Crisis Communication Strategies


Statement of Problem

Literature Review

Communication Theories


Jack in the Box
Union Carbide


Reference List

Team Members

By accepting the blame immediately and working closely with the NAACP, the company employed forgiveness strategies to resolve the public relations crisis.

The use of remediation was evidenced by the company's willingness to settle the class-action lawsuit and quickly compensate the injured parties with a sum of $54 million.

The company also demonstrated repentance when its leaders directly apologized to Denny's customers and pledged not to tolerate discrimination in the future.

Finally, the company moved to rectify any further problems with discrimination by diversifying its contracting and franchising practices and training employees on non discriminatory practices.

NASA Challenger:
Strategies used by NASA in the Challenger disaster fall under the attachment strategies category:

NASA employs transcendence when, in President Reagan's state of the union address, immediately following the crash, he tells the country that the members of the Challenger crew were pioneers.

Forgiveness strategy was also used through rectification. NASA made sweeping changes in the organization based on recommendations from the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

Jack in the Box:
Avoidance strategies were used when Jack in the Box denied their company was the cause of the E. coli outbreak, and they emphasized other potential sources of the outbreak.

Jack in the Box also used attachment strategies when they bolstered about the measures they'd taken to ensure all their main items are being prepared in accordance with Washington State Department of Health standards.
They also employed Forgiveness strategies through remediation when they announced they would pay hospital costs for everyone who became ill during the E. coli crisis. They also used rectification by announcing several corrective actions they'd taken in regards to systematic cooking changes.

Johnson & Johnson:
Johnson & Johnson employed remediation strategies by immediately offering both monetary and emotional compensation to the victims of the product tampering.

They also used rectification by producing tamper-proof bottles and an inspection system to help ensure that a similar crisis would not happen again.

Utilizing the sympathy strategy, Tylenol portrayed themselves as the unfair victim of a malicious outside entity deflecting responsibility of the crisis from the organization to the perpetrators of the crime.

Union Carbide:
Strategies used by Union Carbide cross three distinct categories.
Avoidance strategies - at times Union Carbide deliberately sought to distance itself from legal and fiduciary culpability for the incident.
Attachment/forgiveness strategies - Primarily, however, Union Carbide's principle communication strategy involved public acceptance of moral culpability for the incident and attempts to frame the corparation's image in as compassionate light as possible.

In three out of the five case studies examined, the organization failed to respond immediately, effectively, and forcefully to the crisis. In addition, in two of the five case studies, organizations failed to have the means at hand to acquire, verify, and release information in a timely manner. We define the "means" in the crisis communication setting as the proper number of trained public relations practitioners, the physical means to communicate properly and quickly, and established relationships with other agencies internally and externally. By not having the means at hand, these companies wasted precious time, which resulted in a failure to satisfy the public and properly frame the issue to the benefit of the company.

All five case studies displayed commonly successful strategies. By using forgiveness strategies (Coombs, 1995), which consist of remediation, repentance, and rectification, all five companies ultimately resurrected their corporate images in the long term. In addition, in three of the five case studies, they had the means to acquire, verify and release information in a timely manner to frame the crisis which reflected positively on the organization.

Implications for DoD:
The commonalities in crisis response strategies for the various crisis types offer important information for DoD public affairs practitioners. Regardless of the crisis type forgiveness was present as a response strategy in all five cases studied.

Forgiveness is broken into three components, remediation, repentance, and rectification. remediation, giving compensation to the victims of a crisis, was used in three of the five case studies. With the exception of the Union Carbide case, two of the three cases, Tylenol, and Denney's, used remediation effectively. Remediation seeks to gain public support by showing how the organization takes care of the innocent victims of a crisis. Negative feelings in both the Tylenol and Denney's case were lessened as the organizations took positive steps to help the victims of their crises.
DoD has shown a reluctance to use remediation strategies.

DoD will normally use remediation only if a court of law mandates compensation to victims of a crisis. Many of the case studies, Union Carbide in particular, showed a conflict between the organization's legal priorities and the need to rapidly disseminate information on the part of the public information team. The case studies that used remediation positively are an example of how military commanders should strike a balance between the court of law and the court of public opinion. Too often military units under a crisis situation loose the opportunity to frame a crisis in their favor, due to legal wrangling over what can or can not be said or done.

Legal review is not the only issue in the military's ability to rapidly frame a crisis. The potential slowness in our staff process caused by staff requirements to review and approve a crisis response strategy like remediation, are not in line with the rapidity of the electronic news cycle. In the Tylenol case Johnson & Johnson was able to respond, and frame the crisis within 24 hours of the product tampering deaths. This would be exceedingly difficult for any military unit to do given a crisis of equal magnitude to the Tylenol case.

Repentance is a component of forgiveness strategy that simply asks for forgiveness. Repentance was used very effectively used by Denney's and Jack-in-the Box. This strategy is effective in particular when the organization is at fault. The military will rarely use repentance due to fear of it being used to establish legal culpability. In fact it is DOD policy to train public affairs practitioners to never say they are sorry.

Rectification involves taking actions to prevent a recurrence of a crisis in the future. Tylenol, Denny's, Jack-in-the- Box, and the Challenger all used rectification effectively. The military also uses this rectification strategy very well. It is required by most units to produce an after-action review of a crisis to find out exactly what happened and to determine methods to prevent it from happening again.

Sympathy strategy wins support from the public by portraying the organization as an unfair victim of some malicious, outside entity. Johnson & Johnson used sympathy strategy superbly. The organization was able to frame the crisis in a way that showed Johnson & Johnson as a company wounded by malicious product tampering. The military does not use sympathy strategy. The first reaction by military leadership, even in cases where fault is clearly on an outside agent, is to find a "fall guy."

Military leadership operates under the prevision that the commander is responsible for everything that goes right or wrong in his/her unit. The USS Cole is an example of the military focusing on what mistakes the commander may have made in his security requirements, and not the terrorists that committed the act.

The Khobar Tower attack is another example of the military focusing on the commander's faults in force protection, and not those responsible for the attack. When the military focuses internally when struck by a terrorist they frame the issue for the media. The message is the terrorist are ancillary participants in the attack and the units failure to act in some way was the reason for the attack.

The five case studies analyzed demonstrate a broad spectrum of possible crisis communication response strategies. They each contain valuable lessons which, if studied by military PA professionals may improve DoD's ability to respond to a crisis articulately and effectively.

DoD Joint Course in Communication, Class 02-C, Team 1