stakeholder needs based on the type of impact a crisis may have in their lives, and thus a crisis type heuristic should also consider stakeholder risks as they help us understand crisis response needs (Covello, 2002; Rickard, McComas, Clarke, Stedman, & Decker, 2013; Sellnow & Sellnow, 2014).

Table 1. Types of Crises

Crisis Category

Crisis Type

Definition/Example

Organizational Transgressions

Illegal Corporate Behavior

Intentional or unintentional activities of an agent or organization, done for the organization’s benefit. Examples: conspiring to fix prices, antitrust violations, disparate treatment involving discrimination, patent infringement, securities fraud

Technical Breakdown Accident

Accident caused by technology or equipment failure. Example: airline crashes

Technical Breakdown Product Recall

Recall of a product because of technical or equipment failure

Megadamage

A technical breakdown accident that produces significant environmental damage. Example: the Exxon Valdez crash

Human Breakdown Accident

Industrial accident caused by human error

Human Breakdown Recall

Product recall that is a result of human error

Organizational Misdeed with No Injuries

Occurs when management knowingly deceives stakeholders, but no injury results to stakeholders

Organizational Misdeed with Injuries

Occurs when management knowingly places some stakeholders at risk and some are injured and/or killed

Organizational Events

Mergers and Failed Mergers

Combination (or failure to) combine, to some degree, with another organization

Strikes

The stoppage or threat to stop work at an organization by a union or group of workers with specific goals of negotiation with management.

Economic Downturns Resulting in Organizational Action

Examples: downsizing or layoffs

Workplace Violence

Attacks on the job by organizational members or former members resulting in violence. Examples: post-office shootings, Columbine, sexual harassment

Disasters

Malevolence/Product Tampering

Damage of products or services by an external agent that harms the organization

Natural Disasters

Naturally occurring event that harms the organization and/or its stakeholders. Examples: tornado, earthquake

Terrorist Attack

Actions by an outside agent with an array of impacts from loss of stakeholders, employees, infrastructure, collapses in demand, significant secondary effects (e.g., customer service, breakdowns in transportation and communication)

Reputational Attacks

Paracrisis

Potentially high-frequency, low-impact crises involving complaints about an organization’s behaviors

Rumor

The circulation of false information designed to hurt the organization

Challenge

Confrontation by disgruntled stakeholders claiming the organization has acted wrongly. Examples: pressure group activism, boycotts

Shifting Political Attitudes

As the political attitudes change products, services, company ideals, etc. become less desirable to stakeholders

* Adapted from Diers and Tomaino’s (2010) taxonomy to incorporate reputational crises

Transgressions

The first type of crisis in the heuristic includes transgressions, described as crises where the organization is materially to blame for the situation: that is, the organization has done something “wrong.” Transgressions vary in the potential impact on stakeholders. However, transgressions do assume that the crisis affects at least some stakeholders.

Organizational Events

The second type of crisis includes organizational events where blame attribution is likely more complex. Events can be triggered by actions an organization takes (e.g., layoff) in response to a situation; however, there may not be a necessary “wrong” that the organization has committed, but that does not absolve organizations of blame in terms of stakeholder perceptions. Like transgressions, organizational events assume that at least some stakeholders are meaningfully affected by the crisis.

Disasters

The third type includes those events that are beyond an organization’s control. In the previous literature, on which Diers and Tomaino (2010) constructed their typology, these crises included a range from protests and boycotts to terrorist attacks. In light of developments in crisis communication research, it is sensible to revise this category to focus more directly disasters as the primary descriptor for events outside the organization’s locus of control. From a conceptual point of view, there is an emerging body of research focused on these as unique and distinctive crisis events that require active communication and may have reputational aspects to them but are focused on the threatening impacts of such events. In other words, these crises are disasters. As such, the organization is blameless for the material crisis itself; however, these crises are likely to significantly affect stakeholders as well as the organization. The body of research in disaster and communication was not well addressed in crisis communication until an explosion in interest from 2009 to present. As such, its development warrants a separation in crisis type as findings indicate that communication needs are substantially different for these types of crises (Chae et al., 2014; Garnett & Kouzmin, 2009; Liu, Fraustino, & Jin, 2015; Venette, 2008).

Reputational Attacks

Finally, as Coombs and Holladay (2012) pointed out in their discussion of paracrises, there is a shift in the types of crises that organizations experience from low frequency, high impact crises to more frequent but lower impact crises. Therefore, when revising existing typologies of crises, adding a final category to focus on reputational attacks in a modern social-media environment is a logical evolution of the typology. In so doing, reputational attacks may incorporate claims about an organization’s behaviors; however, the crisis itself is often about the debate as to whether the organization’s actions are appropriate. For example, paracrises directly involve complaints against an organization’s behaviors. However, in a world of “alternative facts” organizations must also more actively manage rumors, online activism, consumer engagement, and varying levels of “fan” support and criticism (Claeys & Cauberghe, 2015; Rhee & Yang, 2014; Veil, Reno, Freihaut, & Oldham, 2015).

Organizational Factors

As the first two factors of issue management and crisis type suggest, understanding crisis communication is about simultaneously looking outside the organization and within to critically assess the situation. Likewise, in considering crisis communication it is also essential to understand some of the critical organizational factors that contribute to crises and how organizations handle them. Two broad theories help to frame the core organizational considerations in crisis communication. First, Loosemore’s (1999) theory of crisis management provides some grounding for the internal challenges organizations face. In his analysis, Loosemore argues that crises also create unique challenges within organizations as crises often encourage conflict within organizations with power struggles coming to the surface, and yet communication is often primarily connected to efficiency and not necessarily relationship management because crises also discourage collective responsibility for the situation. As such Loosemore (1999) argued that organizations that are successful in managing crises have four core qualities: they are able to adjust to the challenging social environment, they effectively manage behavioral instability, they rely on a strong social structure, and they effectively balance supportive and destructive crisis management efforts making decisions that shorten the crisis and build team capacities.

Stacks’s (2004) multidimensional model of public relations built on Loosemore’s perspective, arguing that crisis management is primarily a matter of marshaling internal resources effectively to manage public perceptions of the crisis. His model assumes an inside-out approach building on the strengths of communication professionals and the crisis management team to account for the type of organization and its subsystems and to tailor its messages to specific audiences. Therefore, the model argues that organizational structure, infrastructure, stakeholders, relationships, and message strategy all interact in order manage crises effectively.

Taken together, these two theories highlight the importance of an inside-out understanding of crisis communication as a concept that is both internally and externally oriented. Yet, most of the research in crisis communication focuses exclusively on the external components. Where strong research does exist, it tends to focus on three key attributes of an organization that influences crisis communication.

Industry

First, the influence of structure, infrastructure, relationships, social environments, and stability are often strongly related to the industry that an organization is part of. As such industry is likely to influence an organization’s experience with crises as well as its reaction to them. Industry contributes to an organization’s capabilities, identity, and even its reputation. This is no more clearly evidenced than in the banking industry after the financial crash of 2008 where the industry’s reputation created credibility problems throughout the industry—no matter the particular financial institution (DiStaso, 2010). But also there is good evidence that industry identities provide organizations with different communication needs in crisis (Sellnow & Sarabakhsh, 1999). There are two ways that industry is often considered in terms of its influence.

First, industries affect organizations and their experience with crises. For example, Elsbach’s (1994) analysis of the California cattle industry examined the construction and effectiveness of verbal accounts across the industry as it faced different crises. One industry that is often studied is the airline industry, with research centering on crisis response to specific events or broad industry reactions to changing conditions (Goyal & Negi, 2014; Greer & Moreland, 2003). But certainly there are similar studies across different industries with travel and tourism, automobile, manufacturing, financial, sports/entertainment, and technology industries often studied. However, the second way that industry is often considered within crisis communication, reflecting some of the more common industries analyzed, is by examining industry in terms of crisis communication within crisis-prone versus non-crisis-prone industries. Previous research has identified seven industries as crisis prone, including finance and insurance; professional, scientific, technical services, and information (e.g., telecommunications, computer software and hardware); transportation and warehousing; manufacturing; mining; and travel (Coombs & Holladay, 2004; Diers & Tomaino, 2010; Millar, 2004). Consistently, these findings suggest that a history of crises changes the ways that organizations react to crises. However, the internal view of the influence crises on organizations is seldom studied, and there is little indication of how industry influences internal crisis communication.

Organizational Values

Labeled broadly, an organization’s values should be considered as an important factor influencing its crisis communication. When we consider the concept of an organization’s values, most of our understanding of crises and organizational values focuses on connections between crises and organizational culture, ethics, and corporate social responsibility (CSR). An organization’s culture is often difficult to tangibly identify; however, Trice and Beyer’s (1993) conceptualization of organizational culture provides an effective heuristic for communication scholars to understand and identify evidence of an organization’s culture that would be relevant to understanding its crisis communication. They argued that although an organization’s culture is a social system of shared ideologies, it is also manifested in four tangible forms that reflect the organization’s ideology, norms, and values. Table 2 summarizes Trice and Beyer’s (1993) forms of organizational culture. Understanding organizational values, as they are evident in the artifacts of an organizational culture, can provide academics and practitioners with strong clues as to how different stakeholders groups are likely to react to crisis response strategies. In today’s world, authenticity and message credibility are essential components to crisis response (Ott & Theunissen, 2015) with stakeholders looking for evidence that organizations really mean what they say. What both stakeholders and communications professionals have to rely on in making these judgments is the sum total of what an organization has said and done. Stakeholders are therefore judging crisis response messages against what they can find or know about an organization. This makes the forms of culture vital in supporting the credibility and perceived authenticity of crisis response messages.

Table 2. Trice and Beyer’s Forms of Organizational Culture

Form

Definition

Examples

Symbols

Tangible representations of abstract values

Objects, settings, performers (e.g., leaders)

Language

Ways that members interact and represent the organization

Jargon, slang, gestures, signals, signs, songs, humor, gossip, proverbs, slogans

Narratives

Stories that organization members tell to convey messages about the organization and organizational life

Sagas, legends, myths, accounts

Practices

Direct behaviors and performances of work

Rituals, rites, ceremonies, traditions

Organizational Leadership

The final vital organizational attribute is an organization’s leadership. Across studies of organizational crises, leaders represent an organizational factor that can make or break the credibility of an organization’s response to a crisis. For example, leadership gaffes during the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico from, in particular, CEO Tony Hayward, complicated BP’s ability to respond effectively with leadership or PR problems emerging as a central reputational issue during the crisis itself (Diers & Donohue, 2013). Other studies have explored the public relations implications of leadership, finding that the types of responses can dramatically affect not only organizational outcomes but also community healing after major disasters (Griffin-Padgett & Allison, 2010).

