Amazon Crisis Questions


Share an example of an organization that ineffectively devised and executed a response to a crisis. What was the situation? What was the response? What made the response ineffective?
Share an example of an organization that effectively devised and executed a response to a crisis. What was the situation? What was the response? What made the response effective?

In what ways can a deep understanding of flow theory benefit the work of public relations or other communications practitioners?

Scholars who study flow theory and media often focus specifically on the experience of flow when playing video games. Are there ways that flow theory can be applied to other types of media? How might the flow experience differ between video games and other media? What effects might this have?

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The SAGE Handbook of
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Crisis Communication
A Developing Field
W. Timothy Coombs
risis communication is a dynamic and
rapidly expanding field of study. Look
through a few issues of any public relations or communication journal or the program
for any communication-oriented conference and
crisis communication will be featured prominently. The challenge in this chapter is to cover
the topic in a meaningful fashion without being
redundant, with respect to other reviews and
commentaries on crisis communication. This
chapter will explore crisis communication
through its conceptualization, history, and focal
tensions. There will be a short review of where we
have been to help us understand where crisis
communication research still needs to go.
Crisis Communication:
Foundational Definitions
Any discussion of crisis communication requires
consideration of what constitutes a crisis. This
chapter defines crisis as “the perception of an
unpredictable event that threatens important
expectations of stakeholders and can seriously
impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes” (Coombs, 2007b, pp. 2-3).
Crises are perceptual. If stakeholders believe there
is a crisis stemming from expectation violations, a
crisis exists and negative outcomes will occur if
the situation is neglected. We should not call any
event a crisis. Crisis should be reserved for only
those events that have the potential to or do seriously affect the organization. The event must warrant assembling the crisis team. Many events we
call crises really may not be. In part, organizations
have developed routines for handling common
crises such as product harm leading to a product
recall. As crisis managers develop routines for
handling crises, what would once have been a crisis requiring the crisis team is now a negative event
that can be handled without the entire team. The
negative event will require only the reputation
repair aspect of crisis.
While crisis communication is emerging as a
distinct field of study, it is important to contextualize it within the broader discipline of public
relations. Crisis communication is closely linked
to the allied fields of risk communication, issues
PART II: The Practice of Public Relations as Change Management
management, and reputation management. Risk
communication involves the exchange or dialogue between risk bearers and the organizations
creating the risk. Risk bearers learn about the
risks presented by an organization and the
actions being taken to control the risks.
Organizations listen to risk bearers to appreciate
their concerns and perceptions of the risks
(Palenchar, 2005). Risk communication can be a
critical component in prevention and preparation. Risk communication can be used to avert a
risk and to prepare people for it, if and when a
risk escalates into a crisis. Part of crisis communication can involve elements of risk communication. Failures at risk communication can
precipitate a crisis, while a crisis may create the
need for risk communication.
We find a similar pattern with issues management. Issues management involves the systematic
application of procedures designed to influence
an issue’s resolution. Failed efforts to manage an
issue can create a crisis, while a crisis may generate issues in need of management (GonzálezHerrero & Pratt, 1996; Heath, 1994). Failure to
effectively manage the crisis can invite government scrutiny and even new regulations.
Reputation management is gaining attention
in public relations because of its connection to a
number of important outcomes such as valuation of stock, recruitment and retention of
employees, and sales (Fombrun & van Riel,
2004). Crises have long been viewed as a threat to
reputations—that is, how stakeholders perceive
the organization. Thus, crisis management is
closely linked to reputation management.
Moreover, some believe that a strong reputation
prior to a crisis is an asset to organizations
during the crisis. Some argue for a halo effect
that protects the organizations (Dowling, 2002),
while others argue any crisis costs reputational
capital, so having a strong reputational account
prior to a crisis helps ensure a healthy reserve
after the crisis hits (Coombs & Holladay, 2006).
Crisis communication does act in concert with
other elements of public relations.
