|Public Affairs Crisis
In A Multi-Service Atmosphere
project the four-phase crisis management model of Gonzalez-Herrero and
Pratt (1995) serves as a starting point for the crisis management model
incorporating the five levels of operationalization outlined in the independent
variable. The four phases of the crisis management process include:
issues management, planning-prevention, the crisis, and post-crisis.
Where appropriate the link to communication theory is explicitly stated.
Major parts of the model (Table 1) are compatible with the theories outlined
in the rationale section.
management involves scanning the environment for public trends or issues
that may affect it in the future. Each military service has its own history
of crises or case studies for research that may provide a starting point
for future crisis planning. Studying the history of one’s service
in the public affairs arena is a helpful tool in preparing for the future.
By collecting data on potentially troublesome issues and evaluating them,
public affairs professionals can avert negative actions in the future.
Data collection involves research of the files, after-action reports, news
clips, and video tapes of key issues. It is helpful to contact sister service
professionals to compare trends to better understand the prevailing military
environment. For example, cases of sexual harassment, aircraft crashes,
criminal acts by hate groups are recent examples. Any trend or activity
that garners media attention is a potential area to monitor for future
developments that may evolve into crisis.
a communications strategy and concentrating efforts on preventing an occurrence
of a crisis or redirecting its course is key. Knowledge can help the organization
plan a strategy that will prevent a crisis. One example involves
the cases of sexual harassment at Fort Meade, Md. This Army situation
sent a message to the other services about an issue with crisis potential.
The opportunity was there for the other services to plan their own strategies,
making them better prepared to handle the fallout if a similar case occurred.
can play a large role in the issues management phase. When looking
at existing joint plans for crisis management, structural functional theory
can be applied. Since the theory deals with the building of networks
and channels within an organization, it follows that setting plans and
identifying key players would spring from deciding what issues become important.
The AUM theory is represented in the acculturation level among the services
and in the sensitivity level of host country concerns. In dealing
with sister service acculturation, the AUM is used to illustrate the value
of reducing anxiety and uncertainty among different branches of the armed
forces. Better understanding, primarily on the part of PA’s, eases
the task of making messages correct, clear and, concise. In the area
of sensitivity to host country concerns, the AUM shows the benefit of disclosing
information and methods in order to build trust and understanding. Identifying
the issues needed to be addressed with the hosts during the issues management
phase improves implementation. While diffusion of innovation
theory is better suited to application later in the process, it must be
considered in the early formulation of issues. The issues developed that
the diffusion machine in the planning prevention phase.
is primarily concerned with setting a proactive policy based on the issues
identified in the first phase. If the public affairs office of a specific
service perceives that the issue is beyond management, a crisis is imminent,
or the intensity is likely to change, it is time to be proactive. Getting
your messages out to the press and internal audiences can reap long-term
benefits and help preserve the image.
an organization’s links with its multiple constituencies is also a part
of the planning-prevention stage. This is the opportunity to consider all
possible audiences/organizations that are affected by a crisis. This
step is especially critical in an overseas environment where the host nation
cultural sensitivities and practices add another dimension to the planning
preparation of general or specific contingency plans occur during this
phase. The plans should follow the five levels of the independent
variable to ensure total issue coverage. The specific plans are applicable
to a multi-service environment and therefore have many portions that are
flexible. Common to the plans are concrete steps grounded in the theories
identified in this project.
During the planning-prevention
stage, potential members of the crisis-management team must be designated.
This step needs to apply to the multi-service environment in particular
because of the service unique features. However, it may address the
key players such as commander, public affairs officer, safety office, and
environmental among others. Since the military handles its own media relations,
the planning-prevention stage should be used to determine the message,
target, and media outlets that would be used once a crisis-management plan
is implemented. This is easier following the procedures for an individual
service, however, in a multi-service environment other messages, targets
and media outlets are used to cover the needs of all concerned. It
is also necessary to assess the following: the dimension of the problem,
the degree of control the organization has over the situation, options
the company can choose from in developing a specific crisis plan.
three communication theories used in this project can be applied during
the planning-prevention stage. The structural-functional theory comes into
play when applying command structure in the initial phases of the a crisis.