While there is little clear indication about the “type” of leadership that might best serve a crisis, there is an understanding of the functions that leaders serve. During crises, they serve a number of critical roles during crises that affect both the material and reputational responses organizations make to crises. For example, they serve a psychological and emotional role for people affected by the crisis (Sandler, 2009). That is, leaders can help to reduce fear and anxiety, help build trust in the crisis response efforts, and generate optimism in the situation. However, as Sandler (2009) argued, for leaders to be effective emotional leaders they must provide prompt and considered action in responding to crises, be perceived as honest and consistent in their crisis responses, create an emotional connection with stakeholders, and ideally inspire people.

However, leaders also have functional roles to play during crises. In part, this is because they are most typically viewed as the actors with the legitimate authority to act during a crisis (Alder, 1997). Being legitimate actors lets them create or enact appropriate procedures to respond, which is critical to managing uncertainty and maintaining response integrity. Aside from crisis management roles that leaders typically play, organizational leaders also have an important public relations role to play. Conventional wisdom suggests that the CEO should be a primary spokesperson about the crisis but can also largely depend on the timing and severity of the situation (Carroll & Hatakenaka, 2001; Lucero, Kwang, & Pang, 2009). The conventional wisdom regarding CEOs serving as primary spokespersons during crises are grounded by agenda setting theory and research suggesting that when effective organizational leaders serve an important agenda setting function about crises. Their engagement about crises can control the narrative, specific messages, and even the stories covered throughout the media’s coverage of a crisis (Oliveira & Murphy, 2009; Veil & Ojeda, 2010).

Stakeholder Factors

These first three factors emphasize the situation and context surrounding crises. However, the biggest “x-factor” in crises is how stakeholders will react to the issues, the type of crisis, and the organization. Yet, in the study of crisis communication, stakeholder factors remain one of the most challenging and understudied factors influencing crises. More attention is typically paid to the response strategies deployed by organizations (Oles, 2010; Piotrowski & Guyette, 2010; Weber, Erickson, & Stone, 2011) than measuring stakeholder evaluations and the social psychological factors influencing those evaluations of crisis response strategies. In fact, analyses of stakeholder evaluations of crises are limited in number and somewhat fragmented in focus. From a theoretical standpoint, relatively little is known about how people create crises and organizational responses (Coombs, 2007a). In addition, few factors beyond crisis type and organizational response messages have been examined in research with the impact of concepts such as emotional reactions to crises and stakeholder attitudes remaining relatively understudied (McDonald, Sparks, & Glendon, 2010). Some of the critical work in understanding the role that emotion plays in stakeholder reactions to crisis has come from Jin and her colleagues (see, e.g., Jin, 2010; Jin, Liu, Anagondahalli, & Austin, 2014) exploring and measuring the role of emotions in stakeholder reactions. Such gaps are accentuated by a lack of cultural contextualization or a narrow understanding of the role that stakeholders’ cultural background plays in crisis management (Falkheimer & Heide, 2006; Lee, Woeste, & Heath, 2007). However, in recent years, there has been an increased recognition that national identity matters in crisis response (Chen, 2009; Rovisco, 2010).

Although these limitations in crisis communication’s understanding of stakeholder attitudes certainly exist, there are a number of themes that have been well-tested throughout the years but are seldom discussed cohesively that draw together literature from crisis communication, public relations, advertising, and persuasion. Diers’ (2012) introduction of the stakeholder relationship model was an adaptation of Haley’s (1996) model for advocacy advertising (see Figure 4). Both authors argued that if organizations want to be successful in communicating with important stakeholders, it is vital to understand three relationships from the stakeholder perspective. Additionally, both authors argue that these relationships influence each other and cannot be fully separated from each other. That is to say, for example, that a stakeholder’s evaluation of the role that an organization has played in a crisis can easily be influenced by their own relationship with that organization or their attitudes about the crisis issue.

Crisis Communication

Figure 4. Adaptation of Diers (2012) Stakeholder Relationship Model.

Stakeholder Evaluations of an Organization’s Role in a Crisis

The first relationship focuses on the stakeholder’s assessment of how connected an organization is with any particular issue. As has already been discussed, the nature of crisis issues substantially affects an organization’s prospects for managing them. However, given that a critical assumption about issues management is that issues typically emerge as problems because they violate stakeholder expectations (Heath & Palenchar, 2009), then to understand issues management involves understanding the factors that influence the stakeholder expectations.

Previous research suggests there are a number of factors influencing how stakeholders may evaluate the relationship between an organization and a crisis issue. Chief among them is blame attribution. Questions about how stakeholders assign blame to organizations have been asked since the 1970s with Schwartz and Ben David’s (1976) analysis of blame, ability, and denial of responsibility in the face of emergencies. Evaluations of an organization’s competence in crisis management is, by contrast, a newer evolution in the field’s understanding of this relationship emerging in analyses such as Sohn and Lariscy’s (2014) discussion of reputational crises. Certainly, competence had long been considered from the crisis management perspective but not necessarily from the stakeholder perspective. Likewise, other factors such as stakeholder beliefs that the organization fully intends to manage the issue responsibly, that organizations have a clear causal association with the crisis, and are genuinely concerned about the crisis are also relatively new factors emerging from crisis research (Kim, 2014b; Spence, Lachlan, Lin, Sellnow-Richmond, & Sellnow, 2015). In many cases, stakeholder evaluations of an organization’s intentions toward a crisis come down to their belief that the organization is genuinely committed to improving the situation (Diers‐Lawson & Pang, 2016; Mazzei & Ravazzani, 2014).

Stakeholder Attitudes Towards Organizations in Crisis

Stakeholder attitudes toward organizations in crisis represents the relationship in Diers (2012) model that has been studied the most in crisis communication. Often treated as an outcome of a crisis, these judgments have been assessed across multiple fields of study from communication and marketing to industry-specific studies in such different areas such as health care and tourism. If researchers and practitioners want to understand this relationship, they should be directly analyzing factors such as changes to an organization’s reputation with an immense body of study ranging from the evolution of image restoration in the 1990s (Benoit, 1995) to studies of reputational crises themselves (Carroll, 2009) to experimental evaluations of factors evaluating the impact of crises on reputation (Kim & Lee, 2015). However, Diers (2012) found that other factors such as stakeholders’ perceived knowledge of the organization not only changed under different crisis circumstances but also influenced their overall perception of the crisis. For example, she found that if a crisis made stakeholders feel like they had less knowledge about an organization, the stakeholders were more likely to evaluate the organization negatively. Evaluations of stakeholder attitudes toward organizations also tends to invoke more personal feelings about organizations, such as stakeholder assessments of whether an organization is fundamentally trustworthy (Freberg & Palenchar, 2013), or whether they believe the organization in crisis has values that are congruent to their own (Koerber, 2014) (or even whether they feel the relationship is satisfactory) (Ki & Brown, 2013), or loyalty to the organization in crisis (Helm & Tolsdorf, 2013).

Stakeholder Attitudes Toward Crisis Issues

Despite a rich, albeit piecemeal, body of research addressing the first two relationships in Diers’s (2012) stakeholder relationship model in crisis communication, there has been limited research evaluating how a stakeholder’s attitudes toward crisis issues influences their judgments about organizations in crisis. Yet in Diers-Lawson’s (2017b) analysis of factors influencing indicators of anger and expressions of anger among stakeholders from nine countries, she found that prior beliefs, crisis specific attitudes, and individual factors (e.g., demographic characteristics) not only helped to explain their assessments of an organization’s competence in a crisis and their blame attribution for the crisis but also showed how likely they were to speak negatively about the organization as well as their purchase intention in the near future. Her findings support a growing body of research that suggests that attitudinal and emotion-based factors must be considered if we are to understand crisis communication as a concept (Jin et al., 2014; McDonald & Cokley, 2013). This research points to several key factors ranging from demographic characteristics as critical predictors of attitudes toward crisis issues but also more issue-specific attitudes, prior experiences, efficacy, emotion, and information expectations.

Taken together, stakeholder factors should be viewed as an interplay in their identities, attitudes toward the organization in crisis and issues, as well as their evaluation of the organization’s connection to the crisis issue. These evaluations may be quite different compared to directly measurable evaluations of the issue and the organization’s connection to it. The best example of these differences might be the case of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although many analysts, media outlets, government agencies, and the public more broadly panned BP for being socially irresponsible in its management of the crisis, the reality was that when the messaging strategy is more closely examined BP’s response strategy emphasized social responsibility and worked to communicate a strong connection with people affected by the crisis (Diers‐Lawson & Pang, 2016; Diers & Donohue, 2013). In the case of crisis communication, anytime there is a gap between measurable behaviors and stakeholder evaluations of the communicative behaviors understanding factors influencing stakeholder assessments should shine a light on the credibility gaps that simply understanding the nature of the issues, crisis type, or organizational factors alone cannot explain.

Response Factors

While the previous four factors are vital components in understanding crisis communication, the value that communication scholars add to the field’s understanding of crisis is the communication element. Crisis response tactics or strategies have been studied for more than 20 years with several taxonomies emerging including Benoit’s (1997) summary of image repair tactics, Coombs (2007b) discussion of tactics used in situational crisis communication theory, or Mohamed, Gardner, and Paolillo’s (1999) taxonomy of organizational impression management tactics along with a host of individual studies identifying different individual tactics. The result of this work was the identification of more than 40 distinctive response tactics that could be used in a nearly infinite number of combinations in order to respond to a crisis.

