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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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On the other hand, when appointing a speaker, the management has to make allowances for public segmentation. A certain type of organizational representative might be more effective when talking to a specific ethnic group by appealing to the latter‘s values and beliefs, thus increasing persuasion. In the last two instances mentioned a company might be constrained to be represented by an employee who may not have the necessary training in dealing with crisis communication but who would still be able to reach the audiences through his or her appeal, charisma, or past experience publics are aware of.


The Media

It is important for top management to adapt their strategies of response in accord with the type of media they would use for message delivery. Media could be divided into controlled and uncontrolled or traditional and new. Therefore, the response to a crisis is a PR campaign in which one has to do research before responding. Research would include public segmentation and the use of appropriate media to reach a specific target group.

Public Types

As mentioned earlier, without proper knowledge of the public segment it should address, the effect of the discourse might be minimal.

According to Wilcox and Cameron (2008), publics should be divided according to: age (youth and young adults, baby boomers, and seniors), race and ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. Wilcox and Cameron (2008) provide an insight into the latest research, according to which there are characteristics of each group that help an organization reach them. For example, radio has a great impact on minority groups, especially the Hispanics, people from the GLBT community are very loyal to brands, and seniors can be reached by messages delivered via traditional media such as the newspapers.

Yet groups are not monolithic. Although common values are the pivot around which a community performs its activity and develops itself, different people within each group share extra and various values and goals. Therefore, one could talk about a group within a group and additional segmentation is needed.

Looking into past experiences and events that took place within a specific community or group appears to be of paramount importance. It could be impossible to predict an exact reaction for each member within a specific group, yet by looking into past events that affected a certain region and a community one can draw a general line to predict reactions and therefore adopt a response strategy.

In sum, there has to be a match between the discourse during/after a crisis, the group or community it addresses, as well as the medium used to reach the target audience. Crises require exigent action and response and, consequently, it is paramount that thorough and minute research with regard to public segmentation should be conducted for each crisis.

The Context

The context in which a crisis takes place is crucial to the way in which the rhetor chooses the type of discourse that would reach the audience. Context is an integral part of the macrosystem in which an organization functions and on which its failure and success depends.

The political system of a specific country in which a corporation performs its activity, the democratic system, the degree of freedom that media has, as well as the cultures and traditions exert influence on the way in which a crisis emerges and develops along with the type of discourse the organization should employ. Additionally, the context also involves the reputation the organization has gained at the time of the crisis, as well as its relationship with various stakeholders. The reputation of a company stems from the way in which it has proved to be social responsible but also its response and strategies during past crises. Before providing media 497 with a crisis response, the management should take into consideration who defined the issue and the crisis first as well as the implications the crisis may have.

For example, top management can use corrective action, full apology, and ingratiation for a crisis that has been first defined by the media or by any other external group, depending on the severity of the crisis. On the other hand, in a crisis whose repercussions do not include casualties, the organization could employ excuse and justification provided that the crisis has been defined by internal stakeholders.

In the early stages of a crisis the control is exerted by the group or the person who first defines it. Yet, as the crisis develops control can switch into the hands of the group who is able to dominate the issues that arise from the crisis by predicting future developments.

Monopoly in the market is also a factor that should be taken in consideration in crisis response and part of the context. Etymologically, the term monopoly is derived from Greek monos- alone and polein- to sell. Monopolies are characterized by a lack of competition for good service or practice. Yet monopolies could also be imposed by governmental decisions in countries where democracy and fair market competition are not a tradition. On the other hand, companies could lead a market where the quality of their services and products has no rival.

Additionally, there are corporations that dominate not necessarily due to unavailability of products that provide better quality than theirs, but because they have previously established an utter powerful brand and their products define a specific lifestyle. An example would be brands that address specific elite groups such as Rolls Royce.

In the case of a corporation that faces a crisis while having monopoly, the crisis response could differ from the one provided by an organization that struggles to impose itself on the market. Furthermore, the strategies of crisis discourse used by a company that has gained arbitrary monopoly could vary from the ones employed by one that has imposed on the market through outstanding products and services.

Media relationships are another factor of the context in which the response is delivered.

Companies with contacts in the media and good relationships with journalists may not face negative coverage. Journalists are themselves a type of public and thus can inadvertently be undergoing a process of framing. Moreover, there are countries in which free media is not a tradition as it is the case of Russia where companies pay for the journalists to cover them.

In such countries, the response to a crisis is influenced by black PR which is considered legal (Wilcox and Cameron, 2008).

The context also determines the level of secrecy in which an organization should engage.

Organizational secrecy refers to any piece of information purposefully withheld and not made public by an organization. (Bok, 1983). According to Grunig & Grunig (1996) publics expect an organization to be transparent. However, there are circumstances in which secrecy cannot be shunned lest organizational strategies made accessible to public should spur unprofit and turmoil (Bok, 1983). Nevertheless, secrecy is inevitable for organizations to function effectively in some occasions.

In sum, apart from the type of crisis and the type of organization that faces it, (non-profit versus profit, public versus private) the context in which the crisis response is exigently demanded determines the type of discourse. In the process of response preparation there is the need of making use of data that have been previously collected with regard to: publics, media, and culture along with choosing the right person who would constantly keep the publics up to date with the developments.