Communication is ubiquitous throughout the
entire crisis management process. The various
applications of crisis communication can be
divided into two categories: ( 1 ) managing information and (2) managing meaning. Managing
information includes the collection and analysis
of information and the dissemination of knowledge. Decision making by crisis teams and
informing stakeholders are both driven by managing information. This would include the critical warnings provided to stakeholders about
safety and how to protect themselves from the
crisis (instructing information) as well as followup information after a crisis.
Managing meaning is accomplished through
efforts to shape how people perceive the crisis situation. The targets for crisis meaning management are all stakeholders, including those inside
the organization. Convincing others in the organization that a crisis does exist, providing adjusting information
(helping people cope
psychologically with the crisis), and managing
reputations are examples of managing meaning.
Managing meaning encompasses the growing
interest in crises and affect. Researchers have
been examining the emotions generated by crises
and the effects of those emotions on stakeholder
behavioral intentions (e.g., Coombs & Holladay,
2005; Jin & Pang, 2010).
We can cross the two categories of crisis
communication with the three phases of
crisis management to construct a 2 x 3 crisis
communication array for organizing crisis
communication research. Crisis communication can span multiple cells. The crisis communication array in Table 33.1 is designed as a
guide for discussion, not as a rigid set of boxes
for arranging research. The crisis communication array consists of six cells: (1) precrisis
managing information, (2) precrisis managing
meaning, (3) crisis response managing information, (4) crisis response managing meaning,
(5) postcrisis managing information, and
(6) postcrisis managing meaning. Currently,
the bulk of the extant crisis communication
Chapter 33
Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication Array
Crisis Phase
Managing Information
Managing Meaning
Precrisis/prevention and preparation
Crisis response
literature focuses on managing meaning.
Below are some possible topics to pursue along
with citations for research relevant to the
various cells.
1. Precrisis managing information: educating
stakeholders about emergency communication and response systems, scanning for
crisis-related risks, and monitoring crisisrelated risks (González-Herrero & Pratt,
1996; Heath & Abel, 1996; Heath, Lee, &
Ni, 2009).
2. Precrisis managing meaning: selling crises
to management, inoculation, vigilance,
plan efficacy, and self-efficacy of stakeholders for a crisis response (Wan & Pfau,
2004; Williams & Olaniran, 1998).
3. Crisis response managing
decision making by crisis management
teams, effectiveness of instructing information, and effectiveness of warning/notification systems (Kolfschoten &
Appelman, 2006; Sellnow & Sellnow, in
4. Crisis response managing meaning: reputation
repair, effectiveness of adjusting information,
and ability to present the organization’s side
of the story and effectively communicate the
risks created by the crisis (Benoit, 1995;
Coombs & Holladay, 1996; Holladay, 2009).
5. Postcrisis managing information: organizational learning and postmortems of crisis
responses (Roux-Dufort, 2000).
6. Postcrisis managing meaning: healing and
memorials, renewal, managing issues arising from a crisis, and managing risks
made salient by crises (Ulmer, Seeger, &
Sellnow, 2007).
The precrisis cells have some promising
research but are underdeveloped. The best way to
manage a crisis is to avoid one. Risk management
and issues management are a natural fit with precrisis. Reducing risks or effectively managing an
issue can eliminate the trigger event for a crisis.
Moreover, we have only just begun to scratch the
surface in our understanding of how crisis communication shapes the preparation of stakeholders
for a crisis and the effects of crisis response messages during a crisis. The recent engagement
between crisis and risk communication holds
great promise for precrisis communication and
postcrisis communication. We shall see similar
gains as crisis communication and issues management converge.
Crisis response has dominated the crisis communication research with a heavy emphasis on
managing meaning. There are other questions to
pursue in crisis response meaning management
such as the ability of crisis managers to place
their messages into traditional and online media
outlets—telling their side of the story (Holladay,
2009). We see some interesting research emerging on managing information that examines
the work of crisis teams (e.g., Kolfschoten &
Appelman, 2006). Also, researchers have been
exploring instructing information in greater
depth (Sellnow & Sellnow, in press). However,
PART II: The Practice of Public Relations as Change Management
managing information remains a small slice of
the crisis response research.