Crisis Response Tactics

In their taxonomy of crisis response tactics, Diers and Tomaino (2010) grouped these tactics into eight categories (see Figure 2). The first of these categories are self-enhancement tactics that focus on making the organization look good, despite the crisis, through traditional marketing or image advertising techniques. Certainly not all marketing and image advertising strategies are related to crisis response. But a good example of using image advertising as a form of crisis response emerged with Toyota’s decision to respond to their accelerator problem by launching an advertising campaign that acknowledged the problem, their responsibility, and focused the company’s message on repairing the problem. Importantly, they emphasized their commitment to excellence and their customers. This same theme certainly emerged with Domino’s Pizza in the United States after mounting criticisms of the pizza quality and graphic proof of substandard products began to surface. The CEO of the company used the poor performance as a way to launch Domino’s new approach, new options, and to emphasize a new era for the company. Finally, in the United Kingdom after the horsemeat scandal of 2012 emerged, companies used packaging to provide reassurance to customers that their beef products were 100% British beef.

Similarly, routine communication techniques may also be used to address crises where the organization focuses on its mission or vision as a part of responding to a crisis or even uses outlets such as their annual reports or employee newsletters to directly discuss the crisis. Often these are meant to reassure stakeholders about the situation.

However, in shifting focus from tactics that can be applied to crises to crisis-specific tactics, the third category focuses on tactics that frame the crisis. If an organization can be viewed as a reliable source of information about the status of the situation, as well as provide persuasive accounts of what is happening, then it is well positioned to have its voice heard across multiple platforms. Organizations may also frame themselves as emphasizing their ability or inability to prevent or manage the situation. That is, in framing the organization instead of focusing on the situation, the organization may choose to focus on its role in a way that works to give context to stakeholders about what it can or cannot do. This approach is quite different from the antisocial or defensive tactics that center on minimizing blame attribution with a range of tactics from denial to obfuscation to fairly aggressive tactics such as intimidation. By contrast, organizations may also choose to be prosocial in their crisis response approaches by apologizing, focusing on repairing the problems, communicating empathy, or at least showing that they have nothing to hide. In some circumstances, organizations may also choose to demonstrate their excellence in crisis response by promoting dialogue with stakeholders, discussing the organization’s leadership in the time of crisis, or emphasizing its corporate social responsibility. Finally, organizations may also choose to emphasize positive or negative interorganizational relationships to either try and borrow credibility from positively viewed partners, distance themselves from other organizations with a negative reputation, or even directly attack organizations as a way of shifting attention away from themselves.

Examples of Crisis Response in Action

Certainly, crisis response involves critical decision making that works to balance the nature of the crisis, the organization, and stakeholders in order to create strategic messages that help an organization manage its crisis issues. Effective crisis response involves the identification of critical objectives for the crisis response (Austin, Liu, & Jin, 2014), targeted stakeholders (Wertz & Kim, 2010), identification of key messages (Claeys & Cauberghe, 2014), as well as the platforms to communicate (Canhoto et al., 2015) (see Figure 5).

Crisis Communication

Figure 5. Factors to Consider in Responding to Crises.

In many cases, organizations select many different tactics to use in various combinations to develop their response to crises across platforms. For example, Diers and Donohue’s (2013) study of BP’s crisis response across its press releases, Twitter, and Facebook posts from April to October 2010, found that the core elements of the company’s crisis response across its owned platforms emerged in press releases, with Twitter and Facebook posts each applying this strategy differently. Yet, in the case of BP, there have been a host of analyses of its crisis response strategies in various platforms, suggesting that crisis response can be an incredibly dynamic and complex use of many different tactics depending on the platform and communicators.

In an analysis of responses to 133 crises Diers (2009) identified a number of different strategy sets emerging from the taxonomy of crisis response tactics that provides a good sense of how the crisis tactics may be strategically combined. For example, she identified a future-oriented strategy that focused on an organization’s desire to look beyond the present crisis to a “better future” for the organization and the stakeholders. The tactic categories included self-enhancement, excellence/renewal, and interorganizational relationships; this strategy was most typically used by crisis-prone organizations. An example of this strategy comes from Epson after winning a lawsuit against a large manufacturer of off-brand print cartridges:

We are pleased by this important progress in the multi-union case. We will continue vigorous enforcement of our intellectual property rights to protect our innovative printers and printer supplies against unfair competition of all types including patent infringement, unsubstantiated performance claims, and counterfeiting.

Another example of an emergent strategy is an aggressive strategy characterized by a direct defense of the organization as well as an effort to interpret the crisis itself in a manner that complements the organization’s defense of itself. It incorporates the tactics from the framing the crisis as well as antisocial/defensive category and was most likely to be used in the utility, information, and arts/entertainment industries when the crisis was either a transgression or event outside the organization’s control. An example of this strategy emerged from Harrah’s president, Gary Loveman, when speaking about a culinary worker’s strike in Atlantic City, New Jersey:

Despite the inconvenience the labor action creates, Harrah’s is not willing to concede on the contract link. I worry about their capacity to strike me everywhere at the same time. What they would like to do is set it up so they could do that. That’s what the strike is all about, we’ll just have to wait it out. We will stand firm in this position no matter how long this unfortunate situation persists. We will not ratify a contract that threatens the health of our company and that of the industry broadly.

Studies analyzing organizational responses to crises vary in their discussion, ranging from particular tactics to strategies and accounts of the crises themselves from the organizational and stakeholder perspectives. However, by understanding the underlying tactics, it is easier to think about the construction of crisis response strategy. Yet, crisis response can never be divorced from the other four factors—the crisis issues, specific type of crisis an organization is facing, organizational factors, and stakeholder factors—because in the context of response strategy, each of these plays an important role in understanding not only what tactics to select but how to apply them in a multiplatform, fast-moving crisis environment.

Discussion of Crisis Communication Literature

If these are the five dominant factors in crisis communication, it is important to situate them within the literature. As Figure 1 suggests, although the study of crisis communication has been around since the 1950s, it has only been since the mid-to-late 1990s that the field began to emerge as a distinctive area of study within public relations and organizational communication with a large proliferation of research all within the early 21st century. This means that although researchers and practitioners have a variety of books, edited volumes, and journal articles on the subject, the field is still maturing. Therefore, to discuss the main threads in scholarship, past approaches, and current trends, we should look to a systematic review of the English-language crisis communication journal articles from 1953 to 2015 (see Diers-Lawson, 2017a for the full list of sources analyzed) to get a flavor of the field’s development since around the 1950s. Although the field certainly has used monographs and edited books to advance theory and research, focusing on journal articles provides the most accessible view of the literature: there are 690 articles analyzed for year, type of article, research method, country(ies) directly analyzed, primary theory used (where applicable), and keywords or concepts directly addressed in each of the articles. Using some data reduction techniques focusing on categorization of the data, themes, and constant comparative method (see Diers-Lawson, 2017a for a more complete discussion of methods used), it is possible to offer a brief summary of the field of research since the 1950s.

Threads of Scholarship in Crisis Communication

Crisis communication scholarship represents a diverse field of study encompassing many different fields of study, regions, related concepts, and theoretical perspectives. The systematic review of literature found that although crisis communication research most often appears in journals emphasizing management, business, social science, and of course communication; it is also published in journals emphasizing health, science, technology, and industry-specific needs (see Table 3).

Table 3. Fields of Study in Crisis Communication Journal Articles 1953–20151

Summary Journal Category

Sub-Categories

N

%

Medicine and Health

  • Medicine

  • Health Policy

  • Infectious Diseases

  • Public Health

  • Environmental and Occupational Health

  • Health Professions

  • Emergency Medical Science

  • Epidemiology

47

6.8

Science, Engineering, and Technology

  • Environmental Science

  • Computer Science

  • Engineering

  • Human-Computer Interaction

  • Computer Graphics and Computer Aided Design

  • Applied Mathematics

  • Modeling and Simulation

  • Industrial Manufacturing Engineering

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences

  • Food Science

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences

  • Chemistry

  • Planning and Development

96

14

Management and Business

  • Business, Management, and Accounting

  • Business and International Management

  • Management of Technology and Innovation

  • Strategy and Management

  • Public Administration

  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

  • Finance, Strategy, and Management

  • Economics, Econometrics, and Finance

  • Marketing

  • Decision Sciences

  • Management Information Systems

  • Industrial Relations

  • Management

  • Management of Technology and Information

  • Management Science and Operations

443

64.5

Social Science and Humanities

  • Arts and Humanities—Social Science

  • Sociology and Political Science

  • Psychology

  • Cultural Studies

  • Education

  • Social Psychology

  • Social Sciences

  • Anthropology

  • Political Science and International Relations

  • Policy and Law

  • Urban Studies

  • Women’s Studies

452

65.9

Industry Specific

  • Development

  • Tourism

  • Leisure and Hospitality Management

  • Safety Research

  • Sports

  • Building and Construction

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability, Quality

  • Energy

59

8.6

Communication and Language

  • Communication

  • Language and Linguistics

  • Media Studies

  • Journalism

383

55.5

Total

690

(1) Based on SCImagio Journal Listing Categories. Categories are not mutually exclusive.

However, one of the field’s core weaknesses is that it is highly American-centric (Diers-Lawson, 2017a) with more than 60 percent of empirical journal articles focusing on American organizations alone (see Figure 6) while there is a paucity of research addressing crisis communication in most regions.

Crisis Communication

Figure 6. Region Studied in Crisis Communication Journal Articles.

Despite the geographical limitations in the field, there are a host of concepts and research interests explored in the literature (see Table 4) with topics such as crisis contexts, industries, crisis response, crisis management, organizational assessments, social media, and stakeholders representing important themes in the literature. However, there are a number of smaller concepts addressed, ranging from emotion to crisis training and education to media analysis, to name a few. Finally, to complement the subject area and conceptual diversity within the study of crisis communication, the field has a rich engagement with theory as well.

