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Article
Publication date: 17 September 2019

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay

The purpose of this paper is to describe three foundational concepts that contribute to conceptual heritage of the field of public relations (publics, organizations and…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to describe three foundational concepts that contribute to conceptual heritage of the field of public relations (publics, organizations and relationships). Conceptual heritage is positioned as a type of shared public memory, a dominant narrative, that encourages adherence to the past whilst recognizing that counter-narratives can pose useful alternatives to foundational concepts.

Design/methodology/approach

The approach is a selective literature review that describes three dominant concept categories and presents more recently developed alternative concepts and approaches to illustrate how public memory is subjective and evolving.

Findings

The concepts of publics, organizations and relationships have grounded the dominant narrative and development of the field of public relations. Though these concepts continue to be influential as researchers rely upon and expand upon their legacies, counter-narratives can spur the innovation of ideas, measurement and practice.

Research limitations/implications

The paper focuses on only three major foundational concepts selected by the authors. The importance of these concepts as well as additional examples of the field’s conceptual heritage and evolution could be identified by different authors.

Practical implications

The analysis demonstrates how the public memory contributes to the development and evolution of the field of public relations. Counter-narratives can offer appealing, subjectively constructed challenges to dominant narratives.

Originality/value

This paper describes and critiques public relations’ conceptual heritage and argues that conceptually and methodologically-based counter-narratives have contributed to its evolution.

Details

Journal of Communication Management, vol. 23 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1363-254X

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Article
Publication date: 7 November 2016

W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry Jean Holladay and An-Sofie Claeys

The purpose of this paper is to address the under-researched issue of how formal determinations of organizational responsibility for a crisis affect the effectiveness of…

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2916

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to address the under-researched issue of how formal determinations of organizational responsibility for a crisis affect the effectiveness of the denial strategy in protecting organizational reputation. Because studies that omit later determinations of responsibility produce misleading representations of the value of denial, a pilot study and primary study investigated how later determinations of organizational culpability in a management misconduct crisis interact with crisis response strategies to affect reputation and anger.

Design/methodology/approach

Two studies used experimental designs to assess how denial interacted with determinations of crisis responsibility to influence reputation and anger.

Findings

The pilot study demonstrated reputational damage and stakeholder anger increased when an organization initially denied responsibility and then was found to be responsible for the crisis. The second study replicated the pilot study findings and also demonstrated that later determinations of guilt decreased reputation scores. When found guilty, the organization’s reputation was significantly more favorable when the positive action strategy was used. Comparison of three response strategies (no response, denial, and positive action) revealed the denial and no response conditions were significantly less effective than the positive response strategy when the organization was found guilty.

Research limitations/implications

Paper demonstrates the need for research on the denial strategy to consider later determinations of crisis responsibility (guilt) when assessing denial’s impact on organizational reputation.

Practical implications

When selecting response strategies in situations where crisis responsibility is unclear, practitioners should consider how later determinations of responsibility could affect reputation.

Originality/value

This paper questions past research on the value of the denial strategy, integrates findings from the trust violations research, and demonstrates the importance of considering formal judgments of organizational responsibility when selecting crisis response strategies.

Details

Journal of Communication Management, vol. 20 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1363-254X

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Article
Publication date: 5 February 2018

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay

The purpose of this paper is to describe the need to theorize firms’ involvement in social issues and propose the social issues management model as a framework for…

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1801

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to describe the need to theorize firms’ involvement in social issues and propose the social issues management model as a framework for analyzing the communication processes underlying social issues management. An application of the new approach is illustrated through a brief case analysis.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is conceptual and emphasizes theory building for firm’s involvement in social issues management.

Findings

The paper describes modifications to the general issues management model that can be adopted to reflect the social issues management process and contemporary digital media environments.

Practical implications

The paper can benefit theory and practice of social issues management by describing how specific communication strategies and digital media use may affect social issues management.

Social implications

Because firms increasingly are motivated or urged by stakeholders to take stands on social issues, understanding how they can perform the role of social issue manager can enhance their potential for contributing to positive social change.

Originality/value

The paper provides a much needed update to the models of issues management used in strategic communication. The new model accounts for the increasing pressure on firms to address social issues and the role of digital communication channels in that process.

Details

Journal of Communication Management, vol. 22 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1363-254X

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Article
Publication date: 26 September 2018

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay

The purpose of this paper is to craft a new perspective on how we can view public relations that reflects important trends emerging in the field including digital media…

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3270

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to craft a new perspective on how we can view public relations that reflects important trends emerging in the field including digital media, storytelling, engagement and co-creation of meaning. Transmedia storytelling (an idea with some ties to public relations) and narrative transportation theory are synthesized to form the transmedia narrative transportation (TNT) approach to public relations. The paper details the development of the TNT approach and how it can be applied to public relations initiatives.

Design/methodology/approach

The approach is a literature review to inform the creation of the TNT approach. A case study is used to illustrate the TNT approach.