Postcrisis/learning depends on a careful
examination of the crisis management effort to
determine what was done well, what was done
poorly, and what can be done to improve before
the next crisis. Postcrisis makes crisis management cyclical, as the learning feeds back into
the other aspects of the crisis management
process. Managers are encou/aged to learn
from crises. However, researchers find little evidence of learning from crises (Roux-Dufort,
2000). In part, crisis learning is managing
information, as data about the crisis management effort must be collected and analyzed.
However, there is no learning if that information is not incorporated into the organization.
Taking lessons from a crisis and infusing them
into organizational practices is, to a large
extent, managing meaning. Although there are
rough guides for points to consider when evaluating a crisis management effort, there is little
discussion of the limitations and problems
associated with the process.
We can layer two additional factors onto the
crisis communication array: (I) international
crises and (2) online communication. Crises are
becoming more international as they span multiple countries and cultures (Coombs, 2008). We
need a greater understanding of how culture and
other variables introduced by international
crises affect crisis communication across the
six cells. There is limited research on international crisis communication (e.g., Frandsen &
Johansen, 2010; Huang, Lin, & Su, 2005;
Lee, 2005; Taylor, 2000). Similarly, we have just
begun to understand the effect of online communication across the six cells. Clearly, there are
implications for precrisis (scanning) and crisis
response. Yet researchers have just begun to
scratch the surface of the online world (e.g., Choi
& Lin, 2009; Taylor & Perry, 2005). The potential
research topics increase exponentially as we
introduce international crises and online communication to the mix.
Historical Development
The earliest crisis communication writings were
practical in nature. The focus was on “how-to
advice” for a crisis. The emphasis was on the form
and format of crisis responses such as be quick
and avoid “no comment” (Coombs, 2007b). This
section will focus on the strategic use of crisis
communication. How has communication been
used to address concerns and to pursue desired
outcomes during a crisis? The history of strategic
crisis communication can be traced through two
dominant research approaches: rhetorical and
social science. The rhetorical approach is the
older of the two and will be considered first.
Rhetorical Approaches
to Crisis Communication
Crises are situations that create a need for management to respond—crises trigger the need for
communication. Crisis communication tends to
be public communication, so it is natural that
rhetoric would be applied as crisis communication can be viewed as a type of public address.
The rhetorical approach thus focuses on crisis
communication as a type of public address.
There are four notable lines of rhetorical crisis
communication research: ( 1 ) corporate apologia,
(2) image restoration, (3) focusing event, and
(4) renewal. This section reviews the major
approaches in a cursory manner because detailed
discussions about the research lines are available
elsewhere (e.g., Coombs, 2009).
Corporate apologia was the earliest rhetorical
application to crisis communication. Apologia is
a genre within rhetoric devoted to the study of
self-defense. When rhetors are faced with a challenge to their character, they use communication
to defend their character. Apologia was designed
for individuals, not corporations. Dionisopoulos
and Vibbert (1988) were the first to argue that
organizations could face the same character
(reputation) threats as individuals and had the
same need to protect their characters in public.
Chapter 33
Hearit’s (2001,2006) work came to define corporate apologia. His research was not just a series of
loosely connected case studies applying corporate apologia. Rather, Hearit (1995) refined and
expanded our understanding of corporate apologia, transforming it into a distinct perspective for
examining corporate rhetoric.
Image restoration theory, now called image
repair theory, can be treated as a derivation of
corporate apologia (Benoit & Pang, 2008).
Benoit (1995) shares the view that public reputations can be threatened, are valuable, and warrant protection. Benoit fuses apologia with ideas
from account giving to create a set of crisis
response strategies—communicative options for
crisis managers. Benoit’s list of crisis response
strategies is exhaustive and a significant development for crisis communication.
Fishman (1999) introduced the idea of the
focusing event to crisis communication. A focusing event is “sudden and unpredictable” but
becomes widely known in a short period of time.
Type 1 focusing events are “normal” and include
natural disasters. Type 2 focusing events are new,
violation expectations, and create uncertainty
that demands public attention. Fishman argues
that some crises qualify as Type 2 focusing events
because not all crises become widely known in a
short period of time. The power of the focusing
event is that it helps set the public agenda,
thereby potentially influencing policy decisions.
