A corporation’s image or reputation, is a very important asset. Customers are and should be reluctant to do business with companies with tarnished reputations. When a business’s product or service does not live up to expectations, unpleasant consequences can occur for consumers, ranging from death to inconvenience.A firms reputation is important for other reasons beyond the need to have consumers willing to purchase its goods and services. Reputations can influence the price of a company’s stock. It can even influence how other companies deal with it (terms offered for loans or credit; how long a supplier is willing to wait for payment or how much a discount will be offered on a purchase).Image is important to companies large or small.
An image is a subjective impression of an organization formed through one’s experience with that organization and interpreted are based on other past experiences.Image will vary from person to person. It is unlikely that two people will have the same experience with or information about a company. They have read, or seen, or heard different information about it. Different people will offer have similar impressions of a company, but it is unlikely that any two people will have precisely the same impression of the company.An image can be influenced by accusations, complaints, and behavior of others.When image is threatened, it is often considered essential to take action to repair that image.
Our image of a company is based on what we have see, heard, and read about that company. The company’s words and deeds are one source for our impression. This means a company whose image has been threatened can, at least in theory, use communication to repair that image.When a company is accused of wrongdoing , communication is used to correct this mistake. Furthermore, sometimes people see what they want to see and fail to see what they do not want to see. The truth can repair an image, but if the relevant audience refuses to accept the truth, reality can not help the unfairly damaged image.
Images may be at odds with reality. This does not mean that reality is irrelevant to image. If a company is falsely accused of wrongdoing, the truth (reality) of its innocence can be employed to repair the firm’s image. However, it is vital to keep in mind that reality by itself is unlikely to repair an image. Perceptions can be more important than reality.The truth can repair an image, but if the relevant audience refuses to accept the truth, reality can not help the unfairly damaged image.Image and image repair both arise from reality but must be shaped through communication.Reality clearly influences image, but rarely do people have a complete knowledge of the facts, and what they do know is filtered or interperted by their personal attitudes and experiences.
First, if nothing bad has happened, there is no threat to image. Only when an offense has occurred is there a potential threat to an image. Criticism and threats to image can arise when an act is committed with harmful consequences, or when an act is performed awkwardly. Second, even when an offensive act has occurred, it is unreasonable to form a negative impression of a company unless that company is responsible for the offensive act. A company can be blamed if it performed, ordered, encourage, or permitted the act to occur. Images are threatened when another person obtains information that creates an unfavorable impression about another person or organization.
Image repair theory offers five broad categorizes of image repair strategies, some with subforms, that can be used to respond to image threats. Reducing offensiveness and corrective action address the first component of accusations, reducing offensiveness of the act attributed to the accused. Denial and evasion of responsibility concern the second component of accusations rejecting or reducing the accused’s responsibility for the act in question.
Simple denial can deny that the act occurred or that the accused committed the act. The tobacco industry was attacked in 1990 on ABC’s PrimeTime Live including having “spiked” cigarettes with addictive nicotine. Philip Morris published newspaper ads responding to these accusations. Morris observed, “In every case, with every brand we manufacture, the nicotine level in the finished cigarette is lower than the nicotine level of the original, natural tobacco leaf.”Shift the blame admits that the act occurred but declares that another person or organization is really responsible for the offensive act. Firestone was blamed for 271 deaths from tire blowouts. One of the responses employed by Firestone was to shift the blame for these unfortunate incidents, suggesting that the problem occurred “only for Ford Explorers” because the Ford Motor Company recommended that tires be underinflated. This suggested that the problem was not caused by the tires themselves but by another company that gave dangerous instructions for using the otherwise safe products. This explanation moved the blame for these deaths from Firestone to Ford.
Provocation explains that the firm’s offensive act was a reasonable response to a prior offensive act. For an example, a company might claim it moved its plant to another state because the first state passed a new law reducing its profit margin. Part of the blame may be allocated on the person or organization that provoked the offensive act instead of having all the blame on the accused.Defeasibility, the accused explains that a lack of information about or control over key aspects of the situation contributed to the offensive act. For an example, an executive who missed a meeting might argue that, “I was not informed of the meeting.” Lacking important information may partially excuse the offensive is to argue responsibility for it. Accident, to argue that the offensive action occurred by accident. For an example, When Sears was accused of overcharging customers for unneeded auto repairs, they claimed that the auto repair mistakes were “accidental,” rather than intentional. It a firm persuades the audience that the offensive act happened accidentally, it should be held less accountable and the damage to the company’s image should stop.Good intentions, when a company does wrong while trying to do something good may reduce blame. For an example, the tobacco industry was also defended by a lobbying group, the Tobacco Institute. In response to the accusation that cigarette companies were targeting young people with their deadly product, the Tobacco Institute argued that the industry had good intentions: “No other industry in America has taken such direct and voluntary actions to steer its product away from young people.” Stressing the fact that voluntary actions may help create the impression that the industry's intentions were good, which in turn could reduce blame.