Findings

An innovative approach to conceptualizing and creating public relations initiatives is developed, explained and illustrated.

Research limitations/implications

The paper examines only one case to illustrate the TNT approach.

Practical implications

The TNT approach develops a new perspective for public relations for developing and executing public relations initiatives. Transmedia storytelling has already been connected to the practice and TNT builds a more comprehensive approach for understanding its value to public relations.

Originality/value

There has been a limited application of transmedia storytelling to public relations. This paper synthesizes transmedia storytelling with narrative transportation theory to develop a theory-driven, new approach for public relations thinking. The TNT approach is a unique fusion of ideas that can bring an innovative approach to the practice of public relations that captures four emerging trends that are shaping the practice.

Details

Journal of Communication Management, vol. 22 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1363-254X

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Article
Publication date: 12 October 2010

W. Timothy Coombs, Finn Frandsen, Sherry J. Holladay and Winni Johansen

The purpose of this paper is to provide context for and a preview of the content for the special issue on corporate apologia.

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7791

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to provide context for and a preview of the content for the special issue on corporate apologia.

Design/methodology/approach

The methodology is a review of literature relevant to crisis communication and the role of apologia within this body of literature.

Findings

Apologia, a rhetoric of self‐defense, has a strong connection in the creation and development of crisis communication. Current research is moving beyond the parameters of apologia but it remains a strong influence on the field. Future crisis communication research needs to explore further the role of emotion if crisis communication and the implications of international crisis communication. The various contributions the articles in the special issue provide for crisis communication are reviewed as a means of previewing the special issue.

Practical implications

The paper provides lessons that crisis managers can apply when they need to communicate during a crisis.

Originality/value

The paper provides insights into the development of crisis communication and the role of apologia in that development.

Details

Corporate Communications: An International Journal, vol. 15 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1356-3289

Keywords

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Article
Publication date: 28 January 2014

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry Jean Holladay

The purpose of this paper is to provide a rationale and framework for examining stakeholder reactions to crisis communication messages in various social media channels…

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10849

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to provide a rationale and framework for examining stakeholder reactions to crisis communication messages in various social media channels. Stakeholders can become crisis communications by entering various sub-arenas of the larger rhetorical arena. The concept of sub-arena is presented and a case analysis used to illustrate the application and value of examining stakeholder crisis communicators during a crisis.

Design/methodology/approach

Content analysis was used to evaluate publicly available social media messages posted on the Livestrong blog and the Huffington Post online news site.

Findings

The paper demonstrates that monitoring reactions of stakeholders can reveal how individuals can act as crisis communications in social media messages can serve as barometers the effectiveness of an organization's crisis response. The importance of examining multiple sub-arenas is considered due to the influence of supportive stakeholders in organizational social media.

Research limitations/implications

Only two sub-arenas were analyzed using one crisis response during a crisis that extended over a number of months.

Practical implications

The paper includes implications for the examination of social media messages from supportive stakeholder and neutral sub-arenas. The results provide indicators of the effectiveness of an organization's crisis response and how stakeholder messages in social media may contribute to or undermine the crisis response.

Originality/value

This paper demonstrates the value of monitoring social media comments to gauge reactions to organizational crisis responses and demonstrates how stakeholders can function as informal crisis managers. It also begins the discussion of the value and conceptualization of sub-arenas.

Details

Journal of Communication Management, vol. 18 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1363-254X

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Book part
Publication date: 26 September 2005

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay

This manuscript reports an exploratory investigation to integrate emotions into the study of post-crisis communication. Using the discussion of the role of affect in…

Abstract

This manuscript reports an exploratory investigation to integrate emotions into the study of post-crisis communication. Using the discussion of the role of affect in Attribution Theory, the research integrates emotion into Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT), one approach to post-crisis communication. SCCT uses crisis responsibility, how much people believe the organization is responsible for the crisis, to determine the most effective post-crisis communication strategy for protecting the organization's reputation. The research examines the amount of sympathy, anger, and schadenfreude generated by a variety of crisis types. The focus is on the connection between these three emotions and perceptions of crisis responsibility. The results suggest how emotion can be integrated into post-crisis communication and supports the value of including emotion in future research.

Details

The Effect of Affect in Organizational Settings
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-0-76231-234-4

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Article
Publication date: 1 April 2006

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay

Crisis managers believe in the value of a favorable, pre‐crisis reputation. The prior reputation can create a halo effect that protects an organization during a crisis…

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15112

Abstract

Purpose

Crisis managers believe in the value of a favorable, pre‐crisis reputation. The prior reputation can create a halo effect that protects an organization during a crisis. The prior reputation/halo might work as a shield that deflects the potential reputational damage from a crisis. Or the prior reputation/halo might encourage stakeholders to give the organization the benefit of the doubt in the crisis (reduce attributions of crisis responsibility). Oddly, researchers have had little luck in producing a halo effect for prior reputation in crisis situations. The purpose of this paper is to present two studies designed to test if the halo effect could occur and which of the two dynamics of the prior reputation halo best serve to explain the benefits of a favorable, pre‐crisis reputation.

