Crisis Management: The Importance of Crisis Communication

Subject: Business Communication
Pages: 45
Words: 12626
Reading time:
46 min
Study level: Master


Communication during a crisis is an important aspect that organizations must be prepared for in order to maintain the corporate image to the stakeholders. Top management communication during a crisis is vital in order to mitigate fury, censure, aggravation, and misery that characterize public dialogue right after the crisis. Events like the oil spillage by oil companies that harm the environment, call back of vehicles by automobile companies, or a flight crash of a commercial airline, etc. demonstrate the possible crises that might inflict on a company. This paper will demonstrate the way corporate communication should be handled by corporations in order to make it more effective.

Research Problem Context and Structure

Crisis usually evokes a feeling of urgency and threat among all and not wrongly, as crisis often arises out of unnatural events that carrier’s paramount negative significance. A crisis usually begins with a dramatic and shocking event that becomes the single fundamental alterations. Various organizations follow different plans to manage crisis. Moreover, usually corporate have an annual review of the crisis communication plans (Armon, p. 10). Therefore, in discussing crisis communication, two industries require most attention i.e. oil and automobile. The recall of Toyota’s cars worldwide and continuous incidences of spillage of oil of British Petroleum (BP) are recent incidents that demonstrate the emerging crisis for corporate and the way they are managed. The importance of communication in managing a crisis assumes utmost importance for companies. In the oil industry, media has aired footages of oil spillage by BP in the ocean and possible environmental hazards that the incident might have. Toyota, one of world’s largest automakers, recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide, thus, tarnishing their reputation as a quality automobile maker. These incidents are capable of spoiling corporate image completely and wrong communication during such crisis increases the necessity to communicate the crisis in order to do some damage control. For instance, the CEO of the company has the opportunity to tone down the damage that had been done to the company’s reputation through his/her communication process. Therefore, communication throughout the period of crisis is critical for corporate to successfully handle the situation. Communication in crisis occurs at various stages and these communications help in moulding the corporate image. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of corporate communication that a company has and strategies that it employs to use this tool during the crisis management process.

Justification for the Research

Crisis communication is important for image building or re-building. Communication as this occurs to both the internal as well as the external organization. Crisis communication during the crisis of oil spillage at BP provides extensive reason for the importance of communication in management of crisis. The CEO of BP, Tony Hayward’s reaction over oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates the gap in the corporate communication style of essentially British CEO with the US mass. Therefore, cultural understanding while communication of a crisis is important. Toyota, one of the largest automakers in the world had called eight million cars back and the communication presented by the CEO was not satisfactory. Thus, the slack in the process of crisis communication risked the reputation of the company in the future. As communication can change the public image of the organization, it becomes an important part of crisis management and therefore, all organizations must be prepared for such crises.

Research Strategy, Statement of purpose and Research Questions

This research is a case study based research is divided into three parts – (1) a thorough understanding of the models of crisis communication present in previous literature, (2) case analysis of Toyota and British Petroleum, and (3) interviewing South African companies and building a model for crisis communication. Understanding the way crisis communication need to be handled is important as they help in successful handling of the situation. Communication of crisis may occur in different states i.e. before the crisis occurs or pre-crisis case; when the crisis event is taking place; and after the crisis event has already occurred or post-crisis case. The crisis communication, after the event has already taken place, aims at rejuvenation of the corporate image. This helps in revamping the image and it targets both the internal as well as the external stakeholders of the organization. The main aim of the paper is to gauge the preparedness of organizations for crisis communication. The research questions that are discussed in the paper are as follows:

  1. What is the crisis communication preparedness of companies?
  2. What media response does the company policy entail to handle a crisis?
  3. What model of crisis communication should corporate follow to have an effective communication?

Delimitations of Scope

The research will help us understand the importance of policy and plan for crisis communication as it can help companies avoid a lot of trouble in undertaking an image makeover or change in strategy. The paper will help in understanding the nature of communication strategy that a company can have in place in order to be able to identify and take action to prevent any adverse public reaction.

The Structure of the Study

The paper is divided into four sections. The first part will provide a thorough literature review of the previous researches. The literature review will cover researches conducted on crisis communication and the theory related to this specific subject. Then the paper studies the research method. In this section, the research method that will be used for the study is discussed and the method is described. Then in the research strategy section, the paper shows what strategy is taken to form the case study from planning, data collection, sampling, to analysis. The fourth section shows the analysis part wherein the two case studies are discussed.

Literature Review


Crises communication must take place at a time when the organization passes through a phase of high degree of ambiguity and consequence with low timeline. Hale, Dulek and Hale state that “Scholars have long recognized the important role that communication plays in effective crisis management.” (114) Therefore, it is important to present a thorough understanding of the past research of corporate communication during crisis in order to ascertain the response that is expected during such a situation. Previous research has considerably pressed on how such events and situations should be handled. Crisis communications forms a part of the crisis management literature that has three parts – prevention, communication, and recovery (Hale, Dulek and Hale, p. 113). Prevention has been further subdivided into three mode categories i.e. “mitigation, planning, and warning” (Hale, Dulek and Hale, p. 113). Crisis communication occurs when the prevention stage fails to trigger crisis and reason and justification for the course of action must be delivered. This literature review shows the present literature available that demonstrates the requirements, modes, and framework that must be used in delivering the crisis communication is discussed in this section.