Table 4. Keywords and Concepts Studied1 in Crisis Communication Articles 1953–2015

Concept Categories

Concepts

N

%

Crisis Type

  • Transgressions

  • Organizational Events

  • Events Outside Control

  • Reputational

87

12.6

Crisis Context

  • Accidents

  • Activism

  • Advertising

  • Celebrity

  • Corruption

  • Counter branding

  • Disease

  • Emergency response

  • Environmental

  • Financial

  • Food/food quality

  • Globalization

  • Health

  • High reliability organization

  • International relations

  • Multinational corporation

  • Natural disaster

  • News/breaking news

  • Nuclear disaster

  • Politics

  • Pop culture

  • Product harm crisis

  • Public safety

  • Scandals

  • Terrorism

  • Urban crisis

  • War/Cold War

253

36.7

Industry/Organization Type

  • Agricultural

  • Airline

  • Automobile

  • Defense (national)

  • Finance

  • Food manufacturing

  • Fortune 500

  • Hospitality

  • Journalism

  • Marketing

  • Mining

  • Nonprofit/Charity

  • Oil/Energy

  • Pharmaceuticals

  • Police/Law Enforcement

  • Public Relations

  • Public Sector/Government

  • Retail

  • Schools/Universities

  • Small Business

  • Social Movement Organizations

  • Sports

  • Technology

  • Tourism/Travel

  • Unions

163

23.6

Crisis Response/Message Assessment

  • Accounts

  • Ambiguity

  • Apology

  • Argumentation

  • Crisis spokesperson

  • Dialogic communication

  • Diplomacy

  • Discourse

  • Forgiveness/atonement

  • Message effectiveness

  • Message involvement

  • Persuasion

  • Renewal

  • Response strategies

  • Rhetoric

  • Strategic communication

  • Symbols/metaphors

  • Third person effect

  • Timing

  • Visual communication

240

34.8

Relational Factors

  • Relationship management

  • User-generated content

41

5.9

Media Analysis

  • Agenda setting

  • Media

  • Media effects

  • Media coverage

  • Television

68

9.9

Crisis Management

  • Audits

  • Crisis management

  • Decision making

  • Knowledge management

  • Media relations

162

23.5

Crisis Planning

  • Contingency planning

  • Crisis plans/planning

  • Documentation

41

5.9

Internal Crisis Management

  • Human Relations

  • Internal PR/Employee Relations

  • Team/Teamwork

32

4.6

Leadership

58

8.4

Interorganizational Relationships

  • Boundary Spanning

  • Strategic Alliances

15

2.2

Issue Management

  • Issue Management

  • SWOT Analysis

26

3.8

Crisis Training & Education

  • Pedagogy

  • Simulations

  • Training

14

2.0

Crisis Assessment

  • Blame attribution

  • Conflict

  • Sensemaking

  • Severity

  • Urgency

60

8.7

Organizational Assessments

  • Charisma

  • Commitment

  • Credibility

  • Crisis history

  • Halo effect

  • Image

  • Impression management

  • Legitimacy

  • Organizational behavior

  • Organizational change

  • Organizational culture

  • Organizational identity

  • Power

  • Trustworthiness

  • Values/value congruence

220

31.9

Attitudinal Assessments

  • Attitudes

  • Efficacy (self & response)

  • Self-protective behavior

  • Susceptibility

  • Uncertainty

52

7.5

Crisis Outcomes

  • Community development

  • Crisis outcomes

  • Crowdsourcing

  • Customer loyalty

  • Negative publicity

  • Organizational learning

  • Public opinion

  • Sponsorship

  • Sustainabililty

  • Trauma

  • Word-of-mouth

94

13.6

Culture & Cultural Analysis

  • Cross-cultural comparison

  • Culture

  • Cultural change

  • Individualist/collectivist

  • Power distance

70

10.1

Emotion

  • Emotion

  • Humor

39

5.7

Information Management

  • Information clarity

  • Information consumption

  • Information expectations

  • Information sharing

46

6.7

Demographics

  • Gender

  • Race/Ethnicity

16

2.3

Risk

  • Risk

  • Risk communication

  • Risk management

  • Risk perception

52

7.5

Social Media

  • Big data/analytics

  • Blogs

  • Digital convergence

  • Engagement

  • Facebook

  • Internet

  • Online community

  • Social Media

  • Technology

  • Twitter

126

18.3

Stakeholders (external)

106

15.4

Meta-analysis, Methods

  • Best practices

  • Meta-analysis

  • Paradigm influence, philosophy

  • Research methods

18

2.6

Corporate Social Responsibility

27

3.9

Ethics

29

4.2

Networks

11

1.6

(1) Multiple concepts and keywords possible for each article

However, theory development remains a need for development within crisis communication because nearly 40 percent (see Table 5) of journal articles have no specific theoretical perspective grounding the analysis. That said, within the research that does use theory, the theoretical include theories reflecting stakeholder, psychological, organizational, public relations or communication, management, media, and leadership across all ontological traditions from critical to post-positivist.

Table 5. Theories Applied, Developed in Crisis Communication Articles 1953–20151

Theory Categories

Theories/Theory Type

N

%

None

  • Practical

  • Descriptive

268

39.5

Image Repair Theory

37

5.4

Situational Crisis Communication Theory

38

5.5

Stakeholder

  • Stakeholder theory

  • Stakeholder relationship management

19

2.8

Psychological

  • Decision making

  • Conflict management

  • Impression management

  • Behavioral resistance

  • Cognitive appraisal

  • Congruence theory

  • Expectancy violation theory

  • Uncertainty avoidance

  • Cognitive functional model

  • Emotional dimensionality theory

  • Identity theory

  • Discrepancy theory

  • Social cognition theory

  • Self-determination theory

  • Social approval theory

54

7.8

Organizational

  • Institutional theory

  • Organizational behavior

  • Systems theory

  • Sensemaking theory

  • Network theory

  • Social capital

  • Organizational change

  • Organizational learning

  • Organizational perception management theory

  • Groupthink

32

4.6

Public Relations and Communication

  • Dialogic theory

  • Argumentation theory

  • Excellence theory

  • Theory of publics

  • Third-person effect

  • Anticipatory impression management

  • Narrative

58

8.4

Management

  • Human resource development

  • Ownership theory

  • IDEA model

  • Integrated strategic management model

  • Brand commitment

6

.9

Persuasion

  • Extended parallel process model

  • Theory of planned behavior

  • Elaboration likelihood model

  • Inoculation theory

9

1.3

Media

  • Media framing

  • Digital convergence theory

  • Information exchange theory

  • Agenda setting

  • Media richness theory

  • Diffusion theory

  • Media dependence theory

  • Theory of channel complementarity

  • Dissonance theory

  • Uses and gratifications theory

55

8.0

Culture

  • Hofstede’s dimensions of culture

  • Cultural trauma

  • Theory of cultural competence

  • Public diplomacy

7

1.0

Rhetoric

  • Deliberative rhetoric

  • Symbolic interaction

  • Burkean rhetoric

11

1.6

Attribution

  • Blame attribution

  • Attribution theory

14

2.0

Leadership

  • Leadership performance

  • Leader member exchange theory

  • Situational leadership theory

3

.4

Other Crisis Theories

  • Crisis knowledge governance

  • Apologia

  • Crisis behavior model

  • Ethical crisis response

  • General failure type model

  • Early warning signals

  • Crisis, emergency, & risk communication model

  • Stage model for crisis response

  • Learning in crisis

  • Strategic crisis management model

  • Internet crisis potential model

  • Social mediated crisis communication

  • Mass, material, access, and motivation model

  • Enthymematic crisis rhetoric

  • Crisis lifecycle model

  • Integrated crisis mapping model

  • Crisis management theory

38

5.5

Corporate Social Responsibility

1

.1

Education

Adult learning theory

1

.1

Critical

  • Critical theory

  • Gender power theory

8

1.2

Contingency

Contingency theory

8

1.2

Issue Management

3

1.4

Risk Communication

  • Risk communication models

  • Social amplification of risk framework

7

1.0

Other

Chaos theory

2

.3

(1) Only 1 principle theory was coded per article. Articles whose purpose were theoretical comparison were excluded from this analysis.

Past Approaches and Current Trends in Crisis Communication Scholarship

Broadly speaking, there are three types of research in crisis communication. First are non-data-based articles including conceptual, theoretical, and practical recommendations. Making up 188 of the 690 articles between 1953 and 2015, this type of analysis represents approximately 27 percent of all journal publications in the field. Second, applied or case study research represents the most prevalent type of research in the field with 335 or nearly 50 percent of all articles. In a relatively young field working to understand the nature of the concept of crisis communication, this approach makes sense and connects with an emphasis on crisis response strategies. Third are the 167 cross-sectional studies making up about 24 percent of the research in crisis communication. One of the clear trends in the field is away from case studies to more cross-sectional research working to apply, test, and develop theory in different ways in the field. This is represented by the mean date for the prevalence of each of these types of research. The average publication date for non-data-based articles was 2002, compared to the average publication date for applied/case studies in 2005 and average publication date for cross-sectional research in 2008. This suggests a clear evolution in the study of crisis communication.

The evolution in the study is also reflected in the primary methodologies used in crisis communication research over the years. There are six primary broad methodology categories in the field. First, are conceptual studies including best practices. Although these represent roughly one-third of all journal articles published (N = 198), their average publication date was the earliest in 2002. The field then evolved its approach to crisis communication to focusing on rhetorical analyses with an average publication date of 2005. From there, the field of study and methodology expanded relatively quickly with qualitative analyses, representing the smallest methodological approach with just about 8 percent of studies and an average publication year of 2007. Then with an average publication date of 2008 quantitative analyses (including questionnaires and content analyses) began to grow in common use with 24 percent of all studies applying this method. Finally, experimental methods began to more commonly be applied in crisis communication with an average publication date of 2009 and about 9 percent of all journal articles. Together, this suggests that research focus and methodology is constantly evolving within the field as it continues to mature.

As crisis communication has developed, the fields of interest, regional interest, and key concepts have also substantially changed. When we evaluate crisis communication, there are a number of significant trends that emerge (see Table 6).

Table 6. Regression Model Critical Changes in Crisis Communication Research 1953–2015

Regressor

Beta

Model 1 SE

t

Beta

Model 2 SE

t

Beta

Model 3 SE

t

Intercept

1.53

1303.61

6.47

308.20

7.45

265.50

Management

.16

.91

3.92***

.16

.88

4.15***

.23

.84

6.21***

US

−.16

1.25

−3.00**

−.14

1.16

−2.77**

China

.07

2.45

1.64

.03

2.28

.76

Sweden

.05

2.52

1.28

.07

2.33

1.71

All Other Countries

.11

1.35

2.21*

.13

1.25

2.76**

Crisis Type

.01

1.55

.22

Crisis Context

.15

.85

3.93***

Industry

.13

.91

3.56***

Crisis Mgmt

−.08

.97

−2.05*

Planning

−.04

1.85

−1.00

Internal

−.07

1.89

−2.07*

Social Media

.24

1.05

6.59***

Emotion

.12

2.16

2.48*

F

15.35***

13.24***

15.47***

Δ‎F

15.35***

12.44***

15.32***

R2

.02

.10

.25

R2adj.