Crisis communication can be used to influence
the ensuing policy discussion, essentially merging it with issues management. Fishman’s work
builds a critical bridge to issues management but
is often overlooked because it generated limited
The rhetoric of renewal, now called the discourse of renewal (DR), shifts the focus of crisis
communication in two ways. First, the emphasis
becomes the positives that can be taken away
from the crisis. Crisis becomes an opportunity
for organizational change and development. DR
is consistent with writings that consistently posit
that crises are an opportunity for organizational
Crisis Communication
learning. Second, the emphasis is on the future,
not on the crisis itself and not on addressing
issues of blame or responsibility for the crisis.
Crisis managers should focus on the “prospective
vision of the future in their crisis communication
rather than focusing retrospectively on responsibility for the event” (Ulmer, Sellnow, & Seeger,
2010, p. 692). However, DR has limits. Not all
organizations are in a position to execute DR
because there are certain conditions that must
exist for DR to be effective. Moreover, some crises
demand attention to issues of responsibility, and
an organization would be viewed as unethical for
avoiding them (Coombs, 2009).
What unites these four approaches are their
object of study and method. The object of study
is the crisis response strategy—that is, what crisis
managers say and do after a crisis. The method is
the case study approach. The conclusions based
on these qualitative/interpretative methods must
be taken as tentative because they illustrate rather
than prove the aspects of a theory.
Multivocal Approach
The multivocal approach is consistent with the
rhetorical tradition and evolves from what
Frandsen and Johansen (2010) call the rhetorical
arena that emerges around a crisis. While linked
to rhetoric and a text-oriented focus, the multivocal approach is more complex as it draws on a
grounded theory approach and on the work of
Luhmann (1996). A crisis event helps form a
rhetorical arena. The rhetorical arena can begin
to form before the crisis event (precrisis) and last
into the postcrisis phase; thus, it is not restricted
only to the crisis response phase. The approach is
multivocal because the voices of many actors
within the rhetorical arena are considered; it is
not just a dominant sender and receiver. There
are multiple actors serving as senders and
receivers and these various communicative
processes interact in the rhetorical arena. The
rhetorical arena is constituted by these various
voices. The analysis reflects a macro level when
PART II: The Practice of Public Relations as Change Management
these various voices are examined as the rhetorical arena as a whole.
The multivocal approach includes a micro
level that is sociorhetorical. Here, the individual
communicative process between specific senders
and receivers is examined. The focus is on the
crisis communication, the sender, the receiver,
and the four parameters (context, media, genre,
and text). The analysis must seek to understand
both the macro and micro levels and uses a case
study approach. Multiple voices must be considered when analyzing and evaluating the crisis
communication that transpires within the
rhetorical arena. The emphasis on the multivocality is a significant development in crisis communication thinking. As Frandsen and Johansen
(2010) note, “Actors very often accelerate the
course of events and spin a crisis in new directions, contributing to its dynamics” (p. 430). It is
not just the organization engaging in crisis communication; it can be politicians, the news
media, and/or customers as well. The multivocal
approach complicates our thinking and is especially well suited for international crisis communication, where multiple voices are the norm.
For a more detailed discussion of the multivocal
approach and its application in the international
crisis communication setting, see Frandsen and
Johansen (2010).
Social Science Approaches
to Crisis Communication
The social science tradition is rooted primarily in
the attribution theory (AT). The core of AT is
people’s need to make sense of events they
encounter, especially those that are sudden and
unexpected. Causes for events are attributed to
either the individual(s) involved in the event or
the circumstances surrounding an event (Kelley,
1971; Weiner, 1986). AT research uses experimental designs. The subject pool is broad since
AT is a general theory about human behaviors—
it should be common to all humans, though culture can have some effect on attributions (e.g.,
Huang et al., 2005).
Marketing researchers were the first to link AT
and crises with the works of Mowen (1980) and
Jolly (Jolly & Mowen, 1985). Crisis communication was a consideration but not the dominant
factor in the early AT marketing crisis communication research. Later researchers like Jorgensen
(1996) and Bradford and Garrett (1995)
explored the effect of crisis response strategies on
people’s reactions to crises, including behavioral
intentions. The research was restricted to a limited range of crisis, including product harm and
ethical misconduct. It did not generate a more
macro theoretical framework for addressing a
range of crisis types and for the application of
crisis response strategies.