Companies’ Communication with Media at time of Corporate Crises

Various theories have been presented in the crisis communication literature regarding the best practices available for the process of communication. A large part of the crisis communication literature is based on the recovery of crisis event. Many literature stresses on what the leadership must do to counter the crises. Argenti, Howell, and Beck (84) points out that organizational leader must use integrated strategic communication to manage government regulations, complex inter-organizational systems, and increase the trustworthiness of the organization. The main job of the CEOs is to align the aims and objectives of the organization to the messages given out to the external audience so that parity is maintained between the two. Therefore, the media that would be used for the communication of crisis is important in order to deliver the most effective message to the public. Further, maintaining this parity becomes important in case of global market where audiences are culturally diverse. It is also believed that communication behaviour of the organizations must also be aligned to financial and behavioural outcomes. Farmer and Levitt state that the CEOs must respond quickly and be the “centre” of all crisis communication (27). The reason for this is that people with-in the organization look for leadership from the CEO during a crisis. Therefore, crisis becomes the stage for the CEO to demonstrate her leadership skills.

There has been various reporting on the different kinds of strategies adopted by companies during the recovery stage. Image restoration of the corporate is one of the vital studies that examine the public communication of the organizations through mass media in order to reconstruct the image of the company to respond to the crisis (Benoit 64). Others have tried to establish a relation between the ethnicity of the communicator for the organization and the cultural constructs that bind the evaluation of the crisis (Arpan 315). Arpan states:

Results of this study also indicated that effects of spokesperson ethnicity might be more related to the specific country with which the spokesperson is associated, rather than to his or her classification by members of the organization’s publics as a member of an outgroup. (Arpan, p. 333)

The reason for such large number of literature available for the last state of crisis management is due to the vast availability of the public documentation of the communication employed after the crises (Hale, Dulek and Hale, p. 114). Hale, Dulek and Hale studies the communication present during the crisis and the response that is given by the organization to mitigate the damage (114). They try to identify the “communication challenges” in the “response stage” and the communication decision in such short decision time is studied (114). Their study brings forth a model of communication that is both cyclical and linear in nature. They identified seven communication challenges in the linear and cyclical communication strategy. They believe that proper practice and training must be employed to reduce the crisis. Therefore, they state that,

people designated to serve as filters for the crisis management team should train side by side with the team and have enough contextual experience to understand the language used, key stakeholders, and priorities. Similarly, separate resource pools should be set aside for decision making and dissemination activities where feasible. (Hale, Dulek and Hale, p. 131)

Another study based on the leadership of organization and delivering communication during the crisis states that Leaders must take be ethical and legal in accepting liability of the crisis (Tyler, p. 54). Tyler believes that to defend the organization from the crisis and pledging that it was unaware of the situation or negating the allegations may have serious ethical implications and therefore organizations must not disseminate such imprudent strategies. Apology is not a method of handling a crisis if there are other responses available during the discourse. Organizations must become socially accountable while communicating such crises even when the crises are non-intentional or casual. The example Tyler gives is of Exxon’s handling of Valdez oil spill that she believes demonstrates what an organization must not do during or after the crisis (Tyler, p. 52). Therefore, she states that communicating executives must be “aware of the way internal social context can effect business communication” and can harm the organization by creating frustration (67). As in case of Lawrence Rawl, the former CEO of Exxon hesitated initially to take the onus of the crisis and apologize for it, and it escalated to public abhorrence. The explanation for such hesitation is that organizations as big as Exxon have different goals and multiple stakeholders. Therefore, Tyler states: “Management has a legal and moral obligation to consider a variety of stakeholders in making its decisions-including stockholders and creditors.” (Kaufmann, Kenser and Hazen 35, cited in Tyler, p. 59) However, the study does not conclude what managers should do during a crisis and if full disclosure if the right option.

