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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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He considers that the crisis arose from within DT due to the negligence of the management to take into consideration the employees’ dissatisfaction and that, in the future, employees should engage into constructive criticism of the management and should not take for granted all information provided by their superiors.

Everyone could use more civil courage. Employees must know that questioning instructions from supervisors and even rejecting them if necessary is the right thing to do

-- with justification, of course. I'm not looking to establish some sort of general culture of disobedience. But everyone needs to know that just because something is coming from above, it isn't automatically correct. Questionable or illegal instructions must be reported.

In his interview with Der Spiegel (“Spiegel Interview with Deutsche Telekom,” 2008) the CEO also makes use of the rhetorical strategy of transcendence (Coombs, 1995) by placing the spying and the data disclosure scandal into a broader context. Yet, contrary to Coomb’s theory, in this case transcendence is not defined by appeal to higher values, but rather by the use of a broader context in which the crisis took place.

According to Hearit (1997) in “organizational communication, transcendence is a form of symbolic action whereby a corporation [or other organization] redefines its acts so that they are viewed from a larger context, one that customarily features an ethical dimension.” In this interview Obermann asserts that in these times there are higher chances for telecom companies to face crises since, apart from their multinational characteristics, the technology of both landline and mobile telecommunication is continuously evolving and thus

leads to increase efforts to incessantly restructure the telecomm companies:

–  –  –

At the end of the interview, Obermann reassures customers that their data is safe with TMobile and DT and says that the systems used by Deutsche Telekom are constantly checked by government agencies. By resorting to a higher authority, in this case the government, the CEO intention is to boost credibility and rebuild trust.

We have a high standard of security and are constantly working to improve it. Our systems and procedures are regularly monitored by government regulatory agencies.

The response of T-Mobile in the interview with Der Spiegel seems evasive at times, thus leading to the impression that the corporation is still reluctant to speak openly with the journalists from Der Spiegel, who were the ones that first defined the crisis. Obermann’s speech seems to fail to openly address the types of audience whose support T-Mobile and DT need in order to continue their activity: its employees and its customers.

The context in which the T-Mobile crisis takes place is a period dominated by corruption at Siemens as well as conflicts between works council on one hand and top management on the other hand at Volkswagen. Therefore, Obermann should have taken into account the fact that, on a market dominated by crises, an evasive response without concrete apology may render low efficacy and increase public skepticism both at an internal and an external level. According to the crisis response model proposed earlier, the period of corporate conflicts that was facing Germany at the time DT was struck by crisis is part of the context and should have been taken into account in the strategies of response employed by DT. In times of corporate turmoil, publics become more skeptical of profit organizations and therefore it is recommended to engage into an apologetic discourse. Furthermore, the historical context should be taken into account when organizations respond to crisis. What impact does spying have in a country like Germany, judging by the past Communist and Nazi regimes in which citizens were constantly monitored.

How will such past events affect the way in which DT’s customers perceive the spying scandal?

The CEO’s responses seem to be terse. Yet, the cultural values in Germany could be different and the type of terse and concise discourse without direct apologia and emotional display could appeal to the typical German customer. Therefore, for a better analysis of TMobile’s response several other media responses should be taken into account so as to analyze whether T-Mobile’s image restoration discourse in other media outlets differed from the one provided for Der Spiegel.

According to the model of response provided above, Obermann’s interview in Der Spiegel should have acknowledged the importance of the publics and should have included prior preparation for addressing and reaching the target audiences by bolstering and emphasis on values and previous good will. The terse and rough response could be part of the context factor mentioned in the model. Since T-Mobile is by far the leader of the German telecommunications market, the management could have chosen a distant attitude without feeling the need for a justification until a final court decision has been reached. On the other hand, the concise response provided in the interview for Der Spiegel could have been caused by the antagonism between the two parties.

Moreover, DT could have looked into better strategies that could influence the context.

Since spying is a sensitive issue, the company could have engaged into a strategy of full apology and use the crisis to exert influence on the context. More precisely, since the matter was taken to court it could have led to new litigation and regulation. Therefore, the CEO could have pointed 502 out at the issues that would arise from the crisis and that would lead to a better telecom industry, all of which would be directed toward the customers’ needs.

–  –  –

The DT crisis is still in development and much can be learned about the response strategies in the months to come. The purpose of this paper was to develop a paradigm of crisis management response and to test its applicability by using the crisis management response provided in the context of one of the biggest scandals in the European corporate world.

In order to better determine the applicability of the paradigm proposed in this paper, the whole media coverage should be analyzed starting with the moment the crisis was first defined until the crisis comes to an end. Once the T-Mobile crisis draws to an end, the image restoration discourses along with the changes the crisis brings about in legislation and politics should be analyzed by comparing the German media of high circulation Deutsche Zeitung, Die Welt, and Die Tageszeitung on one hand and Der Spiegel on the other hand. The purpose of such an analysis is to determine if coverage discrepancies occur since Der Spiegel was the newsmagazine that first revealed information about the crisis.

Furthermore, internal documents from T-Mobile would be useful so as to determine the steps the corporation took in trying to re-establish trust with its own employees. The press releases on the T-Mobile website could be compared to media coverage to determine if the company managed to set the media’s agenda and to control the crisis.

Since the T-Mobile crisis is still in development and possibly will not come to an end when the Court reaches a decision, such a study would be interesting to conduct if also the internal documents were available. Internal documents could also prove useful in order to determine if the crisis response was effective. More precisely, the number of the employees that left the company or the number of customers who switched to competition, as well as the sales result, would be paramount in measuring DT’s crisis rhetoric.



Benoit, W.L. (1995). Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies. A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies, University of New York Press, Albany.

Benoit, W.L. (2004). Responding to Crisis: A Rhetorical Approach to crisis Communication, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ.