Identifying the main players in the crisis response should be done in advance
so the initial moments are smooth. Having the chain identified and
dissemination networks ready enhance the job. AUM theory helps make sense
of understanding between sister service cultures and differences with their
hosts. During the planning-prevention stage it is recommended that
programs or procedures are developed to aquatint PA’s with the culture
and operations of the sister services. The resultant lessening of
anxiety and uncertainty eases relationships during a crisis. Likewise,
programs that reach out to local media tear down barriers and enhance trust
needed when the crisis occurs. The basic structure of the programs has
to be developed by each base. Cultures have to be evaluated on their
own merits and characteristics, and providing "cookie-cutter" plans would
lessen cultural awareness and contribute to misunderstanding. Suffice
it to say that what works at Incirlik Air Base Turkey might not work in
Vicenza, Italy. The diffusion theory is a large part of planning-prevention
because of its emphasis on getting messages to people via opinion leaders.
Plans should be drawn up and acted on that diffuse issues developed in
the issues management phase using host opinion leaders, both in the community
the planning-prevention phase the structural functional theory is employable
when looking at public affairs involvement in operational planning. Since
public affairs is a subsystem of the base it should always be involved
in operational planning. Knowledge of the overall operation is the key
to information dissemination.
nature of crisis and when it occurs has already been discussed in this
document. Plans worked out months and even years in advance may make the
crisis time quick and relatively painless. The job during the crisis is
to pre-empt negative publicity and to communicate to the organization’s
constituencies the actions being taken to solve the problem. The
company’s message must be targeted to the appropriate audiences.
Other necessary steps encompass obtaining third party support from an expert,
and implementing an internal communications program to keep the organization
Communication theory as discussed
to this point meets its test in the crisis stage. The structural
functional theory is useful in three of the five level operationalized.
The readiness of existing plans, the application of command structure,
and the interpersonal acculturation between the services are all judged
during the crisis stage. They make up subsystems in the whole system
and their success depends largely on the planning that has occurred in
the other two phases. Plans have to be implemented, chains of command
have to be used to great effect, and the sister services have to enter
the crisis confident of everyone’s role and understanding everyone’s differences.
AUM is used to extensively with regards to sensitivity to host nation concerns
during the crisis. It is during the crisis that the good rapport
built by diligent planning in the earlier phases pays off. If anxiety
and uncertainty were built by using outreach programs and diffusing information
as outlined in the planning-prevention stage, then trust from public and
media should be high. It is important to remember this is the most
fragile period in the model; care must be taken to always tell the truth
and respect the host culture. AUM is also acknowledged in the public
affairs involvement in operational planning. It is posited here that
having the knowledge gained from planning participation reduces uncertainty
with media and the public because messages are communicated clearly, quickly,
is the most important duty in the post-crisis phase. Continue to
pay attention to its multiple publics, monitor the issue until its intensity
is reduced, and inform the media of its actions, if necessary. Evaluate
the response keeping in mind the five levels of the independent variable.
For the existing plan, review the level of success, and return to the issues
management phase for fine tuning, if necessary. If chains of command
break down or do not come together, apply the structural-functional theory
and return to the planning-prevention phase. If service-unique misunderstandings
hinder operations, check on the issues addressed and on the effectiveness
of acculturation programs instituted in the planning-prevention phase.
The best way to gauge an acceptable level of sensitivity is to ask host
nation representatives for feedback on behavior. A rapport should exist
for genuine feedback if outreach and diffusion were conducted properly
during the planning-prevention stage. If the sensitivity was lacking,
return to the planning-prevention stage. In the operational planning
area, poor results may indicate a need for public affairs to take a more
active role in operational planning. Positive results indicate the level
of involvement may be good or possibly can be reduced.
the indicators listed above, the operationalization of the dependent variable—to
include the speed of command messages, the clarity of those messages, and
the ease with which they were formulated and approved in the organization
form—a score sheet to determine success or failure. Successful manipulation
of the independent variable and its five levels, as outlined above, should
result in positive results on the dependent variable.