Case studies have been presented on British Petroleum on its reputation building effort after a crisis (Healy and Griffin, p. 33). Spillage of oil and concern regarding the environment has often raised crisis for BP. In 1995 when the company was emerging as a multinational oil company, the then CEO, Lord John Browne stressed on corporate social responsibility and global climate change (Healy and Griffin, p. 34). In 1997 when BP became the first major oil company to acknowledge warming, and communicated the need to take precautionary measures. The company became committed to other environmental measures. Once BP entered the US market the main aim of the company as to retain market share of Amoco and build market recognition of brand BP:

Lord Browne initiated the U.S. reputation building program by personally charging the US senior executive — a regional president based in Los Angeles — with the reputation renewal assignment, and provided him with an unambiguous corporate charge: ‘make a step change in public awareness…to create understanding of the company’s size and scope in the United States and BP’s brand values’. (Hale, Dulek and Hale, p. 35)

Therefore, corporate communication has played a vital role in building image of BP of the company through public communication. During the 2010 oil spillage crisis of BP, it found itself in a similar situation as Exxon’s Valdez spill. According to the New York Time report “BP’s spill occurred in the world of 24/7 news, blogs, tweets, status updates and niche-media” as opposed to the early 20th century Exxon crisis. Therefore, the media plays a vital role in building public awareness of the crisis (Mulkern). It is believed that like Exxon, BP too made a public relation error by emphasizing science over people. Therefore, today media plays a vital role in developing or disseminating crisis communication.

Toyota in 2009-10 has recalled millions of its vehicles from all over the world due to faulty gas pedals (Toyota). The press releases in the company websites stress on the company’s concern over quality and safety as the reason behind the recalls. The company chief quality officer Steve St. Angelo thus states, “Our entire company is taking major steps to become a more responsive and safety focused organization. We’re listening closely to our customers and taking action to address this…” (Toyota) Therefore the clear stress of Toyota officials has been on identifying ways to make the crisis communication to become pro-people rather than technology.

As response from top management plays a key role in providing rationale and justification for corporate conduct, it is also essential today to identify the right medium to communicate to the stakeholders during or after a crisis (Segars, p. 44). Structural, organizational, and technological factors are essential in managing corporate crisis. Today the use of digital media line the Internet has become an easy and effective means of communicating during a crisis (Segars, p. 44). It is suggested that today such forms of communication has become even more important in communicating during a crisis. Therefore, Toyota has been trying to regain its image of quality auto producer through various PR methods. “Strategic communication in a post-crisis situation is important as strategic messages have enormous rhetorical importance in building credibility and imparting confidence, convincing investors that the company is pursuing sound and effective strategies in the midst of crisis.” (Segars, p. 45) Research has shown that use of proper Information communication Technology (ICT) can help companies face crisis in an easier manner (Palen and Liu, p. 727). It is said that today due to increased ICT availability and public involvement, the method of dissemination of a crisis is not restricted to the organizations. Public participation in disaster management and communication has evolved due to ICT:

The December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina crises each garnered tremendous public response in the form of blogs, photo and video sharing, and other online venues where people made offers of housing, jobs and emotional support. (Palen and Liu, p. 727)

Technologies like Wireless Mesh Network have been found to become an effective tool for crisis communication (Portman and Pirzada 18). Therefore, technology advancement can change the way traditional crisis management worked. Traditionally, broadband could not carry all the information, whereas this new technology will make crisis communication easier.

Therefore, in the following section, the paper discusses the conceptual framework for crisis communication. The crisis faced by Toyota and BP are being handled in two separate manners. The importance of corporate communication is demonstrated through these live cases of corporate crisis. The media and the methods used for handling the crisis are clear, but it is not clear whether these are the right process of crisis handling, essentially when Toyota’s sale has gone down and the corporate reputation of both the countries has been heavily affected due to the incidents.

Conceptual Framework

Theoretical framework of crisis communication is presented in this section. Crisis communication has been developed based on theories related to public relations (An and Cheng, p. 67). Public relations theories are said to be essential for understanding the dynamic communication process. Therefore, communication during crises can be associated other disciplines like psychology, sociology, and rhetoric (An and Cheng, p. 67). Coombs uses attribution theory and previous research to situational crisis communication theory and found that the organization’s previous crisis affects the reputation of the company current crisis and the earlier crisis was a deliberate error (Coombs, Impact of Past Crises on Current Crisis Communication, p. 267). Coombs points out that according to the attribution theory people will hold judgement against the causes and reasons for occurrence of an event. Weiner states that attributions are “perceptions of the causality or the perceived reasons for a particular event’s occurrence” (Weiner, p. 280). Therefore, when BP spills oil in the sea and affects the environment, people are expected to get angry and act differently towards the company. According to Coombs, “SCCT argues that information about past crises is a significant factor that can affect perceptions of a more recent crisis.” (269) Clearly crisis as BP’s or Toyota’s are apt situation when a crisis arises and triggers attributions. Research has been directed to understand the effect and the extent of the attribution and the effect it has on the financial performance of the company (Coombs, Impact of Past Crises on Current Crisis Communication, p. 267). In case of Toyota, the important factor for corporate communication is the extent to which the people believe that the organization was responsible for the recall of the cars. Therefore, the messages that are delivered to mitigate the attributions and the adverse feelings created towards the company (Coombs, Impact of Past Crises on Current Crisis Communication, p. 267). Therefore, it is suggested that crisis managers use “use crisis response strategies in their attempts to shape attributions of the crisis and/or perceptions of the organization itself.” (Coombs, Impact of Past Crises on Current Crisis Communication, p. 267) Coombs further states that crisis managers must learn how to safeguard the company reputation using crisis communication (Coombs, Protecting Organization Reputations During a Crisis: The Development and Application of Situational Crisis Communication Theory, p. 163). He points out that situational crisis communication theory (SCCT) utilizes an evidence-based framework. This theory also stresses on the use of attribution theory in identifying with the crisis.