Situational crisis communication theory
(SCCT) was developed to more fully articulate the
connection between crisis types and crisis
response strategies. The central assumption is that
the situation shapes what will be seen as an effective response. Hence, the crisis situation guides the
selection of appropriate crisis responses. So what
makes a response effective? To answer this question, we must appreciate the influence of Sturges
(1994) on SCCT. Sturges (1994) argued that crisis
communication has three functions: (1) instructing information, (2) adjusting information, and
(3) managing reputation.
Instructing information tells stakeholders how
to protect themselves physically from a crisis.
Adjusting information helps people cope psychologically with a crisis. Finally, crisis response
strategies can be used to repair the reputation
damage inflicted by a crisis. These three functions
should be pursued in the order just presented.
However, it is common to present instructing and
adjusting information simultaneously (Holladay,
2009). SCCT follows this advice with the belief
that public safety is the top priority in a crisis. The
initial or base response in a crisis consists of
instructing and adjusting information. Initial
effectiveness is the ability to protect people physically and to comfort those in psychological distress. Situational factors are then used to guide
reputation repair. The marker of effectiveness
then shifts to reputation repair/protection.
Chapter 33
Reputation is a complex concept, because it
can affect stakeholder behavioral intentions and
affect. AT was used to understand the connection between a crisis and organizational reputation. The key to selecting crisis response
strategies became how stakeholders attribute
organizational responsibility for a crisis. The
greater the stakeholder attributions of organizational responsibility for the crisis, the greater the
threat posed by the crisis. Attributions of crisis
responsibility are linked to organizational reputation, behaviors toward the organization, and
affect toward the organization. Assessing the crisis situation is a two-step process. First, crisis
managers determine the crisis type. A crisis type
is the frame used by stakeholders to interpret the
crisis event. Crisis types vary in the strength of
attributions of organizational crisis responsibility they generate. SCCT research clusters crises
into three types based on the attributions of
organization crisis responsibility each generates:
(1) victim (low attributions of organizational
crisis responsibility), (2) accidental (modest
attributions of organizational crisis responsibility), and (3) preventable (strong attributions of
organizational crisis responsibility) (Coombs &
Holladay, 2002).
Crisis Communication
try to reduce the perceived responsibility for
the crisis and include justification and excuse.
(3) Rebuild strategies attempt to improve the reputation and include compensation and apology.
(4) Bolstering strategies try to draw on existing
goodwill and should be used as a secondary strategy in support of other strategies. Bolstering strategies include reminding, ingratiation, and victimage
(Coombs, 2006). SCCT holds that as attributions
of organizational crisis responsibility become
stronger, crisis managers must use more accommodative crisis response strategies. Victim and
accidental crises with no intensifiers require just
instructing and adjusting information. Once
intensifiers appear, crisis managers should consider
moving to more accommodative strategies such as
compensation and apology. Refer to Coombs
(2007c) for a more detailed discussion of the various strategies and specific recommendations.
The second step is to consider intensifiers of the
crisis threat. So far, research has identified crisis
history and prior relationship reputation as intensifiers. Crisis history includes similar crises, if any,
that occurred in the past. Prior relationship reputation is how well or poorly the organization has
treated stakeholders in the past (Schwarz, 2008).
For both intensifiers, the threat is intensified if the
variable is negative. This means people attribute
greater organizational crisis responsibility when
there is either a history of past crises or the prior
relationship reputation is unfavorable. The effect
of the intensifiers has been called the Velcro effect
(Coombs, 2004; Coombs & Holladay, 2006).
SCCT research has begun to explore the role of
affect in the crisis situation and response. Following
Weiner (1986, 2006), SCCT focuses on the emotions of anger, sympathy, and Schadenfreude (taking joy from the pain of others). SCCT research
supports the contention that stronger attributions
of crisis responsibility lead to greater anger and
even to Schadenfreude in extreme cases.