.02

.09

.23

R2 change

.02

.07

.15

df

1, 617

4, 613

8, 605

Notes. (*) p < .05,

(**) p < .01,

(***) p < .001.

Most notably, there are three major trends. First, crisis communication’s attention in the management literature has significantly grown since the mid-20th century compared to all other fields of study. Second, while crisis communication has been an American-centric field of study for most of its history, there are meaningful trends away from exclusively studying the United States with significantly more focus on Europe and China in particular with a general growing trend toward analyzing crisis communication in other countries and in cross-cultural contexts. Third, over the decades the field has also changed in the types of concepts and interests studied with topics such as crisis management, crisis planning, and internal/employee management all falling in the early 21st century and substantial growth in interest in studying different types of crises, contexts, industries, social media, and emotion. Finally, there are significant differences in the theories applied to crisis communication over the years (see Table 7) F (21, 657) = 3.08, p < .00; η‎2p = .09.

Table 7. Differences in Theory Use in Crisis Communication Articles 1953–2015

Theory Category

M

SD

N

No Theory—Practical or Descriptive Article

2005

11.77

268

Image Repair Theory

2006

6.46

37

Situational Crisis Communication Theory

2010

3.81

38

Stakeholder

2005

12.81

19

Psychological

2003

12.84

54

Organizational

2000

14.73

32

PR/Communication

2006

7.40

58

Management

2007

7.68

6

Persuasion

2012

3.70

9

Media

2008

10.47

55

Culture

2011

3.68

7

Rhetoric

1989

15.24

11

Attribution

2006

10.74

14

Leadership

2009

8.72

3

Corporate Social Responsibility

1983

-

1

Education

2013

-

1

Critical

2002

13.96

8

Contingency

2000

9.86

8

Issue Management

2012

3.06

3

Risk

2004

8.17

7

Other

2009

9.19

2

As a field of study, crisis communication is evolving in an increasingly complex global environment where organizations and stakeholders must communicate. It is a field rooted in communication traditions but branches out across many disciplines, areas of interest, research methodologies, and ontological traditions. This is reflected in the five critical factors discussed here, arguing that to understand crisis communication means to understand how issues and reputation management, crisis type, organizations, stakeholders, and crisis response messages converge. From the earliest analyses of crisis communication in the 1950s through the exponential growth of the field in the 1990s and on, it is clear that we have a much stronger understanding of crisis communication in the 21st century. However, it should be clear that there is still much work to do, as the field develops theory and practice in crisis communication. As a field of study, crisis communication is not merely a context for the study of public relations, marketing, or strategic communication; rather the findings and theory development indicates that it is distinctive, requiring a specialized understanding of human and organizational behaviors, communication, and stakeholder relationship management. This bodes well for the continued development of the field in the next 60 years.

For scholars and practitioners interested in further exploring the field, Diers-Lawson’s (2017a) identification of journal articles most relevant to crisis communication from 1953 to 2015 provides a nearly comprehensive list of readings for those interested in immersing themselves in the crisis communication literature and Tables 3 to 7 discussed earlier provide a starting point for investigating the field. However, much of the vital theoretical work in the field has also been captured in monographs and edited volumes. Therefore, Table 8 reflects some of the most useful individual books related to crisis communication.

Table 8. Recommended Monographs and Edited Volumes in Crisis Communication

Author(s)/Editor(s)

Year

Title

Publisher

Austin, L. L. & Jin, Y. (Eds.)

2017

Social media and crisis communication

Routledge

Coombs, W. T.

2007

Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing, and responding

SAGE

Coombs, W. T. (Ed.)

2011

The handbook of crisis communication

Wiley-Blackwell

George, A. M., & Kwansah-Aidoo, W.

2017

Culture and crisis communication: Transboundary cases from non-Western perspectives

Wiley-Blackwell

Heath, R. L., & OHair, H. D.

2010

Handbook of risk and crisis communication

Routledge

Millar, D. P., & Heath, R. L.

2003

Responding to crisis: A rhetorical approach to crisis communication

Routledge

Schwarz, A., Seeger, M.W., & Auer, C.

2016

The handbook of international crisis communication research

Wiley & Sons

Regester, M., & Larkin, J.

2008

Risk issues and crisis management in public relations: A casebook of best practice

Kogan

Seeger, M. W., & Sellnow, T.L.

2016

Narratives of crisis

Stanford Univ.

Sellnow, T. L., & Seeger, M.W.

2013

Theorizing crisis communication

Wiley & Sons

Tench, R., Sun, W., & Jones, B.

2012

Corporate social irresponsibility: A challenging concept

Emerald Group

Ulmer, R. R., Sellow, T.L., & Seeger, M. W.

2011

Effective Crisis Communication: Moving From Crisis to Opportunity

SAGE

Further, there are some good online resources for crisis communication, including the Crisis Communication Coalition. Retrieved from http://crisiscommunication.uga.edu, and the Museum of Public Relations, retrieved from http://prmuseum.org.

Finally, for an abbreviated list of some of the most influential pieces of research in crisis communication representing the diversity of ontologies, theoretical traditions, field development over time, cases, cultural perspectives, and topical perspectives Table 9 provides a starting reading list for those interested in crisis communication.

Table 9. Recommended Reading List for Crisis Communication

Theme

Core Reading

Reviews of Crisis Communication Literature and Field Overviews

  • Avery, E., Lariscy, R., Kim, S., & Hocke, T. (2010). A quantitative review of crisis communication research in public relations from 1991 to 2009. Public Relations Review, 36(2), 190–192.

  • Diers-Lawson, A. (2017). A state of emergency in crisis communication an intercultural crisis communication research agenda. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 46(1), 1–54.

  • Ha, J. H., & Boynton, L. (2014). Has crisis communication been studied using an interdisciplinary approach? A 20-year content analysis of communication journals. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 8(1), 29–44.

  • Kim, S.-Y., Choi, M.I., Reber, B. H., & Kim, D. (2014). Tracking public relations scholarship trends: Using semantic network analysis on PR Journals from 1975 to 2011. Public Relations Review, 40(1), 116–118.

  • Kim, S., Avery, E., & Lariscy, R. (2009). Are crisis communicators practicing what we preach? An evaluation of crisis response strategy analyzed in public relations research from 1991 to 2009. Public Relations Review, 35(4), 446–448.

  • Lalonde, C., & Roux-Dufort, C. (2013). Challenges in Teaching Crisis Management Connecting Theories, Skills, and Reflexivity. Journal of Management Education, 37(1), 21–50.

  • Shifflet, M., & Brown, J. (2006). The use of instructional simulations to support classroom teaching: A crisis communication case study. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 15(4), 377.

  • Zhao, Y. (2014). Communication, crisis, & global power shifts: An introduction. International Journal of Communication, 8, 26.

Theory Development in Crisis Communication

  • Aldoory, L., Kim, J.-N., & Tindall, N. (2010). The influence of perceived shared risk in crisis communication: Elaborating the situational theory of publics. Public Relations Review, 36(2), 134–140.

  • Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image repair discourse and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 23(2), 177–187.

  • Coombs, W. T. (2007). Attribution theory as a guide for post-crisis communication research. Public Relations Review, 33(2), 135–139.

  • Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2002). Helping crisis managers protect their reputational assets: Initial tests of the situational crisis communication theory. Management Communication Quarterly, 16(2), 165–186.

  • Diers, A. R. (2012). Reconstructing stakeholder relationships using ‘corporate social responsibility’ as a response strategy to cases of corporate irresponsibility: The case of the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In R. Tench, W. Sun, & B. Jones (Eds.), Corporate social irresponsibility: A challenging concept (Vol. 4, pp. 177–206). Bingly, U. K.: Emerald.

  • Elsbach, K. D., & Sutton, R. I. (1992). Acquiring organizational legitimacy through illegitimate actions: A marriage of institutional and impression management theories. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 699–738.

  • Falkheimer, J., & Heide, M. (2006). Multicultural crisis communication: Toward a social constructionist perspective. Journal of Contingencies & Crisis Management, 14(4), 180–189.

  • Fishman, D. A. (1999). ValuJet Flight 592: Crisis communication theory blended and extended. Communication Quarterly, 47(4), 345–365.

  • Frandsen, F., & Johansen, W. (2010). Apologizing in a globalizing world: Crisis communication and apologetic ethics. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 15(4), 350–364.

  • Freberg, K. (2013). Using the theory of planned behavior to predict intention to comply with a food recall message. Health communication, 28(4), 359–365.

  • Haigh, M. M., & Brubaker, P. (2010). Examining how image restoration strategy impacts perceptions of corporate social responsibility, organization public relationships, and source credibility. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 15(4), 453–468.

  • Kim, S. (2013). Does corporate advertising work in a crisis? An examination of inoculation theory. Journal of Marketing Communications, 19(4), 293–305.

  • Molleda, J. C., Connolly-Ahern, C., & Quinn, C. (2005). Cross-national conflict shifting: Expanding a theory of global public relations management through quantitative content analysis. Journalism Studies, 6(1), 87–102.

  • Pearson, C. M., & Mitroff, I. (1993). From crisis prone to crisis prepared: A framework for crisis management. Academy of Management Executive, 7(1), 48–59.

  • Schwarz, A. (2008). Covariation-based causal attributions during organizational crises: Suggestions for extending Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT). International Journal of Strategic Communication, 2(1), 31–53.

  • Seeger, M. W. (2002). Chaos and crisis: Propositions for a general theory of crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 28, 329–337.

  • Seeger, M. W., & Griffin-Padgett, D. R. (2010). From image restoration to renewal: Approaches to understanding postcrisis communication. Review of Communication, 10(2), 127–141.

  • Shepard, R. (2009). Toward a theory of simulated atonement: A case study of President George W. Bush’s response to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Communication Studies, 60(5), 460–475.

  • Yum, J.-Y., & Jeong, S.-H. (2014). Examining the public’s responses to crisis communication from the perspective of Three Models of Attribution. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29(2), 159–183.