Lordan stresses on the overflow of emotion in the reaction of the victims and their relatives (11). He believes that emotions running high can disrupt the smooth flow of crisis communication. Therefore, it is important to minimize the reporting structure while handling a crisis and communicating it. However, he points out that corporate reasonability is the best form of communication:

Every business should develop, test and regularly update its crisis communications plan. …Ultimately, however, there is a limitation on what a communications program can achieve; an organization that flaunts safety standards and puts employees at risk cannot be saved by public relations – nor should it be. (Lordan, p. 12).

McHale, Zompetti and Moffitt did a case study on Nike’s sweatshops and analyzed the ideological implications that Nike faced durign the labor crisis situation in the company using Gramsci’s Hegemony theory (McHale, Zompetti and Moffitt, p. 375). Therefore, the study demonstrates various ideological dilemmas that afflicted the crisis communication of Nike. The paper suggests that the hegemonic outlook of the company influenced its corporate communication standards and therefore it misinterpreted facts. This theory identifies various hierarchies of power that finds voice in the crisis and the ideological struggle between the competing voices in crisis communication:

The identification of voices inherent in the use of the hegemonic model of crisis communication allows an understanding of how the source of communication shifts from one source to another. Identifying the voices at certain points in time also pinpoints the power that each emerging voice possesses at each point in the crisis. These voices can be seen as forms of hegemonic struggle. (McHale, Zompetti and Moffitt, p. 399).

The paper stresses that there is inherent ideological struggle in the crisis communication thus, making it limited in its appeal: “The hegemonic model of crisis communication identifies and analyzes how dominant ideology is forged through the struggle among competing voices, voices that often have different levels of power.” (McHale, Zompetti and Moffitt, p. 400) Thus, hegemonic theory has been dubbed as a useful tool to identify the contradicting voices in crisis communication.

Falkheimern and Heidenn argue that there is various case study analysis of crisis communication, but there are no effective crisis communications theories present in the literature (Falkheimern and Heidenn, p. 180). They indicate that the main drawback in the crisis communication research is “exclusive focus on post-crisis” (Falkheimern and Heidenn, p. 182). They believe that the majority of the crisis communication literature is based on the information produced in form of press releases by the corporate. Therefore, it is believed that there is a “great need for progress and development of new theories” in the area (Falkheimern and Heidenn, p. 182). Here the authors stress on the cultural differences using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to understand the effectiveness of crisis communications. Falkheimern and Heidenn argue that modern society is still divided on cultural grounds and therefore crisis communication must be based on the intercultural modes. Research has been done on the effect of cultural values influencing public relations in America and therefore it shows that public relations theories are application to all cultures. Falkheimern and Heidenn believe that crisis communication must abide cultural difference for success. The reason for the same is

Accordingly, an organization is not a stable phenomenon, for more than a short while. Instead, it is continually transforming, progressing and adjusting to the environment. The social structure that constitutes an organization is produced and reproduced by the members of the organization through communication … The language is both a vehicle to produce and reproduce the social reality, and a vehicle to understand the world around us. New members are socialized into the organization, and internalize the institutional world of the organization. If organizations are regarded as social constructions, communication among the organizational members is the essence of the production and reproduction of the social structure. (Falkheimern and Heidenn, p. 187)

Therefore, cultural and ethnic considerations must be taken while undertaking crisis communication. This is so because different values and beliefs form cultural identity and therefore can affect the attribution of the crisis. Based on this approach they have provided four perspectives for crisis communication – “public perspective”, “proactive and interactive approach”, “community focused approach”, and “ethnicity-approach” (Falkheimern and Heidenn, p. 187). Therefore, socio-cultural understanding for effective communication is of paramount importance. The nest section will review the crisis communication media and process taken by organization and the way they have been analysed in previous communication literature.

