COMM 333-Organizational Communication

last updated 12/6/2010
Strategic Public (External) Communication


Types of External Communication


  1. Advertising (see persuasion notes)


  1. Organizational Image


    1. Identity – who are we?  “Verizon,” "Go Daddy"?  Current Microsoft ads
    2. Valence – positive public perceptions of …

                                                              i.      Performance – “Quality is Job One”

                                                            ii.      Operations – BP’s environmental and gulf coast ads

                                                          iii.      Public Service – “Miller bottles water for the flood victims”

    1. Investor Services - Keep the sotckholders and prospective stockholders feeling positive about the org.


  1. Shaping Opinion on Issues Relevant to the Organization
    1. Public Opinion – Issues Management  - "B.P. on the Oil Spill,"  "Intellectual property" as an ideograph
    2. Government Affairs – lobbying, campaign support


  1. Crisis Communication.

a.        “A crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company, usually brought on by adverse or negative media attention. These situations can be any kind of legal dispute, theft, accident, fire, flood or manmade disaster that could be attributed to your company. It can also be a situation where in the eyes of the media or general public your company did not react to one of the above situations in the appropriate manner.”  Sandra K. Clawson Freeo   (from the first link above)


b.        Crisis Communication Strategies


                                                                i.      Identification (we share your concern) vs Scapegoating (We’re not  the cause of the crisis; they are.)

                                                               ii.      Framing – defining the issue in ways favorable to the organization or attempting to limit what may/will be considered as relevant  (e.g. pro-life vs pro-choice)

                                                              iii.      Institutionalism – We’re capable of dealing with this.  (U.S. Government after 9/11)

c.        Principles

                                                                i.      Tell it all

                                                               ii.      Tell it fast

                                                              iii.      Tell the truth


Steps in Handling a Crisis


Excerpt below taken from Brian Delany. “When the Crisis Strikes,”  THE CORPORATE BOARD, the Journal of Corporate Governance, January/February 1991.  

·         Prepare -- Every company needs a prepared crisis communications program. As pointed out, companies often do more planning for the annual company picnic or a new product launch than they do for a serious event that could threaten their success or even their survival.

·         Communicate -- Few perceptual battles are lost by over-communicating. Chances are that the crisis will require your corporation to respond to publics or audiences whether you like it or not, and often the audiences are ones that you do not usually deal with. In most crises, these audiences may affect the outcome of the crisis and its aftermath far beyond their standing. Crises often require the opening of new channels of communication. It may mean a neighborhood meeting, a press conference with a community newspaper, or a political briefing. In addition, using existing allies as third parties to reinforce your communications can bolster your position and credibility. And, when communicating, never forget your employees. They are your first line of defense and should be your most ardent supporters. Finally, be brief. No one wants to hear anyone pontificate during a disaster. A good sound bite -- the line that television and headlines will pick up -- often consists of eight words or less.

·         Set responsibilities -- Crises are not time to create a new decision tree. Unfortunately the human animal does not necessarily make good decisions under high stress. That is why a crisis team and its duties should be determined in advance. The team should include top management, and should have its support. Further, a good plan should outline the decision process and responsibilities for the most foreseeable emergencies.

·         Be there -- In times of crisis, being on site is not necessarily a pleasant experience. CEOs are forced out from under the corporate umbrella and no longer have control over events and their surroundings. But perceptually, a crisis is a time that can create a leader. Obviously (to borrow a chess metaphor), decisions have to be made on whether -- and when -- to expose your king. And sometimes using the king is not the best choice. But one of the critical decisions that must be made in a timely fashion is: should the chief officer be there?

Every crisis also has its "Don'ts".

·         Never lie -- This rule is often stated but too often violated. One of the perceptual lessons of Watergate was that even the most powerful cannot cover up the facts and survive. Sooner or later, your enemies will make sure that a story gets out.

·         Pierce the corporate veil -- If you are to react well to an unexpected event, you must think like a resident or a consumer or a neighbor in order to understand what these individuals are feeling and to react in a way that will gain you perceptual "points." Johnson & Johnson chief executive officer Jim Burke reacted to the concerns and the information needs of millions of his customers. As a result, he gained their trust and confidence, and he won the perceptual battle -- and an even larger market share.

·         Do not leave too soon -- Abandoning the battleground before the battle is over indicates that you do not care, and it gives a distinct advantage to potential opponents. Whatever the merit, "concerned" individuals in any crisis have distinct information needs, and they need assurance that the corporation is serious in responding to the situation as well as to their needs.

·         "The buck stops here -- This phrase made famous by Harry Truman and still used by politicians rings very true during times of crisis. CEOs, for better or worse, embody their corporations. They will not win any points blaming a subordinate in public. When the scrutiny is intense, the media and the public do not distinguish between individuals and the corporation as a whole. Sacrificial limbs bear their own explosive risks -- Ollie North, for example. And they create potential martyrs -- Elliot Richardson and Archibald Cox during the Watergate "Saturday Night Massacre."

·         Do not second-guess -- Adhere to the decision-making process during a crisis. This rule bears repeating. All the best-laid plans will be useless if a decision-maker falters in times of crisis. That cog in the wheel could spell disaster. Every executive must be supported in making the tough decisions during the high-stress time. Rarely is someone blamed for making a decision during a calamity. Instead, the "corporate" disaster often occurs when a decision is not made.

The stakes in a crisis are extremely high. Just 15 minutes testifying before a Senate subcommittee or 30 seconds appearing on the national news can, if we are not properly prepared, result in a disaster for a business or finish a top executive's career.

In sum, the best crisis plan is well thought out, in place in advance, practiced with diligence, and constantly challenged. Taking the time to think during a crisis is critical, but is only possible if the planning framework is already in place.