Design/methodology/approach

The research focuses on a set of studies conducted to illustrate the halo effect and to explore how it serves to protect an organization during a crisis. The implications of the findings for post‐crisis communication are discussed.

Findings

The halo effect for prior reputation in crisis was created. The halo operated in a limited range for organizations with very favorable prior reputations. The data also supported the halo as shield dynamic rather than the halo as benefit of the doubt.

Originality/value

The paper provides insight into the area of reputation and crisis management.

Details

Journal of Communication Management, vol. 10 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1363-254X

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Article
Publication date: 12 October 2010

Kristin M. Pace, Tomasz A. Fediuk and Isabel C. Botero

When organizations face a crisis that is a result of a transgression, crisis scholars suggest that the organization should apologize in order to accept responsibility for…

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2803

Abstract

Purpose

When organizations face a crisis that is a result of a transgression, crisis scholars suggest that the organization should apologize in order to accept responsibility for the event. In turn, this is expected to reduce the reputation damage to the organization. The assumption is that an apology statement is interpreted by stakeholders to be equal to accepting responsibility; however, this assumption has not been empirically examined. This paper seeks to address that gap.

Design/methodology/approach

A three (explicitness of accepting responsibility: none, implicit, explicit) by two (expressing regret: none, explicit) between subjects design was employed. Participants read an article about a crisis event, answered questions about perceived reputation, read one of six organizational responses, and responded to questions about reputation and anger caused by the response.

Findings

Results indicate that both accepting responsibility and expressing regret affect perceptions of reputation after a crisis and the anger felt by respondents. Additionally, apologies need an explicit statement of responsibility to increase their benefits for the organization.

Research limitations/implications

Implications of this research include understanding the independent effects that accepting responsibility, expressing regret, and anger have on organizational reputation. Results can be useful for both academics and practitioners when thinking about how to respond to a crisis. Different strengths and limitations are discussed in the text.

Originality/value

The paper tests the assumption that an organizational apology is viewed as equal to accepting responsibility and explores some of the basic propositions of situational crisis communication theory. This study is also one of the first to examine the impact of the crisis response on stakeholder anger.

Details

Corporate Communications: An International Journal, vol. 15 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1356-3289

Keywords

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Article
Publication date: 7 April 2015

Timothy Coombs and Sherry Holladay

The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a crisis risk. The bulk of the current research on CSR and crisis examined the…

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4921

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a crisis risk. The bulk of the current research on CSR and crisis examined the role of CSR as an asset in a crisis. CSR as crisis risk is a direct function of CSR’s increasingly important role in reputation management. CSR has become an important aspect of corporate reputations – it is one of the dimensions used to assess a corporation’s crisis. The value of CSR to reputations is illustrated in the RepTrak reputation measure from the Reputation Institute and the value it places upon CSR. If stakeholders can challenge CSR claims by arguing a corporation is acting irresponsibly, the stakeholders can erode the corporation’s reputational assets by creating a challenge crisis. A CSR-based challenge occurs when stakeholders redefine a corporation’s current practices as irresponsible. The CSR-based challenge can be risk because it can damage reputational assets and potentially escalate into a crisis. CSR becomes a leverage point for stakeholders seeking to engage in a challenge crisis. As corporations place more value on the CSR dimension of reputation, CSR-based challenge becomes an increasingly powerful leverage point.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is conceptual with an emphasis on theory building.

Findings

The manuscript details the CSR-based challenge process. It examines the nature of CSR-based challenges, how they can become threats to corporations, and how corporations can respond to the threats. There is also an explanation of how CSR-based challenges indicate the shift to private politics/social issues management and the implications of this shift for advancing a neoliberal perspective.

Practical implications

CSR and crises have a much more complex relationship than current research has identified. CSR can be a crisis risk, not just an asset used to protect a reputation during a crisis. CSR can be the reason a crisis exists and threats a corporation – it is a crisis risk. The primary manifestation of CSR as a crisis risk is the challenge crisis premised on social irresponsibility, what the authors term the CSR-based challenge crisis. This paper will detail the process whereby CSR is transformed from a crisis resource to a crisis threat. The end result of this analysis will be set of insights into CSR-based challenge crises. These insights can help stakeholders seeking to create social change through a challenge and corporate managers seeking to address a challenge crisis.

Social implications

Challenge crises are an example of private politics/social issues management, when stakeholders seek to create changes in corporate behavior by engaging the organization directly rather than through public policy efforts. The paper offers insights into how social issues management can work to create social change by altering problematic corporate behaviors.

Originality/value

There is limited research into CSR as a crisis risk and in understanding how challenge crises help to create social change. This paper will provide new insights into CSR as a crisis risk, challenge crises, and private politics. Ideas from public relations, corporate communication, and political communication will be fused to create a novel framework for illuminating these related topics.

Details

Corporate Communications: An International Journal, vol. 20 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1356-3289

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