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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Literature review General Public (Blogs) vs. Journalists (Online Newspapers) Previous literatures regarding publics’ emotions and perceptions of crisis responsibility tend to focus more on those reactions from “a public” rather than different publics. Furthermore, there is a lack of understanding how a group of publics’ emotions and/or strong perceptions of crisis responsibility toward an organization are differed from other public groups. Are there any diverging perceptions of a crisis from each public group and within each crisis phase? In order to compare general public’s evaluation of a crisis to journalists’ views, we here propose to compare blogs and online newspapers. Given that blogs and social media are used as a news source for journalists as well as important communication channels during a crisis for an organization (Perry et al., 2003; Taylor & Perry, 2005; Wright & Hinson, 2008), we wonder about whether general public’s emotions and perceptions of crisis responsibility are different from journalists’ framing of news reports.

In crisis communication, a number of studies have found framing effects regarding crisis news reports. Given that journalists not only use their own sources for stories, but also use social media to find stories (Perry et al., 2003; Taylor & Perry, 2005), journalists’ news reports of a crisis might be affected by public-generated information online, or vice versa, thus news articles created by journalists may be similar or dissimilar to publics to some extent. Moreover, in accord with the essence of emotions in the SCCT and the contingency theory, it is assumed that publics’ and journalists’ emotions and perceptions of crisis responsibility affect the organization’s CRS within the post crisis communication phases, and in turn the organization’s CRS may intensify or decrease the publics’ negative emotions and its perceived crisis responsibility. All in all, the following research questions reflect negative emotions presented by not only general public but also journalists in order to come up with emotions from different publics.

RQ1: Are there differences in emotions related to crisis phases and different publics (general public/blogs vs. journalists/online newspaper)?

RQ2: Are there differences in perceptions of crisis responsibility related to crisis phases and different publics (general public/blogs vs. journalists/online newspaper)?

Influential Contingent Factors in Contingency Theory In crisis situations, contingency theory provides organizations with ideas to explain what contingent factors influence organizations’ communication with key publics and their stance changes within a continuum from pure advocacy to pure accommodation (Cameron, Pang, & Jin, 2007; Shin et al., 2005). Advocacy means the degree of an organization’s strategic position in opposing to the public’s viewpoint, whereas accommodation implies the organization’s position in favor of its publics (Cameron, Pang, & Jin, 2007). Based on these two extreme conditions within the continuum, the contingency theory and a stance reflect more the dynamics of strategic 395 communication than merely strategies or tactics. From the contingency theory, an organization can place various stances on the continuum towards different key publics, and the dynamic stances further affect different strategies and tactics an organization may take (Cancel et al., 1997). For example, Jin et al. (2006) examined how the Singapore government managed a crisis of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in terms of its stance placed on the continuum and responding crisis communication strategies toward multiple publics. That is, Singapore’s government fashioned more advocacy toward the quarantined publics and general public in order to protect its citizens from infection, while at the same time these two publics more accommodated by the government (Jin et al., 2006).

In terms of contingent factors affecting one’s stance, prior literatures in the contingency theory suggests 87 contingent factors which are again categorized into predisposing and situational factors (Cancel, Mitrook, & Cameron, 1999). While predisposing factors predetermine an organization’s stance before it interacts with publics, the situational factors influence the organization’s stance on the continuum when it is faced with a conflict itself, and the situational factors ultimately change the predispositions of the organization’s position. From extensive interviews with public relations practitioners, Cancel, Mitrook and Cameron (1999) found well supported predisposing factors which reflected more organizational variables: a) the size of the organization, b) corporate culture, c) business exposure, d) public relations to dominant coalition, e) dominant coalition enlightenment, and f) individual characteristics of key individuals. Additionally, a) urgency of the situation, b) characteristics of the other public, c) potential or obvious threats, and d) potential costs or benefit for the organization from choosing the various stances were well supported situational factors (Cancel et al., 1999).

In regard to give parsimony to a number of contingent factors and their application in public relations practices, Reber and Cameron (2003) proposed five thematic variables: a) external threats (e.g., government regulations), b) external public characteristics (e.g., the size, credibility, commitment, and power of the external public), c) organizational characteristics (e.g., the past negative experiences and the presence of in-house counsel), d) public relations department characteristics (e.g., public relations practitioners’ membership in the dominant coalition), and e) dominant coalition characteristics.

For the current study, we do not intend to precisely capture different organizations’ stances in a given crisis. Although previous studies reflect stances through the coding of news stories and by using scales from advocacy to accommodation, we question the validity of those scales capturing organizations’ stances solely by coders. We propose instead to adopt11 categories of contingent variables from Cancel et al. (1997), and their influence on an organization’s (Samsung) crisis response strategies. Cancel et al. (1997) categorized 87 contingent factors into 11 groups on internal and external dimensions. External variables include the following five dimensions: (a) external threats, (b) industry-specific environment, (c) general political/social environment, (d) external public characteristics, and (e) the issue under consideration. Internal variables comprise the six dimensions: (a) general corporate/organizational characteristics, (b) characteristics of the public relations department, (c) top management characteristics, (d) internal threats, (e) personality characteristics of involved organization members, and (f) relationship characteristics.

Among the factors regarding the current study, we adopt the five external contingent factors/categories. Given that the current case is a high-profile crisis with following lawsuits and strong attribution toward the organization, the external variables such as external threats and external public characteristics may be outweighed for the organization’s crisis communication.