Companies’ Communication with Media at time of Corporate Crises

It is believed the availability of new technologies like cell phones and the Internet help in alleviating as well as mitigating crisis (Fearn-Banks, p. 4). Fearn-Banks argue that both old and new technology combined together was able to save thousands of lives during cyclone Katrina in the US. Effective use of media is essential for successful crisis communication. Media relations are essential and important factor for crisis communication for companies, as they need to understand how media operates and the way their communication will result and repercussions and effects through different forms of media (Holladay, p. 209). Holaday studies the media reports of chemical companies after the crisis of chemical accidents in order to understand the strategies that are employed by companies in crisis communication and media choice. A content analysis of the communication was done and it indicated that companies usually did not follow the recommendations given in crisis communication literature. However, the communication officers are expected to respond quickly to crisis situations, very few acted so. The study also indicated that the reputation-repairing stunt was almost neglected, and one-fourth of the companies seldom gave out any facts and information strategies. Further, the study also shows that the first spokespersons were quoted more often than the managers who responded second or later. The second study demonstrated that the communication officer’s releases did not feature mostly in media and the information and reputation repair communication passed to the media was grossly overlooked. Therefore, the study demonstrates that

Assumptions and advice to spokespersons may be flawed. The media may not be operating in the ways public relations experts had assumed (e.g., wanting and using statements from organizational spokespersons). So neither spokespersons nor the media may be benefiting from the advice about effective crisis communication. (Holladay, p. 215)

There have been disastrous crisis communication instances as in case of Exxon. Exxon, after the oils spill incident the company did not apologize for the situation to the stakeholders: “The advertisement never actually states that Exxon accepted responsibility for the tragedy, only that the company would clean up the spill” (Williams and Olaniran, p. 14). This tendency to take slow action in face of a crisis has been mentioned as one of the foremost blunders in crisis communication (Bernstein, p. 40). Handling media support and retaining it is important for the companies during crisis management due to its power of dissemination and the public sphere created by the media. Further reacting too much to public agitation and media anti-publicity might be harmful, instead Bernstein advices proactive behaviour (Bernstein, p. 41). Handling crisis situation through help of media and proactive attitude becomes the key to crisis communication success.

Concluded Conceptual Framework

The above literature review shows that the main areas of research have concentrated on the post crisis or during crisis time communication. Most of the research areas have concentrated on identification of the communication strategies or models undertaken by the companies after the crisis has occurred. The literature review shows that though there are a lot of work on the post-crisis situation, there are few works on the planning that the corporate do for crisis communication. Therefore, the present paper looks at the method of handling crisis.

Research Methodology


Qualitative research assumes predominance in crisis management research (An and Cheng, p. 39). Case study methodology is a prevalent method of conducting public relation research (An and Cheng, p. 39). It forms one third of the total research done in public relations literature (An and Cheng, p. 69). Case study research has been stated as a “contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context.” (Yin, p. 13) Therefore, case study has been defined as “an empirical inquiry” that “investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident.” (Yin, p. 13) For the present research case study, analysis is assumed of Toyota and BP for understanding the crisis communication planning the company has to meet any unaccounted situation. Case study methodology is adopted as it is considered a “comprehensive research strategy” and not a method to gather data (An and Cheng, p. 69). This research method is particularly selected as it allows the freedom to select the crisis i.e. BP spillage and Toyota recall. Case study research methodology has gained more acceptance in crisis communication as it allows the researcher to study the real-life situations.

Theoretical Background to Research Components

Research Philosophy

Case study research method has been dubbed by Yin as a research strategy (1). He believes that all case studies should start with a common analytical strategy. These general analytical strategies with regards to case studies provide the researcher with a system by which she prioritizes the aims and objectives of the research. Yin pointed out that study of multiple cases is more “robust” and provides greater understanding of the research (Yin, p. 45). Therefore, the method that is followed to analyse the data is important for any research study. Yin further mentions when case study approach is most suited. The first condition is the kind of question that is posed in the research. Second, is the control the researcher has over the occurrence of the events and third, the focus on present and past events (Yin, p. 5).

Research Approach

Yin (1994) has defined case study as a research strategy. His aim is to replicate the logic and find out the trend using multiple case analyses. Miles and Huberman have delineated the techniques of case study analysis and the way qualitative data can be analyzed (10). He further states that graphs and diagrams can be used in order to bring out the meaning of the data through rigorous coding.

Case study approach usually entails a process of data collection where methods like archiving, interviewing, observation, and questionnaire survey are used. The data or evidence for the case thus collected can be qualitative or quantitative in nature. The case study will based on the interviews conducted of the participants. Further, the research will also review corporate documents like Annual review and press communication in form press releases in their web sites to understand the nature of communication planning present in the organization. Such multiple sources are used for the research as they add to a study’s validity (Yin, p. 45). Yin adds that before data can actually be analyzed, a researcher using case studies can choose from two general analytical strategies:

  1. Relying on theoretical propositions is the most common (and advised) strategy (Yin, pp. 103-104). Due to which the researcher can collect data based on research questions taken from previous studies and then compare the previous research findings with the present study.
  2. Second form is to develop a description of the case that can be used. However, this strategy should be used only when very little information can be derived from previous researches.

The case study research approach is based on usually on a single occurrence or object. The main approach adopted for case study research is theory building approach (Eisenhardt, p. 532). The case study approach focuses on the understanding the dynamics present within a single unit of analysis.

