Lost Missiles, Lost Messages Understanding Attribution Theory and Strategic Crisis Communication Theory A supplement to a presentation on crisis communication http://bit.ly/AD9xya
Attribution Theory • Attribution Theory states that “people assign responsibility for negative, unexpected events” -Timothy Coombs • Organizations monitor how stakeholders assign responsibility – Level of perceived responsibility dictates how an organization should respond • Three main considerations for gauging attribution: – Prior reputation/credibility – Crisis history – Type of crisis
Types of Crises • Strategic Crisis Communication Theory states there are three types of crisis: – Victim • Organization is the victim of some act • Tylenol employee adding cyanide to bottles • Low crisis responsibility – Accidental • Natural disaster, plant fire, etc. • Low crisis responsibility – Preventable • Human error • Exxon Valdez oil spill • Highest level of crisis responsibility
Determining Crisis Response Strategy • Preventable crises require most aggressive crisis communication response – Admit to mistake • Maj. Gen. Newton: “This was an unacceptable error…” • Personnel relieved of duty • We’ll make it right – Apologize • Newton: This was “an isolated incident involving a limited number of airmen.” • Distanced Air Force from error – Newton’s standoffishness did not contribute to transparency
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