Jack in the Box
case studies were grouped under one of Coombs' four crisis types: faux
pas, terrorism, accidents, or transgressions (Coombs, 1995). A faux pas
is an unintentional action that an external agent tries to transform into
a crisis. Accidents are unintentional and happen during the course of
normal organizational operations. Transgressions are intentional actions
taken by an organization that knowingly place publics at risk or harm.
Terrorism refers to intentional actions taken by external actors designed
to harm the organization directly or indirectly (Coombs, 1995, p. 456-457).
The type of crisis faced by Denny's was transgression because the crisis
was created internally by a small group of Denny's employees. NASA's challenger
incident falls under two of Coomb's categories - transgression and accident
because NASA ignored warnings from the O-ring manufacturer regarding their
potential to fail in cold weather. Jack in the Box's E. coli crisis falls
under Coombs' accident category. Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol tampering
falls under Coomb's terrorism category. The Union Carbide crisis overlaps
into two of Coombs' identified matrix. Aspects of the incident can be
categorized as an accident or as a transgression depending on the viewpoint
of the various participants.
Case studies were also used to group crisis-response strategies into five
different categories: refutation strategies, avoidance strategies, attachment
strategies, forgiveness strategies, and sympathy strategies. While these
categories reflect Coombs' overall concepts, for the purpose of our analysis,
we have recategorized the strategies with the above distinct titles to
more accurately depict the particular cases we studied. This unique nomenclature
is internal to this study only.
Refutation strategies seek to eliminate the crises. Elimination is achieved
by denying a crisis exists, or clarifying why there is no crisis. Organizations
can also attack, or confront those who have wrongly reported that a crisis
exists. The most aggressive refutation strategy is intimidation. Intimidation
is most often the threat of legal action against those who say an organization
is experiencing a crisis. If an organization uses refutational strategies
the leaders must be absolutely sure they are correct that a crisis does
not exist (Coombs, 1995).
Avoidance strategies acknowledge the crisis and attempt to create public
acceptance of the crisis while weakening the linkage between the crisis
and the organization. Organizations attempt to excuse or justify the crisis
when using avoidance strategy. An organization can excuse the crisis by
denial of intention, "we didn't mean to hurt anyone," or by
denial of violation, "no laws were broken here" (Coombs, 1995).
Justification is an avoidance strategy that seeks to minimize the damage
associated with the crisis. Organizations can minimize a crises by denying
the seriousness of injury, or claiming the victim disserved what happened,
"our oil spill was a drop in the bucket compared to the Exxon Valdez,"
or "its is tragic that someone was killed in a Ford, but they didn't
have their seatbelt on" (Coombs, 1995).
Attachment strategies seek to gain public approval for the organization
during a crisis. This is done by bolstering the organization's attributes,
"our organization ads $ 1 billion to the local economy," or
transcendence, "the soldiers were killed in the defense of freedom,"
or by praising others, "the heroic efforts of those that helped clean
this oil spill can not be overstated" (Coombs, 1995).
Forgiveness strategies attempt to win forgiveness of the publics and to
create acceptance for the crises. There are three forgiveness strategies:
remediation, repentance, and rectification (Marcus & Goodman, 1991).
Remediation offers some sort of compensation to the victims of a crisis
(usually money). Negative feelings may be lessened if an organization
takes positive actions to help the victims of a crisis. The airline industry
is particularly adept at this following a crash (Coombs, 1995).
Repentance is a forgiveness strategy that simply asks for forgiveness.
If an organization apologizes for the crises the negatives associated
with the crisis should be lessoned as people accept the apology and forgive
the organization for its misdeeds. Rectification is a forgiveness strategy
that normally follows repentance. Rectification involves taking action
to prevent recurrence of the crisis in the future.
The final crisis response strategy is sympathy strategy. An organization
attempts to portray itself as the victim of a malicious outside entity.
If the CIA had agents sell secrets to a foreign adversary they could claim
they were victims of a malicious employee gone bad.
We will attempt to answer the following research questions in our case
study analysis to determine if there are any implications for Department
of Defense public affairs professionals.
RQ1: What are the types of crises identified in the case studies?
RQ2: What are typical crisis response strategies used in selected case
RQ3: What are the common successes and failures identified among the case
RQ4: What are the implications for the Department of Defense?