Research Strategy

Case study approach has specific techniques to conduct research. Yin (1994) then explains that specific techniques can be used to actually analyze the data. Yin suggested two broad kinds of case analysis – single or multiple case study method and then embedded case study research method (Yin, p. 40). Recent authors that are more recent use the following measures:

  1. Within-case analysis: Comparing your data against the theory you are using.
  2. Cross-case analysis: Data in one case compared to data in the other cases.

It must be noted that the Miles and Huberman’s theory has a greater focus on data in the form of words – in our case words that emanate from the interviews conducted. These words require processing, according to these authors, and this processing is itself a form of analysis.

Time Horizons

Miles and Huberman state that the time required for the research will depend on the complexity of the research subject (46). They suggest that a lot of time must be devoted on studying the core issue. They suggest that not more than 2 to 3 days should be spent on processing field notes (46). However, in case of multiple cases, 4 to 8 days may be required (47). 1 or 2 days would be required for the coding purposes, which would again depend on the complexity of the research (47). Then they suggest that 1 or 2 days should be required to completely writing the paper (47). They even suggest that when one considers multiple cases, the number of cases being studied should increase the number of days by that number (47).

The development of the research designing is difficult tasks as as there are no fixed rules as available in case of scientific research. However, the case study research method is not codified (Yin 20). The main components of research design as stated by Yin are – survey or interview questionnaire, its propositions, the unit of analysis (i.e. whether it is qualitative or quantitative), logical thinking, and the criteria to interpret the findings (Yin, p. 21).

Research Design

A research design is a logical plan to carry out the research and the tools and processes that will be utilized for the process. Yin suggests four case study research designs using 2 X 2 matrixes (Yin, p. 19). First consists of single and multiple case study designs, and the second pair consists of combination of either of the first pairs. Yin suggests that out these four case study designs, multiple case study design is supposed to be stronger than single case study design (Yin, p. 19). Interpreting the findings assumes an important part of the research design as this will delineate the way the collected data will be analysed.

Data Collection Methodology

In their extensive writing on qualitative data analysis, Miles and Huberman define data analysis, “as consisting of three concurrent flows of activity: (1) Data reduction, (2) Data display, and (3) Conclusion drawing/verification” (10). Upon first obtaining data during a “data collection period,” Miles and Huberman explain these three stages of qualitative data analysis as follows:

Data reduction should not be considered to be separate from analysis, but as a part of it (Miles and Huberman, p. 11). This reduction of the data is analysis that helps to sharpen, sort, focus, discard, and organize the data in a way that allows for “final” conclusions to be drawn and verified. They add that data can be reduced and transformed through such means as selection, summary, paraphrasing, or through being subsumed in a larger pattern. It should be remembered that cross-case analysis allows you to take your data and see if it fits (or does not fit) with the existing theory you are relying on.

Data display is the second major activity that the researcher should go through, and this means taking the reduced data and displaying it in an organized, compressed way so that conclusions can be more easily drawn. It is further explained that good displays are, “a major avenue to valid qualitative analysis” (Miles and Huberman, p. 11). In conclusion, they state that, as with data reduction, the creation and use of displays is not separate from analysis, but is a part of it. In this case, the use of cross-case analysis (with matrices) works best here.

Credibility of Research Findings

The credibility if the research findings depend on validating the research findings (Yin, p. 34). Therefore, the credibility of the research can be increased by constructing the validity of the research finding. Internal validity is important in case of exploratory and causal studies in order to establish causal relations between data. External validity is essential to establish the domain in which the study can be associated with. Further credibility of the findings can be increased by finding support for the result from the literature review or previous research on the same area. This helps in supporting the argument and findings of the research.


The research requires taking certain assumptions in order to help codify the data collected for analysis. These assumptions are self-explanatory and very basic. These assumptions help in simplifying the answers and helping them in identifying the main trend detectable through the research.


The case study research methodology is a well-established and validated research methodology. It is extensively used for the study of public relations research. The case study research method is a completely different form of qualitative, quantitative, or mixed method research that depend on relating to a real-life incident, company, or occurrence. The research methodology that the research will adopt is explained in the following section. As this research entails to study more in-depth, therefore it allows the researchers to ascertain a more detailed an uninterrupted flow of research and analysis.

Research Strategy and Data Collection


The present research is a case study analysis. The research will be based on multiple case study analysis as it has greater validity that single case study analysis (Yin 19). This section will demonstrate the research design, strategy, development of the research. Therefore, it will show how the research questions were perceived and framed, the planning entailing the research, and then the execution process. The present section provides details of the methodology adopted to conduct the research.

Research Design and preparation

Case study research design is flexible in nature, as there exist scope of using different data type and methods to conduct the research (Cassell and Symon, p. 324). The present research will be a qualitative data analysis. The data will be collected from the interviews of employees from organization in South Africa. The data will be analysed using qualitative method. Though Yin’s case study analysis suggested that the question should answer questions like who, what, where, and when, but researchers can alter these question to fit into their research criteria. The plan next is to code the answers received from the respondents and tally them with the press releases of the companies. This will provide the two case studies to take place and provide a multiple case perspective. The comparison of the findings of the two case study analysis will help to ascertain the main ideas of the research. This research has been undertaken for the study as it is said to be the most effective method of case study research (Yin, p. 19). This method of research has been adopted by many researchers who have studied crisis communication (Lordan; Fearn-Banks; McHale, Zompetti and Moffitt). The research will be done by collecting both primary as well as secondary data for constructing the research.