The elements in the model exert mutual influence on one another: the context 498 influences the speaker, the media, and the publics. Yet as the crisis develops, a group of publics can change the context and the media coverage. On the other hand, media can shift the crisis into a different direction just as the speaker or the crisis itself could modify the entire context. But, most importantly, the context, either the political or the social one along with its values can be altered by the crisis as the latter is defined and handled by the media, the organization, or the publics.

Discourse Analysis

The item of analysis is the first crisis response provided by T-Mobile for the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. The importance of this discourse lies in the fact that it is the first response, under the form of an interview, provided by the CEO of DT, Rene Obermann, to the newsmagazine that triggered the crisis first.

T-Mobile’s crisis was first defined by Der Spiegel on May 8, 2008 when the magazine revealed details about the loss of confidential data regarding 17 million customers, half of the TMobile customers (“Data on 17m Mobile Phone Users Stolen,”, 2008, para. 1). Further on, the same magazine made public the fax received by Deutsche Telekom with regard to the “Clipper” and “Rheingold” spying operations performed on top management and journalists.

T-Mobile responded to media immediately and on June 30, 2008 Der Spiegel newsmagazine published an exclusive interview with Rene Obermann the CEO of Deutsche Telekom (“I Stand by the Approach That Was Taken”, 2008).

The choice of having the CEO speak during times of crisis is meant to denote the availability of the company’s management to reveal the current state of affairs and also to demonstrate transparency and cooperation with media and external stakeholders. In the case of T-Mobile the availability of the chief of Deutsche Telekom also proved that the company is taking responsibility especially since the matter had political resonance and could have led to new regulation for the entire telecom industry in Germany.

However Obermann’s answers to the journalists’ questions seem evasive and his responses are terse at times. For example, the CEO avoids talking directly about the spying issue until a court decision has been reached in this regard: “Until there is exact evidence no one should be treated as guilty.” Consequently. Obermann engages in what Coombs (1995) calls the nonexistence strategies and makes use of denial until a judicial decision has been reached.

However, the use of this strategy in the crisis is premature and risky. If DT is found guilty of spying by the court the CEO’s evasive denial will preclude the image restoration of the company.

Further on, when the journalist asks why T-Mobile didn’t go public in 2006 as the company first found out that confidential data of 17 million customers had been disclosed, Obermann responds that the company considered that solving the matter internally was the best choice and he did not regret any measure the company took in the matter. In this case the CEO fails to meet the publics’ expectations both internally and externally.

Obermann asserts that until the court reaches a decision, the spying issue shouldn’t be a matter of emotion, but a matter of facts.

I do not get involved in premature judgments. A person is considered innocent until proven guilty. And what is at issue in this case is not my emotions but the need to clear up the matter.

499 He further engages into remediation (Coombs, 1995) and provides a solution for the customers whose confidential data is being sold online: the 17 million could change their phone numbers for free in case they feared illegal acts or felt threatened. But Obermann’s solution is not accompanied by an apology and neither is it a good decision in solving the matter.

Customers among which government officials, VIPs, and business men would rarely accept changing their phone numbers since their daily activities involve the high use of telecommunications and it is important to have their phone numbers known by their contacts.

The CEO of Deutsche Telekom provides Der Spiegel with the measures taken by his

company as a result of the data stealth:

We changed all our security procedures. We modified the code of ethics and we replaced the management of the security department. We now make sure that all our folders containing customer data are locked.

–  –  –

Yes, I stand by the approach that was taken, based on the information available at the time. The fact is that we have made many changes in the security area since then -changes that we would not have been able to implement as quickly if there had been an investigation by the public prosecutor's office and a public debate.

We completely restructured the security area, divided up responsibilities and developed a new code of behavior for that department. We brought new people on board, including Reinhard Rupprecht, the former deputy head of the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). From our standpoint, it was the appropriate reaction.

Thus, T-Mobile took corrective action and Obermann tries to re-establish the image of his company by making use of rectification strategies (Benoit, 1992). Yet, his speech lacks a full

apology and he is only willing to provide one once the court reaches a decision:

I have already told the supervisory board that I consider the incident to be highly deplorable and that it shouldn't have happened. Of course, I will apologize -- also on behalf of the company -- to other journalists, members of the supervisory board or others who were affected as soon as reliable conclusions have been reached. Simply issuing general niceties at this point without knowing who else may have been affected doesn't make any sense to me.

–  –  –

Oh, come on! Where was there a delay? We received the fax from the Berlin company on April 28 and launched an internal investigation right away. The head of the supervisory board was notified two days later. We went to the public prosecutor's office with the first documents on May 14. It's hard to imagine how we could have done this any faster.

Obermann also admits it would be difficult to build trust again with his employees and further engages into corrective action by asserting that he plans to change the values of both management and the subordinating departments.

We have no concept of the enemy. But it is certainly true that the tradition of trust still needs further development. This is probably due in part to the extended period of time in which there was tension among divisions. This cannot simply be ignored… It will certainly become more difficult to develop a trusting relationship.

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