Moreover, anger has proven to be an energizer for
behavior. Greater anger increases the likelihood of
people engaging in negative word of mouth (saying bad things about an organization or product).
When posted online, these negative messages can
linger well past the negative affect created by the
crisis. Put another way, people’s anger can dissipate, but their words can remain in cyberspace for
others to see. The motivation from anger has been
called the negative communication dynamic
(Coombs & Holladay, 2007). Future research
needs to explore how crisis response strategies
can reduce anger and thereby reduce the likelihood of negative word of mouth.
SCCT proposes four groups of crisis response
strategies. (1) Denial strategies seek to prevent
any connection between the organization and
some crisis event and include denial, attacking the
accuser, and scapegoating. (2) Diminish strategies
Contingency theory is a grand theory of public
relations and attempts to explain how public relations operates as a whole. Contingency theory
researchers seek to understand what guides policylevel decisions. Key elements of contingency theory
PART II: The Practice of Public Relations as Change Management
include conflict, stance, and the factors that can
shape a stance. Conflict is considered natural in
contingency theory. Stakeholders can experience
conflict with an organization or with other stakeholders. Stance is the general way in which management in an organization approaches conflict.
Stances range from accommodative, a willingness
to make concessions, to advocacy, a willingness to
persuade others to your position. Managers will
have a preferred stance that can be anticipated by
examining past reactions to conflict. However,
87 variables have been identified that can change a
stance. Contingency theory seeks to understand
how the variables come to change an organization’s
typical stance. The variables shaping a stance can
be grouped as internal or external (Cameron,
Pang, & Jin, 2008; Shin, Cameron, & Cropp, 2006).
When contingency theory is applied to crisis
communication, the crisis is the conflict and the
stances become the crisis response strategies.
Threat appraisal is used to assess the crisis situation. The threat appraisal comprises an assessment
of the threat type (internal or external to the organization) and threat duration (long term or short
term). The threat is used to guide the stance (crisis
response). The greatest threat is believed to be
internal and long term, and a more accommodative response is favored when the threat is greater
(Hwang 8c Cameron, 2008; Jin & Cameron, 2007).
Emotion has emerged as an important topic
from the contingency theory approach to crisis
communication. Pang, Jin, and Cameron (2010)
have integrated the appraisal model of emotion
with contingency theory to form the integrated
crisis mapping (ICM) model. ICM centers on four
emotions: (1) anger, when an offense has
occurred; (2) fright, when facing uncertainty and
threat; (3), anxiety, when facing immediate danger; and (4) sadness, when a sense of loss develops.
ICM proposes two dimensions that are crossed to
form four quadrants. The first dimension is the
public coping strategy ranging from problem focused (taking action) to cognitive-focused coping (changing interpretation of relationship). The
second dimension is the level of organizational
engagement and indicates the amount of
resources devoted to the crisis.
The quadrants are used to anticipate the emotion created by the crisis. Quadrants 1 (high
engagement and conative coping) involves reputational damage leading to anger and then anxiety. Quadrant 2 (high engagement and cognitive
coping) includes natural disasters and leads to
sadness and then fright. Quadrant 3 (low engagement and cognitive coping) involves terrorism
and leads to fright and sadness. Quadrant 4 (low
engagement and conative coping) involves security issues and leads to anxiety and then anger.
Thus far, research has shown Quadrant 1 to be
tied to anger, while Quadrants 2 to 4 are dominated by anxiety (Jin, 2009; Jin & Pang, 2010).
Synthesizing SCCT
and Contingency Theory
Researchers have noted the similarities between
SCCT and contingency theory, leading to speculation that they could be integrated (Holtzhausen &
Roberts, 2009). Integration of the two theories is a
viable idea. A potential synthesis should retain the
AT aspect of SCCT, because the common usage of
AT allows for comparison with studies in marketing
and management (Laufer & Coombs, 2006).
Contingency theory’s value is in identifying other
intensifying or even mitigating factors in the crisis
situation derived from its stable of internal and
external variables. Contingency theory would
extend the search for intensifiers and possible moderators well beyond the current set of variables
derived from AT. While the integration has yet to be
accomplished, there

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