The research design will be a multiple case study design – first two cases are built on the crisis communication of Toyota and BP and then South African company communication officials are interviewed using structured interviews. The interview will aim at gathering answers regarding the plan that the company towards crisis communication and the policy imperative that is set for the officials to work on.

Research Commissioning

The research will be commissioned on studying the crisis communication effort of BP and Toyota globally and by South African companies. The research will be conducted through interviewing several employees in the organization and questioning them regarding the preparedness of the organizations for crisis situations. The research will be undertaken for the main purpose of understanding the importance of the crisis communication process. The first step to begin conduct the research would be to gain a general overview of the functioning of the organization. Then once the overall functioning is clear, it will be analysed vis-a-vis the interviews conducted.

Questionnaire Development

The main questions asked to the employees of organizations in the present research are the name of the organization, their position, and the number of experience in the company. The first section of the interview asks questions related to the preparedness of the employees and the organization. This section asks the employees if their company has any pre-prepared plan to face crisis and if they have, they are asked to describe the plan, and if they do not have a plan, they are asked to answer why they think the companies do not have the plan in place. The second question is related to the policy of the company regarding the quick response to a crisis and the crisis communication. Again, they are asked to explain their answer. The third question asks if the company has a general policy as to the information that can be communicated to the media during a crisis communication and the reason for the policy. The fourth question asks if the company is prepared for the general press material that should be given to the media during a crisis communication. Further the questionnaire also asks if the company has any policy that prioritizes the media that would be used for crisis communication. The interview asks if the company hires external consultant for the communication. The question asks if there is a spokesperson has been appointed for crisis communication, and if there has been any formal training of the spokesperson. The second section of the interview relates to the media communication during the crisis. This section asks questions related to the quickness of the discovery of the crisis and the statement made to media, admittance of the crisis, policy regarding first media statement, the degree of information to be given to the media on first meeting, etc. the third section will deal with concluding the crisis communication. This section will ask questions regarding the plan of the company to handle media crisis once the crisis is over, the actions being taken to solve the crisis, etc.

Sample Design

The study will be a qualitative research. The data will be analysed using qualitative methods and will not be associated with quantitative data. The data will be collected from the websites of Toyota and BP relating to their method of handling crisis situation. interviews of south African companies are done to understand their p[olicy related to crisis communication. The three cases will help in understanding the actually policy followed and the gaps in crisis communication of corporate. The sampling for the case was done through incidentally as BP and Toyota have recently been facing a crisis, the former due to oil spillage in the US and the latter for calling back millions of cars due to defects in their making. This provided an opportunity to study the overall communication process in these companies and the way they handled the situation. The company’s approach to crisis communication will then be analysed through interviews conducted of the communication officers in these companies.

Data Collection

Yin suggested that the data for case studies could be collected from six sources – documents, archival records, interviews, direct observation, observation of the participant, and physical artefacts (Yin, p. 86). The data is collected from structured interview of the employees f companies based in South Africa. This primary data will be analysed in comparison with the case data developed from the analysis of the website crisis communication as well as other dissemination of crisis by other companies through TV or newspaper. The organizational documents that are studied are annual report of the companies, and press releases. The interviews are conducted with employees of BP and Toyota in South Africa. In term of interviews, Yin suggests that it is important to understand “why” a certain incident occurred (90). The interview question is developed is the form of open-ended questions. Therefore, all the questions asked in the interview were structured to understand “why” the policy or plan was in place.

Data Processing

The company data collected would demonstrate the way crisis has been handled by each of the company and after tallying them with the interview results; it will demonstrate the areas where there is a gap in the process. The case study will demonstrate the importance of having a plan and a policy regarding crisis communication as this will help in handling situations quickly and effectively. The data collected will be analysed using codification and general qualitative research method.

Data analysis

Yin mentions that it is important to have a data analysis strategy for successful completion of the case study research (Yin, p. 109). Yin mentions that the unit of analysis actually shows the unit that is to be analysed (Yin, p. 22). The unit of analysis for the research is words. Here the unit of analysis will be the organization and their policies and plans to counter a crisis through communication. The analysis will be based on the policy and planning that the organizations have towards crisis communication. In this case, the unit of analysis is related to the definition of the research question that aims at understanding the importance and the policy imperative that organizations take to implement crisis communication.

Data Reporting

The data would be reposted in the form of case. Data represented in tables would compare the findings from the study of documents from Toyota and BP and that from the interviews. Then a comparison will be drawn between the two. The paper data analysis will be depicted through the table and a complete analytical discussion will be done in order to explain all the areas of consistency and/or discrepancy in the data derived from the two case studies.