Issue & Reputation Management in Crises

  • Allen, M. W., & Caillouet, R. H. (1994). Legitimation endeavors: Impression management strategies used by an organization in crisis. Communication Monographs, 61, 44–64.

  • An, S.-K., & Gower, K. K. (2009). How do the news media frame crises? A content analysis of crisis news coverage. Public Relations Review, 35, 107–112.

  • Dawar, N., & Lei, J. (2009). Brand crises: The roles of brand familiarity and crisis relevance in determining the impact on brand evaluations. Journal of Business Research, 62, 509–516.

  • De Bruycker, I., & Walgrave, S. (2014). How a new issue becomes an owned issue. Media coverage and the financial crisis in Belgium (2008–2009). International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 26(1), 86–97.

  • Dufty, N. (2015). The use of social media in countrywide disaster risk reduction public awareness strategies. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 30(1), 12.

  • Einwiller, S. A., Carroll, C. E., & Korn, K. (2010). Under what conditions do the news influence corporate reputation? The roles of media dependency and need for orientation. Corporate Reputation Review, 12(4), 299–315.

  • Heath, R. (1998). Dealing with the complete crisis—the crisis management shell structure. Safety Science, 30(1), 139–150.

  • Heath, R. L. (1998). Working under pressure: Crisis management, pressure groups and the media. Safety Science, 209–221.

  • Jaques, T. (2009). Issue management as a post-crisis discipline: Identifying and responding to issue impacts beyond the crisis. Journal of Public Affairs, 9(1), 35–44.

  • Ott, L., & Theunissen, P. (2015). Reputations at risk: Engagement during social media crises. Public Relations Review, 41(1), 97–102.

  • Pace, S., Balboni, B., & Gistri, G. (2014). The effects of social media on brand attitude and WOM during a brand crisis: Evidences from the Barilla case. Journal of Marketing Communications, 23(2), 1–14.

  • Pearson, C. M., & Clair, J. A. (1998). Reframing crisis management. Academy of Management Review, 23(1), 58–76.

  • Sung, M., & Hwang, J.-S. (2014). Who drives a crisis? The diffusion of an issue through social networks. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 246–257.

  • Turk, J. V., Jin, Y., Stewart, S., Kim, J., & Hipple, J. R. (2012). Examining the interplay of an organization’s prior reputation, CEO’s visibility, and immediate response to a crisis. Public Relations Review, 38(4), 574–583.

Crisis Type

  • Baucus, M. S., & Baucus, D. A. (1997). Paying the piper: an empirical examination of longer-term financial consequences of illegal corporate behavior. Academy of Management Journal, 40(1), 129–152.

  • Brown, K. A., & Ki, E.-J. (2013). Developing a valid and reliable measure of organizational crisis responsibility. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 90(2), 363–384.

  • Carroll, C. (2009). Defying a reputational crisis—Cadbury’s salmonella scare: Why are customers willing to forgive and forget? Corporate Reputation Review, 12(1), 64–82.

  • Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. (2012). The paracrisis: The challenges created by publicly managing crisis prevention. Public Relations Review, 38, 408–415.

  • Huber, F., Vollhardt, K., Matthes, I., & Vogel, J. (2010). Brand misconduct: Consequences on consumer-brand relationships. Journal of Business Research, 63, 1113–1120.

  • Kim, J., Kim, H. J., & Cameron, G. T. (2009). Making nice may not matter: The interplay of crisis type, response type and crisis issue on perceived organizational responsibility. Public Relations Review, 35(1), 86–88.

  • Kim, S. (2014). What’s worse in times of product-harm crisis? Negative corporate ability or negative CSR reputation? Journal of Business Ethics, 123(1), 157–170.

  • Liu, B. F., Fraustino, J. D., & Jin, Y. (2015). How disaster information form, source, type, and prior disaster exposure affect public outcomes: Jumping on the social media bandwagon? Journal of Applied Communication Research, 43(1), 44–65.

  • Mitroff, I. I., Pauchant, T. C., & Shrivastava, P. (1988). The structure of man-made organizational crises: Conceptual and empirical issues in the development of a general theory of crisis management. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 33(2), 83–107.

  • Pennington-Gray, L., Kaplanidou, K., & Schroeder, A. (2013). Drivers of social media use among African Americans in the event of a crisis. Natural Hazards, 66(1), 77–95.

  • Perreault, M. F., Houston, J. B., & Wilkins, L. (2014). Does scary matter? Testing the effectiveness of new National Weather Service tornado warning messages. Communication Studies, 65(5), 484–499.

  • Ping, Q., Ishaq, M., & Li, C. (2015). Product harm crisis, attribution of blame and decision making: An insight from the past. Journal of Applied Environmental and Biological Sciences, 5(5), 35–44.

  • Ruggiero, A., & Vos, M. (2013). Terrorism communication: characteristics and emerging perspectives in the scientific literature 2002–2011. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 21(3), 153–166.

  • Schweiger, D. M., & Denisi, A. S. (1991). Communication with employees following a merger: A longitudinal field experiment. Academy of Management Journal, 34(1), 110–135.

  • Slavkovikj, V., Verstockt, S., Van Hoecke, S., & Van de Walle, R. (2014). Review of wildfire detection using social media. Fire Safety Journal, 68, 109–118.

  • Sly, T. (2000). Communicating about risks: A checklist for health agencies. Environmental Health, 33–35.

  • Sohn, Y., & Lariscy, R. W. (2014). Understanding reputational crisis: Definition, properties, and consequences. Journal of Public Relations Research, 26(1), 23–43.

  • Vassilikopoulou, A., Siomkos, G., Chatzipanagiotou, K., & Pantouvakis, A. (2009). Product-harm crisis management: Time heals all wounds? Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 16(3), 174–180.

Organizational Factors

  • Albu, O. B., & Wehmeier, S. (2014). Organizational transparency and sense-making: The case of Northern Rock. Journal of Public Relations Research, 26(2), 117–133.

  • Antonacopoulou, E. P., & Sheaffer, Z. (2014). Learning in crisis rethinking the relationship between organizational learning and crisis management. Journal of Management Inquiry, 23(1), 5–21.

  • Avery, E. J., & Kim, S. (2009). Anticipating or precipitating crisis? Health agencies may not be heeding best practice advice in avian flu press releases. Journal of Public Relations Research, 21(2), 187–197.

  • Boin, A., Kuipers, S., & Overdijk, W. (2013). Leadership in times of crisis: A framework for assessment. International Review of Public Administration, 18(1), 79–91.

  • Brønn, P. S., & Olson, E. L. (1999). Mapping the strategic thinking of public relations managers in a crisis situation: An illustrative example using conjoint analysis. Public Relations Review, 25(3), 351–368.

  • Brown, E. P., & Zahrly, J. (1989). Nonmonetary rewards for skilled volunteer labor: A look at crisis intervention volunteers. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 18(2), 167–177.

  • Erickson, B. H., Nosanchuk, T., Mostacci, L., & Dalrymple, C. F. (1978). The flow of crisis information as a probe of work relations. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 3(1), 71–87.

  • Fink, S. L., Beak, J., & Taddeo, K. (1971). Organizational crisis and change. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 7(1), 15–37.

  • Ginzel, L. E., Kramer, R. M., & Sutton, R. I. (1993). Organizational impression management as a reciprocal influence process: The neglected role of the organizational audience. Research in Organizational Behavior, 15, 227–266.

  • Graham, M. W., Avery, E. J., & Park, S. (2015). The role of social media in local government crisis communications. Public Relations Review, 41(3), 386–394.

  • Gruber, D. A., Smerek, R. E., Thomas-Hunt, M. C., & James, E. H. (2015). The real-time power of Twitter: Crisis management and leadership in an age of social media. Business Horizons, 58(2), 163–172.

  • Heide, M., & Simonsson, C. (2015). Struggling with internal crisis communication: A balancing act between paradoxical tensions. Public Relations Inquiry, 4(2), 223–255.

  • King, G. I. (2002). Crisis management and team effectiveness: A closer examination. Journal of Business Ethics, 41, 235–249.

  • Koc, E. (2013). Power distance and its implications for upward communication and empowerment: Crisis management and recovery in hospitality services. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24(19), 3681–3696.

  • Korn, C., & Einwiller, S. (2013). Media coverage about organisations in critical situations: Analysing the impact on employees. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 18(4), 451–468.

  • Lucero, M., Kwang, A. T., & Pang, A. (2009). Crisis leadership: When should the CEO step up? Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 14(3), 234–248.

  • Mazzei, A., Kim, J.-N., & Dell’Oro, C. (2012). Strategic value of employee relationships and communicative actions: Overcoming corporate crisis with quality internal communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 6(1), 31–44.

  • Mazzei, A., & Ravazzani, S. (2014). Internal crisis communication strategies to protect trust relationships: A study of Italian companies. International Journal of Business Communication, 52(3), 1–19.

  • Oliveira, M., & Murphy, P. (2009). The leader as the face of a crisis: Philip Morris’ CEO’s speeches during the 1990s. Public Relations Research, 21(4), 361–380.

  • Promsri, C. (2014). Thai employees’ perception towards organizational crisis preparedness. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(14), 41.

  • Reilly, A. H. (2008). The role of human resource development competencies in facilitating effective crisis communication. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(3), 331–351.

  • Roux-Dufort, C. (2000). Why organizations don’t learn from crises: The perverse power of normalization. Review of Business, 21(3/4), 25–30.

  • Smart, C., & Vertinsky, I. (1977). Designs for crisis decision units. Administrative Science Quarterly, 22(4), 640–657.

  • Tipuric, D., Skoko, B., Jugo, D., & Mesin, M. (2013). Crisis management dilemmas: Differences in attitudes towards reactive crisis communication strategies among future business professionals in Croatia. Montenegrin Journal of Economics, 9(2), 27.

  • Veil, S. R., & Ojeda, F. (2010). Establishing media partnerships in crisis response. Communication Studies, 61(4), 412–429.

  • Verhoeven, P., Tench, R., Zerfass, A., Moreno, A., & Verčič, D. (2014). Crisis? What crisis?. How European professionals handle crises and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 40(1), 107–109.