Bolstering, the strategy attempts to strengthen the audience’s positive feelings toward the accused so as to offset the negative feelings arising from the wrong deed. An example, Dow Corning was criticized for manufacturing dangerous breast implants. The company attempted to show its concern for women, “Our overriding responsibility is to the women using silicone mammary implants.” This statement does not argue either that implants are not harmful or that Dow Corning is not responsible for breast implants. The company hopes that the positive attitude will counterbalance the negative feelings about the firms breast implants. Minimization, to directly lessen the negative feelings associated with wrongful acts. Sears is an example. When accused of auto repair fraud, Sears suggested that “with over two million automobiles customers serviced in California alone,” the instance of over-charging were few. This suggests that offensive acts were isolated examples rather than widespread patterns of abuse. Differentiation, to distinguish the offensive act from similar but more offensive actions. In comparison, the offensive act does not look so bad. An example, you tell your friend, “I didn’t steal your car, I just borrowed it (without asking).” Both actions are offensive, however stealing is clearly worse than borrowing.Transcendence, tries to put the act in a more favorable context, thereby making it appear less offensive. Attack accuser, helps repair an image in two ways. First, it may suggest that the victim of the offensive act deserved what he or she received, thus lessening offensiveness. Second, criticizing the accuser can undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the attack.Compensation, if the compensation is acceptable to the victim, the firm’s image should be improved. For an example, if a company supplies defective parts to another firm, the offender may offer discount on other goods to ease the ill will.
Texaco was accused of racism when a tape recording surfaced of one of its executives saying that African American employees were “black jelly beans” who were “glued to the bottom of the jar.” Peter Bijur, chair of Texaco, promised that the company would do everything in its power ti heal the painful wounds that the reckless behavior of those involved have inflicted. This action attempts to repair the damage from the executive’s remarks. He also announced that, “I have directed today that all of our diversity and equal employment opportunity programs be reviewed.”
AT&T’s long distance service was interrupted in 1991. Among other problems, this grounded air travel in many parts of the country because the air traffic controllers relied on long-distance lines. AT&T’s chairman, Robert Allen, published a letter of apology in newspapers. In it he accepted responsibility for the disruption of service and offered a direct apology.
Before a crisis emerges, careful planning can help to reduce response time and may avert mistakes in an organization’s response to a crisis. Tylenol acted quickly in the first poisoning episode, whereas Exxon’s reaction to the oil spill was too slow, hindering its attempt to repair its damaged image. Contingency plans: Restaurants should prepare a plan in case of food-poisoning. An airline should prepare a plan for a plan crash.Having a ready plan that can be modified should both speed up the response and help avoid mistakes
For an example, arguing that accounting mistakes were accidents should be a more effective response to the accusation that a company “cooked” the books than the accusation that it engaged in careless bookkeeping. A more serious offense may require a different response than a minor offense.
A vital part of persuasion is adapting a message to the intended audienceDo not design message for the wrong audience. For example, suppose a company is accused of polluting the environment. At least 5 audiences are part of this situation. First, the company may wish to persuade the attackers, environmentalists. Second, the opinions of the firm’s stockholders are obviously important, if they are aware of the controversy. The third audience consists of government regulators who may fine or otherwise sanction the company. Customers are yet another potential audience. The people who live in the area that is polluted is another audience. It is important to realize that the interest of these various groups differ widely. Communicators should decide which audience is most important. He or she can make sure that the most important audience is appeased and then devote as much time and effort to the other audiences as possible
First, it may be possible to redefine the attack. Differentiation is an example of this approach.Second, instead of altering the nature of the accusations, the business may attempt to refocus attention on other issues. A counterattack may shift the audiences’ attentions away from the accusation. A company takes risk when it ignores an accusation. However, if the key audiences shift their focus to the issues that the company decided to emphasize in an image repair message, that can benefit the company.It is possible that each accusation is not important to the audience. One may be able to ignore or slight an accusation that is less important to a specific audience. In other words, one may treat one accusation strategically different when addressing one audience than when addressing another, even to the point of not addressing the accusation at all.
Crisis Communication and Image Repair
Crisis Communication and Image Repair<br />Meaghan Nicholson, Comm337<br />