Crisis Communication Research Paper

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Diana Sas
Laura Hester
MCOMM: 499
March 29, 2015
Crisis Communication
Mass Communications is both old and young. It is ancient in its foundations, rooted in
the earliest interactions of people in societies long ago. It is contemporary in its expression as
one of society's emerging professions. What we now call Public Relations is an essential and
natural aspect of human society. It has occurred throughout history and is growing rapidly
throughout the world. It has been part of societies separated by miles and centuries. Whenever
we look at social interaction, we think mostly of the media and how we communicate with other
people through it.
Within the field of mass communications there are multiple angles in which one can look
at. One of the main and most important sections is Public Relations. However, when digging
deeper into the Public Relations field more angles are also found. In every business there is a
Public Relations team and within that team there is one of the most important teams called Crisis
Communication. This area of expertise is so significantly beneficial to every business for
whenever a detrimental crisis may occur that could affect the business in a negative manor.
Problems are irritating annoyances that are commonplace in all businesses and
organizations. Problems often focus on individual and on interpersonal conflict. Some may
confuse problems with crises; however crises are full-blown interruptions in an organization's
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routine that can negatively and severely impact its success and its reputation. A crisis is a major,
negative, public, sudden, and unpredicted event that can seriously disrupt an organization's
activity and potentially hurt the organization tremendously. Because a crisis occurs in a public
environment, even private businesses and nonprofit organizations cannot shield themselves from
the expectation of being accountable. By its nature, a crisis invites outside scrutiny and
jeopardizes the organization's reputation. An organization may find itself either in the role of
either culprit or victim in a crisis situation. Regardless of the cause, if a crisis is handled
properly, it offers the organization with an opportunity to create a positive impression on its key
Some of the major types of crises include; violent disaster such as an earthquake or flood,
non-violent disaster such as drought or epidemic, violent accident such as mishap involving
people or equipment, mismanagement such as bad professional judgement involving operations
and procedures, violent opposition including impact by outside forces such as tampering or
terrorism, and non-violent opposition such as erosion of public trust, lawsuits, and protests.
Another way of categorizing crises is sudden verses smoldering. Sudden crises burst upon the
scene without warning and can become very messy when trying to settle the situation.
Fortunately this is seldom the case for businesses and organizations. Smoldering crises are much
more common and can be easier to handle when approached.
Every business and organization entrusts all responsibility when a crises occurs to the
Crisis Communication team. Each team is required to have a set plan for action when a crises
strikes. A crisis plan seeks to defend that reputation in adverse situations. It has been known in
history for some Crisis Communication teams to fail at having a plan that is effective and the
consequence for this is very severe. The main idea of Crisis Communication is to maintain the
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reputation, trust, and visibility of the company to its publics. Crisis management is both a
proactive and reactive process of planning strategically to anticipate crises and to handle them
effectively at each stage: detection, prevention or preparation, response, and recovery.
A Crisis Management team is incredibly substantial to a business, company, or
organization. This group should have senior managers initiate and supervise issues management,
develop a crisis plan, see that appropriate training and resourcing is available, and continually
press the issue of crisis preparedness and management. This allows an organization to prevent
problems or minimize their impact by being prepared to deal with them. For a crisis plan to be
effective, it must be personalized to the specific needs of an organization. One major task of a
crisis management team is to provide training for organizational leaders in how to handle
themselves situations such as media interviews, news conferences, and other public presentations
if a crisis were to arise. This often is a task for an outside consultant experienced in the three
areas of journalism, public relations and training.
As stated above, there have been moments in history where a Crisis Management team
has failed at creating a successful crisis plan. For example Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans
in 2005 resulting in Levee breaches leading to massive flooding, and many people charged that
the federal government was slow to meet the needs of the people affected by the storm.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were displaced from
their homes, and experts estimate that Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damage. The
devastation was impulsive in the sense of the details of the storm. However for years, there had
been warning of potential weaknesses in the levies, inadequacy of evacuation plans, flaws in the
emergency communication systems, and politicization of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency. Three years later when Hurricane Gustav hit the same area, some of the levies had been
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improved, evacuation plans were in place, the communication system had been shored up and
FEMA operated more effectively. The lesson to be learned was if the organization had
implemented a program of monitoring the internal and external environments, steps could have
been taken to prevent or significantly minimize the eventual damage.
Another case study of a failed crisis plan occurred in 1989 when 11 million gallons of oil
spilled into Prince William Sound, Alaska. This crisis left 500,000 birds/150 bald eagles, 4,500
sea otters, 14 killer whales dead and took a huge toll on fishing & tourism. The mistakes made
by the Crisis Management Team left low-profile Companies suspicious of media reports. For
example the first public comment was made after 6 days, no one was on site for 3 weeks, there
was no designated spokesperson to handle the situation. The Exxon companies’ stock dropped $3
billion, a newspaper apology was available in ads 10 days later and there was a two-week delay
before cleanup. The lesson to be learned was to take faster action, don’t execute the situation
with silence, and have priority of profits over consumer. This crisis was a great example of a
crisis management team that chose arrogance, and putting the blame on others, which in result
ruined the reputation and trust of the public for Exxon.
The most rewarding and honorable case study of good crisis management occurred in
1982 when seven Chicago residents died & 250 got sick after ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol
capsules, which had been tampered with on the store shelves. The company put customer safety
first. They pulled 31 million bottles of Tylenol, which came out to be $100 million in Tylenol
products. All advertising and production of the product was pulled from the shelves and put to a
halt. The Chicago police, FBI and FDA were all involved in a search to find the killer and a
$100,000 reward was offered for who found this person. Post-crisis, the company reintroduced
Tylenol with new tamper-resistant packaging and $2.50-off coupons. As a result to this crisis in
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1982 “A go-to case study in MBA classes worldwide, Tylenol's response to the tragic 1982
Chicago murders is regarded as one of the most successful sequences of crisis management in
history. The media appreciated the lengths J&J went to and its concern for the public interest, so
the company was portrayed generally in a good light, helping the Tylenol brand to recover.” The
lesson to be shared with this crisis was quick action, proactive communication and priority of
consumer over profits.
Overall Crisis Communication is one of the most important groups of a business or
organization. This team oversees all crises when they strike and are required to be well prepared
for any given situation. As long as a crisis management team can understand the role of
corporate communications, recognize issues that might impact an organization’s survival and
realize the power of the U.S. news media, in particular the “social” media and its application in
today’s crisis environments then a company will be well protected. It is also beneficial to ensure
this team has media relations skills and can critically analyze previous crisis situations in
established organizations. If all crisis communication management teams can demonstrate these
actions then all companies will benefit successfully.
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Work Cited
"Questions and Answers." Oil Spill Facts. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
Bhasin, Kim. "9 PR Fiascos That Were Handled Brilliantly By Management." Business Insider.
Business Insider, Inc, 26 May 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
"Hurricane Katrina." A&E Television Networks. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
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