396 Furthermore, in news articles or blogs an organization’s internal factors are hardly measurable.

Based on the framework of the contingency theory, the following research question was


RQ3a: What contingent factors appeared to influence Samsung’s strategies during each crisis phases?

RQ3b: What contingent factors differently evidenced in blogs (general public) and online newspapers (journalists)?

Additionally, in order to see how the organization adopted various Crisis Response Strategies (CRS) within the crisis time frame, we need to briefly discuss typology of CRS.

Coombs (2000) initially proposed seven crisis response strategies: attacking the accuser, denial, excuse, justification, ingratiation, corrective action, and full apology and mortification. Based on his work, Jin et al. (2006) modified the crisis communication strategies insofar as they added cooperation, which was operationalized as “making overtures to reach out to the public with the goal of resolving the problem.” In terms of the typology of CRS, the following research question

was also submitted:

RQ4a: What kinds of Crisis Response Strategies (CRS) were used by Samsung during each crisis phases?

RQ4b: What kinds of Crisis Response Strategies (CRS) were differently evidenced in blogs (general public) and online newspapers (journalists)?

Emotions as newly adopted situational factors in the SCCT and the Contingency theory While contingency theory explains “it depends” strategies corresponding to wide-ranging contingent factors, the Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) has been introduced in focusing more on testable situational factors. From attribution theory, the SCCT illustrates reputational threats caused by situational factors in a given crisis (Coombs, 2004; Coombs & Holladay, 2002). The theory itself has explicated various situational factors (i.e., crisis type, severity of crisis, crisis history, and emotions) from either experimental methods or case studies (Coombs, 2004; Coombs, 2007a; Coombs & Holladay, 2002; Choi & Lin, 2009a; Choi & Lin, 2009b). The methodological preference as well as the conceptual parsimony has offered empirical results to crisis managers in expecting how stakeholders react to a crisis with respect to the expected reputational threat.

In terms of the reputational threat, Coombs (2007b) explained that 1) initial crisis responsibility based upon three crisis types which are victim, accidental, and intentional cluster, having different level of attributions of crisis responsibility, 2) history of past crisis, and 3) relationship history/prior reputation, which is operationalized by “how well or poorly an organization has treated stakeholders in other contexts” are used to assess the threat. The SCCT demonstrates that the three crisis types firstly determine initial responsibility-from low attribution of crisis responsibility in victim cluster to strong attribution of crisis responsibility in intentional cluster. Then, if an organization has a crisis history or a negative relationship history/prior reputation, increased reputational threat plays a role in adjusting initial responsibility and further affecting organization’s crisis response strategies.

Besides one’s crisis history, prior reputation, and initial responsibility, literature regarding the SCCT has recently examined how publics’ different emotions such as anger, worry, fear, sympathy, and alertness affect an organization’s reputational threats (Coombs, Fediuk, & Holladay, 2007; Choi & Lin, 2009a; Choi & Lin, 2009b). Early research reveals 397 connections between perceptions of crisis responsibility and stakeholders’ anger; the more an organization’s perceived responsibility increases, the more stakeholders show anger toward the organization (Jorgensen, 1996). McDonald and Hartel (2000) also addressed the concept of emotions in crisis communication in that higher felt involvement may intensify publics’ emotions toward a given crisis, and further motivate their behaviors. Beyond the SCCT, in concerning emotions as powerful factors in strategic crisis communication, Turner (2007) suggested the Anger Activism Model and divided favorable audiences into four groups on the basis of anger and efficacy, which confirming anger as one of central factors to motivate audiences to act.

To test applicability of emotions in the SCCT, Choi and Lin (2009a) studied whether and how crisis responsibility is a predictor of attribution independent emotions and dependent emotions based on Weiner’s terminology (1986), and they revealed that anger was the most strongly related to crisis responsibility, and it was the only significant predictor of both crisis reputation and boycotts toward Mattel (consumers’ behaviors). In addition, alertness was the most frequently expressed emotion at the early crisis stage, and it was a significant predictor of crisis reputation (Choi & Lin, 2009a). Moreover, in their further research of how felt involvement affect consumers’ perceptions of crisis responsibility, reputation, and emotion manifested in 2007 Mattel product recalls (Choi & Lin, 2009b), the authors showed that anger was more frequently displayed toward Mattel compared to other parties involved with the crisis and the emotional response was increased over time, which supports the presence of emotional reactions in a given crisis.

On the other hand, for testing the potential impact of public’s emotions on their coping strategy preference and organizational crisis strategy acceptance with respect to the contingency theory, Jin (2009) examined participants’ various negative emotions (i.e., anger, sadness, fright, and anxiety) posed by different level of predictability and controllability of a crisis. She showed that there were significant differences in the public’s acceptance of different organizational crisis response strategies with respect to different negative emotions posed by differences in predictability and controllability: while when the primary negative emotion were anger, the public were likely to accept attacking the accuser, blame, and/or excuse as the strategy used by the organization, when the primary negative emotions were sadness, the public were likely to accept compensation and/or an apology as the strategy used by the organization involved in the crisis (Jin, 2009). These findings bolster that publics’ negative emotions play another key role in understanding affected publics.

Based on two significant emotions (i.e., anger and alertness) from Choi and Lin (2009a) and the proposed four primary negative emotions (Jin et al., 2007, 2008), this study suggests to use the five primary emotions (anger, alertness, sadness, fright/fear, and anxiety/worry) and examines how the five emotions are manifested toward different parties involved in the Samsung oil spill crisis within each crisis phase.

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