Stakeholder Factors

  • Ahluwalia, R., Burnkrant, R. E., & Unnava, H. R. (2000). Consumer response to negative publicity: The moderating role of commitment. Journal of Marketing Research, 37(2), 203–214.

  • An, S.-K., Park, D.-J., Cho, S., & Berger, B. (2010). A cross-cultural study of effective organizational crisis response strategy in the United States and South Korea. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 4(4), 225–243.

  • Baden, C., & Springer, N. (2014). Com(ple)menting the news on the financial crisis: The contribution of news users’ commentary to the diversity of viewpoints in the public debate. European Journal of Communication, 29(5), 529–548.

  • Brynielsson, J., Johansson, F., Jonsson, C., & Westling, A. (2014). Emotion classification of social media posts for estimating people’s reactions to communicated alert messages during crises. Security Informatics, 3(1), 1–11.

  • Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (1996). Communication and attributions in a crisis: An experimental study in crisis communication. Journal of Public Relations Research, 8(4), 279–295.

  • de Fatima Oliveira, M. (2013). Multicultural environments and their challenges to crisis communication. Journal of Business Communication, 50(3), 253–277.

  • Doepel, D. G. (1991). Crisis management: The psychological dimension. Organization & Environment, 5(3), 177–188.

  • Etter, M. A., & Vestergaard, A. (2015). Facebook and the public framing of a corporate crisis. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 20(2), 163–177.

  • Glendon, A., McDonald, L., & Sparks, B. (2010). Stakeholder reactions to company crisis communication and causes. Public Relations Review, 36, 263–271.

  • Goby, V. P., & Nickerson, C. (2015). The impact of culture on the construal of organizational crisis: Perceptions of crisis in Dubai. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 20(3), 310–325.

  • Hajibaba, H., Gretzel, U., Leisch, F., & Dolnicar, S. (2015). Crisis-resistant tourists. Annals of Tourism Research, 53, 46–60.

  • Haruta, A., & Hallahan, K. (2003). Cultural issues in airline crisis communications: A Japan-US comparative study. Asia Journal of Communication, 13(2), 122–150.

  • Huang, Y.-H., Lin, Y.-H., & Su, S.-H. (2005). Crisis communicative strategies in Taiwan: Category, continuum, and cultural implication. Public Relations Review, 31(2), 229–238.

  • Huang, Y. H. C., Wu, F., & Cheng, Y. (2016). Crisis communication in context: Cultural and political influences underpinning Chinese public relations practice. Public Relations Review, 42(1), 201–213.

  • Hwang, S., & Cameron, G. T. (2008). Public’s expectation about an organization’s stance in crisis communication based on perceived leadership and perceived severity of threats. Public Relations Review, 34(1), 70–73.

  • Jin, Y. (2010). Making sense sensibly in crisis communication: How publics’ crisis appraisals influence their negative emotions, coping strategy preferences, and crisis response acceptance. Communication Research, 37(4), 522–552.

  • Jin, Y., & Cameron, G. T. (2007). The effects of threat type and duration on public relations practitioner’s cognitive, affective, and conative responses in crisis situations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 19(3), 255–281.

  • Jin, Y., Liu, B. F., Anagondahalli, D., & Austin, L. (2014). Scale development for measuring publics’ emotions in organizational crises. Public Relations Review, 40(3), 509–518.

  • Leonidou, L. C., Leonidou, C. N., & Kvasova, O. (2013). Cultural drivers and trust outcomes of consumer perceptions of organizational unethical marketing behavior. European Journal of Marketing, 47(3–4), 525–556.

  • Lipset, S. M. (1953). Opinion formation in a crisis situation. Public opinion quarterly, 17(1), 20–46.

  • Liu, B., Austin, L., & Jin, Y. (2011). How publics respond to crisis communication strategies: The interplay of information form and source. Public Relations Review, 37(4), 345–353.

  • McDonald, L. M., Sparks, B., & Glendon, A. I. (2010). Stakeholder reactions to company crisis communication and causes. Public Relations Review, 36(3), 263–271.

  • Rafter, K. (2014). Voices in the crisis: The role of media elites in interpreting Ireland’s banking collapse. European Journal of Communication, 29(5), 1–10.

  • Spence, P. R., Lachlan, K. A., Westerman, D., & Spates, S. A. (2013). Where the gates matter less: Ethnicity and perceived source credibility in social media health messages. Howard Journal of Communications, 24(1), 1–16.

Crisis Response

  • Arpan, L. M. (2002). When in Rome? The effects of spokesperson ethnicity on audience evaluation of crisis communication. The Journal of Business Communication, 39(3), 314–339.

  • Barrett, M. S. (2005). Spokespersons and message control: How the CDC lost credibility during the Anthrax Crisis. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 6(1), 59–68.

  • Burgess, P. G. (1973). Crisis rhetoric: Coercion vs. force. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 59(1), 61–73.

  • Chang, H. H., Tsai, Y.-C., Wong, K. H., Wang, J. W., & Cho, F. J. (2015). The effects of response strategies and severity of failure on consumer attribution with regard to negative word-of-mouth. Decision Support Systems, 71, 48–61.

  • Cho, S. E., Jung, K., & Park, H. W. (2013). Social media use during Japan’s 2011 earthquake: how Twitter transforms the locus of crisis communication. Media International Australia, 149(1), 28–40.

  • Cho, S. H., & Gower, K. K. (2006). Framing effect on the public’s response to crisis: Human interest frame and crisis type influencing responsibility and blame. Public Relations Review, 32(4), 420–422.

  • Choi, Y., & Lin, Y.-H. (2009). Individual difference in crisis response perception: How do legal experts and lay people perceive apology and compassion responses? Public Relations Review, 35(4), 452–454.

  • Claeys, A. S., & Cauberghe, V. (2014). Keeping control: The importance of nonverbal expressions of power by organizational spokespersons in times of crisis. Journal of Communication, 64(6), 1160–1180.

  • Claeys, A.-S., & Cauberghe, V. (2014). What makes crisis response strategies work? The impact of crisis involvement and message framing. Journal of Business Research, 67(2), 182–189.

  • Colapinto, C., & Benecchi, E. (2014). The presentation of celebrity personas in everyday twittering: managing online reputations throughout a communication crisis. Media, Culture & Society, 36(2), 219–233.

  • Dickmann, P., McClelland, A., Gamhewage, G. M., de Souza, P. P., & Apfel, F. (2015). Making sense of communication interventions in public health emergencies–an evaluation framework for risk communication. Journal of Communication in Healthcare, 233–240.

  • Freberg, K. J., Saling, K., & Freberg, L. (2013). Using a Situational Q-Sort to Assess Perceptions of a Food Recall Message as a Function of Delivery via Social, Organizational or Traditional Media. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 21(4), 225–230.

  • Fredriksson, M. (2014). Crisis communication as institutional maintenance. Public Relations Inquiry, 3(3), 319–340.

  • Gonzales-Herrero, A., & Pratt, C. B. (1998). Marketing crises in tourism: Communication strategies in the United States and Spain. Public Relations Review, 24(1), 83–97.

  • Göritz, A., Schultz, F., & Utz, S. (2011). Is the medium the message? Perceptions of reactions to crisis communication via twitter, blogs and traditional media. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 20–27.

  • Heinze, J., Uhlmann, E. L., & Diermeier, D. (2014). Unlikely allies: credibility transfer during a corporate crisis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 44(5), 392–397.

  • Johansson, A., & Härenstam, M. (2013). Knowledge communication: a key to successful crisis management. Biosecurity and bioterrorism: biodefense strategy, practice, and science, 11(S1), S260–S263.

  • Ki, E.-J., & Brown, K. A. (2013). The effects of crisis response strategies on relationship quality outcomes. Journal of Business Communication, 50(4), 403–420.

  • Koesten, J., & Rowland, R. C. (2004). The rhetoric of atonement. Communication Studies, 55, 68–88.

  • Lee, B. K. (2004). Audience-oriented approach to crisis communication: A study of Hong Kong consumers’ evaluation of an organizational crisis. Communication Research, 31(5), 600–618.

  • Marra, F. J. (1998). Crisis communication plans: Poor predictors of excellent crisis public relations. Public Relations Review, 24(4), 461–475.

  • Massey, J. E. (2001). Managing organizational legitimacy: Communication strategies for organizations in crisis. The Journal of Business Communication, 38(2), 153–170.

  • Mou, Y., & Lin, C. A. (2014). Communicating food safety via the social media: The role of knowledge and emotions on risk perception and prevention. Science Communication, 36(5), 593–616.

  • Nätti, S., Rahkolin, S., & Saraniemi, S. (2014). Crisis communication in key account relationships. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 19(3), 234–246.

  • Olsson, E. K. (2014). Crisis communication in public organisations: Dimensions of crisis communication revisited. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 22(2), 113–125.

  • Park, H., & Cameron, G. T. (2014). Keeping it real exploring the roles of conversational human voice and source credibility in crisis communication via blogs. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 91(3), 487–507.

  • Payne, L. L. (2006). Synthesizing crisis communication and reputation management: An experimental examination of memory. Journal of Promotion Management, 12(3–4), 161–187.

  • Rasmussen, R. K., & Merkelsen, H. (2014). The risks of nation branding as crisis response: A case study of how the Danish government turned the Cartoon Crisis into a struggle with globalization. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 10(3), 230–248.

  • Schultz, F., Utz, S., & Göritz, A. (2011). Is the medium the message? Perceptions of and reactions to crisis communication via twitter, blogs and traditional media. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 20–27.

  • Sellnow, T. L., & Brand, J. D. (2001). Establishing the structure of reality for an industry: Model and anti-model arguments as advocacy in Nike’s crisis communication. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 29(3), 278–296.

  • Sellnow, T. L., & Ulmer, R. R. (1995). Ambiguous argument as advocacy in organizational crisis communication. Argumentation and Advocacy, 31(3), 138–151.

  • Sellnow, T. L., Ulmer, R. R., & Snider, M. (1998). The compatibility of corrective action in organizational crisis communication. Communication Quarterly, 46(1), 60–74.

  • Spence, P. R., Lachlan, K. A., Lin, X., Sellnow-Richmond, D. D., & Sellnow, T. L. (2015). The problem with remaining silent: Exemplification effects and public image. Communication Studies, 66(3), 341–357.