Bok, S. (1983). Secrets: On the ethics of concealment and revelation. New York: Vintage Books.

Coombs, W.T. (1995). Choosing the Right Words: The Development of Guidelines for the Selection of the ‘Appropriate’ Crisis-Response Strategies. Management Communication Quarterly, 4, 447-476.

Coombs, W.T. (1999). Information and Compassion in Crisis Responses: A Test of their Effects. Journal of Public Relations Research, 2, 125-142.

Coombs, W.T. (2000). Crisis Management: Advantages of a Relational Perspective. Public Relations as Relationship Management, Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ.

Coombs, W.T. & Holladay, S.J. (2001). An Extended Examination of the Crisis Situations: A Fusion of the Relationship Management and Symbolic Approaches. Journal of Public Relations Research, 4, 321-340.

Coombs, W.T. & Holladay, S.J. (2004). Reasoned Action in Crisis Communication: An Attribution-Based Theory Approach to Crisis Management. In Responding to Crisis: A Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ.

“Deutsche Telekom scandal could spread to U.S.” (May 28, 2008). Retrieved January 3, 2010 from http://www.redherring.com/Home/24292.

“Did Deutsche Telekom spy on journalists and board members?” (May 26, 2008). Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,555363html.

“Die Börse und die Moral”(May 30, 2008). Retrieved February 10, 2010 from http://www.manager-magazin.de/geld/artikel/0,2828,556517,00.html.

“Eine Kaste von Paranoikern” (May 29, 2008). Retrieved February 1, 2010 from http://www.manager-magazin.de/unternehmen/artikel/0,2828,555878,00.html.

Frandsen, F., & Johansen, W. (2007), Crisis Communication and the Rhetorical Arena: A MultiVocal Approach. International Communication Association, 2007.

“Germany rocked by telecom spying scandal” (May 27, 2008). Retrieved December 25, 2009 from http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/may2008/gb20080527_623124.hm Hearit, K. M. (1997). On the use of transcendence as an apologia strategy: The case of Johnson controls and its fetal protection policy. Public Relations Review, 23, 217- 231.

“I stand by the approach that was taken” (June 30, 2008). Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,562984-2,00.html.

McKie, D. (2005). Chaos and Complexity Theory, Encyclopedia of Public Relations, 1, 120-122, Sage, Thousand Oaks.

“Obermann dementiert überwachung von Bankdaten” (May 30, 2008). Retrieved February 1, 2010 from http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/0,1518,556748,00.html “Phone company under fire: Telekom promises quick investigation” (May 27, 2009). Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,555664,00.ht.

Pompper, D. (2005), Game Theory, Encyclopedia of Public Relations,1, 359-360, 504 Sage, Thousand Oaks.

“Spying scandal widens at Deutsche Telekom” (May 29, 2008). Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,556293,00.html.

“Staatsanwaltsschaft ermittelt gegen Zumwinkel und Rike” (May 29, 2008). Retrieved February 1, 2010 from http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/0,1518,556748,00.html “The dark side of power” (June 6, 2008). Retrieved October 2, 2009 from http://www.managermagazin.de/unternehmen/artikel/0,2828,556318,00.html.

“Zumwinkel findet Auszahlung ganz normal” (March 3, 2009). Retrieved February 2, 2010 from http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/0,1518,613371,00.html Waymer,D., & Heath, R.L. (2007). Emergent Agents: The Forgotten Publics in Crisis Communication and Issues Management Research. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 1, 88-108.

Wilcox, D., & Cameron, G. (2009). Public Relations Strategies and Tactics, Allyn & Bacon.


–  –  –


Relationship management has emerged as an important approach for public relations research and practice (Heath, 2001; Ledingham & Bruning, 2000). According to J. E. Grunig (2006) and Hung (2006), theory of organization-public relationship management consists of three major components: relationship cultivation strategies, relationship outcomes and types of relationships (J. E. Grunig, 2006; Hung, 2006). Previous studies have paid large attention to relationship cultivation strategies (i.e. J. E. Grunig & Huang, 2000; Hon & J. E. Grunig, 1999;

Huang, 1997; Hung, 2002, 2006; Ki, 2004; Ki & Hon, 2006, 2007; Kim & Rhee, 2006) and measurement of relationships/relationship outcomes (i.e. Bruning & Lambe, 2001; J. E. Grunig & Huang, 2000; Hon & J. E. Grunig, 1999; Hon & Brunner, 2002; Huang, 1997, 2001, Hung, 2002, 2006; Jo, 2006; Ki & Shin, 2005; Kim, 2001; Ledingham & Brunig, 2000). However, types of relationships initially developed by Hon and J. E. Grunig (1999) and Hung (2002) have not been fully discussed.

Ni (2006) first adopted the resource based theory from strategic management literature and built the links between relationships and organizational resources. Following Ni’s (2006) study, Men and Hung (2009) further demonstrated that relationships are perceived as organizational resources because relationship cultivation is an organizational capability that can generate quality relationships as intangible assets. Both of their studies examined the value of quality relationships from a resource based view.

As an extensive study of examining organization-public relationships from a resource based approach, this study is designed to explore the different types of relationships existing in Mainland China and build the links between types of relationships and organizational resources.

Specifically, this study intends to find out whether the eight types of organization-public relationships (one-sided communal, mutual communal, covenantal, exchange, symbiotic, contractual, manipulative, and exploitive relationships, see Hung, 2002) still exist in the fast developing Chinese business setting considering the dynamic nature of relationships. It also tries to examine which types of relationships are perceived by companies to be strategic resources that can contribute to organizational competitive advantages. The continuum of types of organization-public relationships developed by Hung (2002, 2005) is adopted as the theoretical base of this study which will be reexamined and further developed from a resources based view in Mainland China context.

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