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Watchful waiting: public relations strategies to minimize and manage a fake news crisis

Cheryl Ann Lambert (Kent State University – Kent Campus, Kent, Ohio, USA)
Michele E. Ewing (School of Media and Journalism, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, USA)
Toqa Hassan (Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 12 February 2024




Fake news stories have become a central element of crises that corporate public relations practitioners have confronted. Whether such stories are rumors, outright lies or deliberate attempts to discredit corporations, they have the same impact and require specific strategies for public relations practitioners to effectively respond. The purpose of this study is to uncover strategies to manage crises that arise from fake news and if and how these strategies differ for other corporate crises.


In this multi-method study of 21 in-depth interviews and a 8-person focus group with senior-level corporate public relations practitioners, authors explored decision-making strategies for responding to fake news crises. Transcripts of interviews and the focus group were thematically analyzed.


Results reveal insights regarding how public relations practitioners determine if and when to respond to fake news crises in corporations; what response strategies public relations practitioners have the autonomy to employ for fake news crises in corporations, and how public relations practitioners control media narratives during fake news crises in corporations.

Practical implications

The findings guide public relations practitioners to craft an autonomous decision-making process and effective online listening strategies—establishing a watchful waiting approach—and determine if the fake news issue is a passing moment or movement swirling into a crisis.


Few studies have examined the perspectives of crisis communication experts about minimizing and managing fake news crises. The study identifies opportunities for future research focused on crises originating from fake news and disinformation.



Lambert, C.A., Ewing, M.E. and Hassan, T. (2024), "Watchful waiting: public relations strategies to minimize and manage a fake news crisis", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



Emerald Publishing Limited

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