#CWUCOM312 – Crises and Non-Profits as discussed in class

As requested…  thanks to Ms. Wendy….  🙂  I am happy to share the following content that we talked about during class today and it’s relevance to non-profits…  I hope this helps you guys as you work on your final projects!  …

4 Models of PR:

  1. Model 1:  Press agentry/Publicity Model (one way, asymmetrical) – “The thought that an organization or products are known.  They may or may not use truthful statements.  Falsehoods, half-truths, and incomplete facts are part of this model.”  The idea that “all publicity is good publicity” is the slogan for these practitioners.  “Little or no research is required and there is no feedback.” (Fearn-Banks, 2002, pp 15 – 16)  Grunig and Hunt (1984) reveal that this model was used by 15% of the public relations practitioners.  Later, Grunig and Grunig (1992) found that earlier data was inaccurate and reported that most PR practitioners still fall into this category.
  2. Model 2:  Public information Model (one way, symmetrical) – “This model is characterized by the desire to report information journalistically.  It is different from Model 1 in that truth is essential.  Most PR practice in government agencies today fall into this category”   Fearn-Banks (2002) further states: “This model also involves a one-way transfer of information from organization to publics.  Little or no research is required.  There may be some type of evaluation.  Model 2 is most common in corporations. (p. 16)”
  3. Model 3:  Scientific Persuasion Model (two way, asymmetrical) – “PR Practitioners use social science theory and research, such as surveys and polls, to help persuade publics to accept the organization’s point of view.  There is some feedback, but the organizations do not change as a result of communications management and feedback.”  Fearn-Banks (2002) further states, “In asymmetric PR programs of this type, the organization rules.  It always knows best.  Its attitude is that publics should adhere to the organization’s view points.” (p. 16)
  4. Model 4:  Mutual Understanding Model (two-way, symmetrical) – “This model is an intermediary between the organization and its publics.  The practitioner tries to achieve a dialogue, not monologue as in other models.  Either management or the publics may make changes in behavior as a result of the communications program.” (Fearn-Banks, 2002, p. 16)

Crisis Communication Planning

Guth and Marsh (2005) define crisis communication planning as contingency planning that identifies an organization’s or individual’s options for managing a crisis response (p. 298).  Carstarphen and Wells (2004), citing Fearn-Banks’ (1999), define a crisis as “a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome” that can threaten the stability or even the very existence of a company or organization (p. 330).                                                     

Fearn-Banks (2002) offer a list of crises a company or association should consider.  While this list is not inclusive, it serves as a starting point for a chamber of commerce.

Consider the following:

Acquisition Layoffs
Age discrimination Merger
Alcohol abuse Murder
Bankruptcy Negative legislation
Boycott Plant closing
Bribery Product failure
Chemical spill or leak Protest demonstrations
Computer failure Racial issues
Computer hacking Robbery
Contamination Sexual discrimination
Drug abuse Sexual harassment
Drug trafficking Strikes
Earthquake Suicide
Embezzlement Takeover
Explosion Tax problems
Fatality Terrorism
Fire Tornado
Flood Toxic waste
Hurricane Transportation accident
Kidnapping Transportation failure
Lawsuits Workplace violence

(Fearn-Banks, 2002, p. 23)

Understanding the numerous possible crises presented by Fearn-Banks (2002) serves as an essential starting point for any crisis plan.  Coombs (1999) has clarified crises through a typological list that demonstrates that although crises possess different characteristics, they tend to cluster into identifiable types.  This typology includes:

  • Natural disasters:  When an organization is damaged as a result of the weather or “acts of God.”
  • Malevolence:  When some outside actor or opponent employs extreme tactics to express anger toward the organization or to force the organization to change.
  • Technical breakdowns:  When the technology used or supplied by the organization fails or breaks down.
  • Human breakdowns:  When human error causes disruption.
  • Challenges:  When the organization is confronted by discontented stakeholders.  The stakeholders challenge the organization because they believe it is operating in an inappropriate manner, or it does not meet their expectations.
  • Megadamage:  When an accident creates significant environmental damage.
  • Organizational misdeeds:  When management takes actions it known will harm or place stakeholders at risk for harm without adequate precautions.  These acts serve to discredit or disgrace the organization in some way.
  • Workplace violence:  When an employee or former employee commits violence against other employees or organizational grounds.
  • Rumors:  When false information is spread about an organization or its products.  The false information hurts the organization’s reputation by putting the organization in an unfavorable light.  (pp 61 – 62)                                                                                                               

Using this typology, it is possible to categorize the Fearn-Banks (2002, p. 23) list and begin to develop a practical crisis guide for defining crises.  Crises categories would include the following:

  1. Natural disasters:  When an organization is damaged as a result of the weather or “acts of God.”
  • Earthquake
  • Fire (forest fire)
  • Flood
  • Hurricane
  • Tornado
  1. Malevolence:  When some outside actor or opponent employs extreme tactics to express anger toward the organization or to force the organization to change.
  • Bribery
  • Computer hacking
  • Embezzlement
  • Explosion (Bombing)
  • Kidnapping
  • Protest demonstrations
  • Robbery
  • Terrorism
  • Protest demonstrations
  1. Technical breakdowns:  When the technology used or supplied by the organization fails or breaks down.
  • Product failure
  • Transportation accident
  • Transportation failure
  1. Human breakdowns:  When human error causes disruption.
  • Contamination
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Product failure (because of human error)
  • Transportation accident (because of human error)
  • Fatality (if caused by accident)
  1. Challenges:  When the organization is confronted by discontented stakeholders.  The stakeholders challenge the organization because they believe it is operating in an inappropriate manner or it does not meet their expectations.
  • Boycott
  • Lawsuits
  • Layoffs
  • Merger
  • Negative legislation
  • Protest demonstrations
  • Strikes
  • Takeover
  • Tax problems
  • Acquisition
  1. Megadamage:  When an accident creates significant environmental damage.
  • Chemical spill or leak
  • Contamination
  • Explosion
  • Fire
  • Toxic waste
  1. Organizational misdeeds:  When management takes actions it knows will harm or place stakeholders at risk for harm without adequate precautions.  These acts serve to discredit or disgrace the organization in some way.
  • Tax problems (if management knew about issues without taking action to correct)
  • Bankruptcy
  • Bribery
  • Embezzlement
  1. Workplace violence:  When an employee or former employee commits violence against other employees on organizational grounds.
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Racial issues
  • Sexual discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Suicide
  • Workplace violence
  • Age discrimination
  1. Rumors:  When false information is spread about an organization or its products.  The false information hurts the organization’s reputation by putting the organization in an unfavorable light.
  • All topics could be considered rumors if information about any were told about the organization or company and were untrue.

While many of the ideas in this research have dealt with external forces and preparing for crisis management, it is also important to consider internal risks and the types of activities in which organizations become involved.  Harris (2004), an expert in chamber policy and procedures, states that the goal of crisis management “is to inventory all potential risks and to avoid, modify, retain or share the liability” resulting from the crisis.  In his risk management summary, however, Harris also emphasizes minimizing risks to the chamber by managing the activities the organization undertakes (2004).

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