  • Taylor, M., & Perry, D. C. (2005). Diffusion of traditional and new media tactics in crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 31(2), 209–217.

  • van der Meer, T. G., & Verhoeven, P. (2013). Public framing organizational crisis situations: Social media versus news media. Public Relations Review, 39(3), 229–231.

  • van Zoonen, W., & van der Meer, T. (2015). The importance of source and credibility perception in times of crisis: crisis communication in a socially mediated era. Journal of Public Relations Research, 27(5), 371–388.

  • Wan, H.-H., & Pfau, M. (2004). The relative effectiveness of inoculation, bolstering, and combined approaches in crisis communication. Journal of Public Relations Research, 16(3), 301–328.

  • Wertz, E. K., & Kim, S. (2010). Cultural issues in crisis communication: A comparative study of messages chosen by South Korean and US print media. Journal of Communication Management, 14(1), 81–94.

  • Westerman, D., Spence, P. R., & Van Der Heide, B. (2014). Social media as information source: Recency of updates and credibility of information. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(2), 171–183.

  • Zhao, D., Wang, F., Wei, J., & Liang, L. (2013). Public reaction to information release for crisis discourse by organization: Integration of online comments. International Journal of Information Management, 33(3), 485–495.

Key Case Studies

  • Basham, C. (2001). Crisis communication at Southern California Edison: Dealing with deregulation. Strategic Communication Management, 5(3), 14–17.

  • Benoit, W. L., & Czerwinski, A. (1997). A critical analysis of USAir’s image repair discourse. Business Communication Quarterly, 60(3), 38–57.

  • Benson, J. A. (1988). Crisis revisited: An analysis of strategies used by Tylenol in the second tampering episode. Communication Studies, 39(1), 49–66.

  • Blaney, J. R., Benoit, W. L., & Brazeal, L. M. (2002). Blowout! Firestone’s image restoration campaign. Public Relations Review, 28(4), 379–392.

  • Browning, L. D., & Shetler, J. C. (1992). Communication in crisis, communication in recovery: a postmodern commentary on the Exxon Valdez disaster. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 10(3), 477–498.

  • Bruce, T., & Tini, T. (2008). Unique crisis response strategies in sports public relations: Rugby league and the case for diversion. Public Relations Review, 34(2), 108–115.

  • Campiranon, K., & Scott, N. (2014). Critical success factors for crisis recovery management: A case study of Phuket hotels. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 31(3), 313–326.

  • Charlebois, S., Von Massow, M., & Pinto, W. (2015). Food recalls and risk perception: An exploratory case of the XL Foods and the biggest food recall in Canadian history. Journal of Food Products Marketing, 21(1), 27–43.

  • Chen, N. (2009). Institutionalizing public relations: A case study of Chinese government crisis communication on the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Public Relations Review, 35, 187–198.

  • Chesler, M., & Schmuck, R. (1964). Student reactions to the Cuban crisis and public dissent. Public Opinion Quarterly, 28(3), 467–482.

  • Choi, J. W., Kim, K. H., Moon, J. M., & Kim, M. S. (2015). Public health crisis response and establishment of a crisis communication system in South Korea: lessons learned from the MERS outbreak. Journal of the Korean Medical Association, 58(7), 624–634.

  • Cicognani, E., & Zani, B. (2015). Communication of health risks from exposure to depleted uranium (DU) in Italy: a case study. Journal of Risk Research, 18(6), 77–788.

  • Cmeciu, C., Coman, C., Patrut, M., & Teodorascu, F. (2015). News media framing of preventable crisis clusters. Case study: Newborn babies killed in the fire at a Romanian hospital. Transylvanian Review of Administrative Sciences, 11(44), 42–56.

  • Coleman, A. (2013). Managing a crisis in the era of social communication: how Greater Manchester Police is developing community engagement and communication. Journal of Brand Strategy, 2(2), 128–133.

  • de Brooks, K. P., & Waymer, D. (2009). Public relations and strategic issues management challenges in Venezuela: A discourse analysis of Crystallex International Corporation in Las Cristinas. Public Relations Review, 35, 31–39.

  • Diers‐Lawson, A., & Pang, A. (2016). Did BP Atone for its transgressions? Expanding theory on ‘ethical apology’ in crisis communication. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 24(3), 148–161.

  • Downing, J. R. (2004). American Airlines’ use of mediated employee channels after the 9/11 attacks. Public Relations Review, 30(1), 37–48.

  • Falkheimer, J., & Olsson, E.-K. (2015). Depoliticizing terror: The news framing of the terrorist attacks in Norway, 22 July 2011. Media, War & Conflict, 8(1), 70–85.

  • Figueroa, P. M. (2013). Risk communication surrounding the Fukushima nuclear disaster: an anthropological approach. Asia Europe Journal, 11(1), 53–64.

  • Fraustino, J. D., & Ma, L. (2015). CDC’s use of social media and humor in a risk campaign—‘Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.’ Journal of Applied Communication Research, 43(2), 222–241.

  • Gesser-Edelsburg, A., Shir-Raz, Y., Hayek, S., & Lev, O. S.-B. (2015). What does the public know about Ebola? The public’s risk perceptions regarding the current Ebola outbreak in an as-yet unaffected country. American Journal of Infection Control, 43(7), 669–675.

  • Grebe, S. K. (2013). Re-building a damaged corporate reputation: How the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) overcame the damage of the UN ‘Oil For Food’ scandal to successfully reintegrate into the Australian Wheat Marketing Regulatory regime. Corporate Reputation Review, 16(2), 118–130.

  • Griffin-Padgett, D., & Allison, D. (2010). Making a case for restorative rhetoric: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mayor Ray Nagin’s response to disaster. Communication Monographs, 77(3), 376–392.

  • Hearit, K. M. (1999). Newsgroups, activist publics, and corporate apologia: The case of Intel and its Pentium chip. Public Relations Review, 25(3), 291–308.

  • Hutchison, E. (2010). Trauma and the politics of emotions: Constituting identity, security, and community after the Bali bombing. International Relations, 24(1), 65–86.

  • Ihlen, Ø. (2002). Defending the Mercedes A-Class: Combining and changing crisis-response strategies. Journal of Public Relations Research, 14(3), 185–206.

  • Kal-kausar, M., Rafida, A. N., Nurulhusna, N., Alina, A., & Mashitoh, A. S. (2013). Crisis communication and management on food recall in the Malaysian food industry. Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research, 13, 54–60.

  • Kauffman, J. (2001). A successful failure: NASA’s crisis communications regarding Apollo 13. Public Relations, 27(4), 437–449.

  • Knight, G., & Greenberg, J. (2002). Promotionalism and subpolitics: Nike and its labor critics. Management Communication Quarterly, 15(4), 541–570.

  • Lachlan, K. A., Spence, P. R., Lin, X., & Del Greco, M. (2014). Screaming into the wind: Examining the volume and content of tweets associated with Hurricane Sandy. Communication Studies, 65(5), 500–518.

  • Martinelli, K. A., & Briggs, W. (1998). Integrating public relations and legal responses during a crisis: The case of Odwalla, Inc. Public Relations Review, 24(4), 443–465.

  • Pang, A., Frandsen, F., Johansen, W., & Yeo, S. L. (2013). A comparative study of crisis consultancies between Singapore and Denmark: Distant cousins of the same destiny? International Journal of Strategic Communication, 7(2), 149–164.

  • Peijuan, C., Ting, L., & Pang, A. (2009). Managing a nation’s image during crisis: A study of the Chinese government’s image repair efforts in the ‘Made in China’ controversy. Public Relations Review, 35(3), 213–218.

  • Piotrowski, C., & Guyette, R. W. (2010). Toyota recall crisis: Public attitudes on leadership and ethics. Organizational Development Journal, 28(2), 89–97.

  • Rhee, H. T., & Yang, S.-B. (2014). Consumers’ emotional reactions to negative publicity and crisis management in the health care industry: A multiple case study of Lipitor and Oxyelite Pro. Social Science Computer Review, 32(5), 678–693.

  • Samkin, G., Allen, C., & Wallace, K. (2010). Repairing organisational legitimacy: The case of the New Zealand police. Australasian Accounting Business & Finance Journal, 4(3), 23–45.

  • Sisco, H. F., Collins, E. L., & Zoch, L. M. (2010). Through the looking glass: A decade of Red Cross crisis response and situational crisis communication theory. Public Relations Review, 36(1), 21–27.

  • Takahashi, B., Tandoc, E. C., & Carmichael, C. (2015). Communicating on Twitter during a disaster: An analysis of tweets during Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Computers in Human Behavior, 50, 392–398.

  • Ulmer, R. R. (2001). Effective crisis management through established stakeholder relationships: Malden Mills as a case study. Management Communication Quarterly, 14(4), 590–615.

  • Ulmer, R. R., & Sellnow, T. L. (2000). Consistent questions of ambiguity in organizational crisis communication: Jack in the Box as a case study. Journal of Business Ethics, 25(2), 143–156.

  • Veil, S. R., Reno, J., Freihaut, R., & Oldham, J. (2015). Online activists vs. Kraft foods: A case of social media hijacking. Public Relations Review, 41(1), 103–108.

  • Zhang, L., Kong, Y., & Chang, H. (2015). Media use and health behavior in H1N1 flu crisis: The mediating role of perceived knowledge and fear. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 23(2), 67–80.

Ethics and Crisis Communication

  • Austin, L., & Jin, Y. (2015). Approaching ethical crisis communication with accuracy and sensitivity: Exploring common ground and gaps between journalism and public relations. Public Relations Journal, 9(1), 2.

  • Bauman, D. C. (2011). Evaluating ethical approaches to crisis leadership: Insights from unintentional harm research. Journal of Business Ethics, 98(2), 281–295.

  • Simola, S. (2005). Concepts of care in organizational crisis prevention. Journal of Business Ethics, 62, 341–353.

  • Watson, T. (2007). Reputation and ethical behaviour in a crisis: predicting survival. Journal of Communication Management, 11(4), 371–384.

  • Xu, K., & Li, W. (2013). An ethical stakeholder approach to crisis communication: A case study of Foxconn’s 2010 employee suicide crisis. Journal of Business Ethics, 117(2), 371–386.

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