Term Paper: Public Relations - Crisis Management

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Public Relations - Crisis Management



The objective of this work is to identify an issue or theory in relation to public relations and specifically crisis management and to examine the literature relating to that issue or theory and conduct a synthesis of the previous work in this area.

The work of Tim Ziaukas, from the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Pittsburg states that: "The 1980s witnessed the early development of a subgenre of public relations - crisis management - spawned in large part by the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island and the communication challenges that occurred nearly simultaneously." (2002) Ziaukas states that: "This emerging subgenre of public relations was, in turn, refined and reinforced by a series of crises that occurred during the 1980's and early 1990s, ranging from product tampering to environmental and natural disasters and set against a backdrop of burgeoning media outlets and exponentially expanding access by an increasingly sophisticated public." (Ziaukus, nd) Public relations is a function of management that works toward establishing and maintaining relationships that are mutually beneficial with other public entities specifically for the purpose of managing the reputation of the organization in an effective manner. The responsibilities that fall within the public relations management responsibility include dissemination throughout the organization with the focus of ensuring that policies and procedures are understood by those in the organization.

Public Relations - Tools and Strategies

The tools and strategies of public relations are inclusive of: tools are utilized including:

1) Identification of relevant public and associated reactions;

2) effective message design; and 3) effective use of the media. (Australian Government, nd)

Public Relations - Role

The role of public relations is inclusive of: (1) placing a subject on the public agenda; (2) garnering public support and endorsement of a person, product, organization or idea; (3) extending advertising campaigns; and (4) delivery of complex information and messages. (Australian Government, nd)

Public Relations - Activities

Public relations activities include the activities of:

1) Issues management;

2) Crisis management;

3) media relations;

4) merchandising support;

5) event management;

6) promotion;

7) public affairs;

8) publicity; and 9) sponsorship. (Ibid)

Issues management "involves proactive systematic identification of issues of potential concern to an organization and development of a system to respond to them." (Ibid) Crisis management is a systemic identification of existing issues and responses that are appropriate to unplanned events. Media relations involves coping with the media through providing information, responses and other communications. Merchandising support revolves around product, idea or image packaging. Management of events revolves around event planning in order to gain the attention of media. Promotional activities are the organizations attempts in gaining support. Public affairs is an intricate area of public relations which is inclusive of dealing with officials in the community as well as other pressure groups and legislative groups. Publicity must be managed in furthering the organization and in executing public messages. Sponsorship is an agreement in the form of a contract in which promotional opportunities are given in trade for services or money.

Conventional Issues Management Model

The work of Mark Schannon entitled: "Issue Management: Trying to Create Rational Explanations in a Non-Rational World" states that millions of dollars are spent each year in the attempt to answer the questions that are asked in relation to crisis management by the organization. Schannon states that: "Sophisticated research, econometric analyses, media analyses, NGO analyses, and past and future trends are scoured" in the attempt to answer questions of crises management. Schannon reviews the convention issues management model which was used by many organizations and specifically used by the Public Affairs Council until about 2001. The following figure is an illustration of this model.

Conventional Issues Management Model

Source: Schannon (2004)

This model, according to Schannon: "...tracks the intensity of audience engagement in an issue over time. It presupposes a rational linear system that can be measured and predicted. But it fails to capture the reality of the experience." (2004) Schannon states that the old model of crises management did not work because:

Issue change does not occur on a gradual basis but may be "...abrupt and violent, based on having reached certain thresholds. Something happens to an 'issue's system' causing it to instantly leap or fall to a new level of engagement. One can envision adding energy into the system until it reaches a threshold level and intensifies or draining enough energy from the system so that the issue immediately drops to a lower engagement level. This hypothesis is at the hart of a new approach to issues management. (Schannon, 2004)

Issue progression is not linear. Awareness does not flow neatly from one target audience to another. It is almost chaotic, issues pop up in the strangest places affecting disparate and unlikely populations, and they can disappear just as quickly. (Schannon, 2004)

Issues do not evolve arithmetically. One plus one does not equal two, but sometimes four, and sometimes zero. Twice the number of activists can cancel each other out or quadruple the awareness about the issue. (Schannon, 2004)

Situational Crisis Communication Theory

The work of Coombs (2004) states that prior research on Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) suggests that; "...an organization's past crises history affects the reputational threat posed by a current crisis when that crisis results from intentional acts by the organization." (Coombs, 2004) the anticipatory model has two essential components that are required for the facilitation of the process of understanding. Those two components are: (1) enactment; and (2) expectations. "Whereas enactment consists of specific actions, expectations about an object determines the type of actions taken in the enactment process." (Coombs, 2004) These two factors are stated to "constitute the crisis anticipation process, where an occurrence of a crisis is foreseen and an effort is made to eliminate or reduce the degree of the catastrophe." (Heath, nd)

Communication Strategy - Key for the Organization in PR Crisis Management

Some researchers consider communication strategies to be key in the public relations task and it is true that a communication strategy is critical for project or campaign development. Key decisions involved in the organizational communication strategy include: (1) the range of integrated information activities that the organization intends to implement; (2) the research strategy; (3) the use of external consultants; (4) key stakeholder roles and responsibilities; (5) available budget; (6) timeline; and (7) evaluation plan. (Ibid)

Dialogic Theory of Public Relations

There are other important aspects of public relations management insofar as the theoretical framework considered to be most appropriate however it is the contention of Kent and Taylor, in the work entitled: "Toward a Dialogic Theory of Public Relations" that: "A theoretical shift - from public relations reflecting an emphasis on managing communication to an emphasis on communication as a toll for negotiating relationships ahs been taking place for some time." (2002) Pearson was the first to give consideration to dialogue as a theory in public relations in his dissertation "A theory of Public Relations Ethics' which "sought to develop a more ethical framework for public relations theory and practice." (2002) Pearson held that: "...public relations is best conceptualized as the management of interpersonal dialectic." (2002) Pearson is noted as stating the following:

If what is right and wrong in organization conduct cannot be intuited or arrived at by some monological process, as much postmodern rhetorical theory and postmodern philosophy in general argues, then the focus for an organizational ethicist must shift dramatically. The important question becomes, not what action or policy is more right than another (a question that is usually posed as a monologue), but what kind of communication system maximizes the chances competing interests can discover some shared ground and be transformed or transcended. This question shifts the emphasis from an areas [sic] in which practitioners do not have special expertise -- ethical theory -- to areas in which they do have expertise -- communication theory and practice." (Pearson, 1989a)

The roots of dialogue may be found within various disciplines including philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and relational communication. (Kent & Taylor, 2002; paraphrased) the dialogic approach in public relations is stated to involve "...several coherent assumptions." (Kent & Taylor, 2002) Dialogue, can be a tool for manipulation by the organization that is unethical since dialogue necessarily involves the elements of trust, vulnerability, and risk. In the initiative of incorporation of dialogue into the public relations practice it must be understood as explained by Anderson, Cissna and Arnett, and cited in the work of Kent and Taylor (2002) that: "Human dialogue does not just happen...neither can dialogue be planned, pronounced, or willed. Where we find dialogue, we find people who are open to it...Dialogue is a dimension of communication quality that keeps communicators more focused on mutuality and relationship than on self-interest, more concerned with discovering than disclosing, more interest in access than in domination." (Kent and Taylor, 2002) Three ways to incorporate dialogue into the public relations practice on a day-to-day basis are: (1) the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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