The documents that are collected for the first part of the case are speeches or press releases from the company regarding the technicalities as well as an apology to the stakeholders. And the second document also relates to the document released by Toyota regarding the action that they are doing to handle the situation. Then company annual report is studied to get a general background of the company. Further, BP has released specific documents pertaining to the oil spill in Mexico.


Case study research strategy is used for analysing the importance of crisis communication. The research design will follow a multiple case study format wherein the unit of analysis will be crisis communication plan and policy of the companies under study. A structured interview questionnaire is made in order to derive primary information from company employees. Further documents pertaining to the company will be studied to understand the policy that the company follows for crisis communication.

Data Analysis

Within case analysis of British Petroleum

The first case study that is discussed is that of BP. BP is one of the largest energy companies. The incident that is studied in the case is of oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. After the incident occurred, the sales of BP fell from $86170 million in 2008 to $57626 million in 2009 (BP, p. 23). Further, the Annual Report states that Gulf of Mexico refinery is one of the largest drilling grounds in the US. BP has advanced a lot for the advancement of the drilling operations in the region.

The paper will draw from secondary as well as primary sources. After the news of the spillage of oil at Deepwater Horizon hit the media, the share prices of BP plunged by 7 percent and newspapers like the Guardian claimed that the environmental damage could be greater than Exxon’s Valdez spill (Macalister). The accident spilled out 42000 gallon of crude oil every day and the water had oil until 1800 sq. miles (Walsh). The first communication that was made was by Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP. The main problem with the crisis communication of Hayward was that he was not prepared for the crisis and his speech did not give out any sense of gravity or urgency of the situation. In a report in Wall Street Journal, Hayward admitted that the company was not technologically prepared to handle the situation (Gross). Therefore, the media response of the company was through the CEO and that the company did not successfully communicate the crisis. In his public speeches, Hayward has used metaphors that are disastrous for public relations: “Apollo 13 did not stop the space program. The Air France airplane that fell out of the sky off of Brazil did not stop the aviation industry.” (Gross) In another comment, Hayward mentions, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” (Gross) These statements definitely put forth an insensitive side of the organization that aims at gaining and becoming bigger irrespective of the social cost. The second comment actually points that the spillage is just a superficial wound and not that critical a situation. This therefore shows that the public communication of BP was poor when the crisis occurred and after it. Another issue that has been reported in the media is the irregular flow of information and data from BP. There has been reports in the media stating the scientists have found a large amount of oil in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, however, no such data has been brought forth by BP.

On analyzing the website of BP, it is found that there is a dedicated subsection in the company website that gives out information regarding the Gulf of Mexico situation and the kind of restoration work being taken place to prevent oil spillage. In the Gulf of Mexico Response, the company has given out literature and data on the restoration work that is being done in the area. The section has area that deal with the “Subsea response”, “Off-shore contamination”, “shoreline protection”, “community response”, “monitoring and sampling information”, and “Gulf of Mexico research initiative” (BP). The communication that is presented in the website of the company of Hayward where he apologies for the crisis is presented (BP). However, this response came on 3rd of June and the first report of the oil spillage was found in May. Therefore, almost a month passed before the company brought out an official communication of the crisis from a company spokesperson taking responsibility of the spill and extending apologies. Hayward’s interviews to the TV news channel have been very meticulous in terms of the technicalities but no statement of apology had been released till the 3rd June message from Hayward. Therefore, the company CEO has not handled the incident of the oil spillage with panache.

The Annual review of 2009 of the company shows that the oil spillage of the company had increased drastically in 2008 (BP 6). Figure 1 shows that the oil spill has dropped from 340 in 2007 to 335 in 2008 and then to 234 in 2009. However, the increase in spillage in Gulf of Mexico has not been mentioned in the report.

 Oil Spill data, Source: Annual Review 2009
Figure 1: Oil Spill data, Source: Annual Review 2009

Presently the website holds information regarding the recovery operations that BP is doing at Gulf of Mexico

“Subsea operational update:

  • For the first 12 hours on June 19th (midnight to noon), approximately 3,350 barrels of oil were collected and approximately 5,130 barrels of oil and 16.9 million cubic feet of natural gas were flared.
  • The Enterprise was shutdown between 20:23 on June 18th and approx. 06:30 on June 19th due to a blocked flame arrestor and lightning storm.
  • On June 18th, total oil recovered was approx. 24,500 barrels:
  1. approx. 14,400 barrels of oil were collected,
  2. approx. 10,100 barrels of oil were flared,
  3. approx. 47.4 million cubic feet of natural gas were flared.” (BP).

The response demonstrates that BP is making all data regarding the oil spillage and recovery effort public. This shows that the company has started following the golden rules of crisis communication after some time. However, the immediate response to the crisis was flawed. As the first communication assumes greater importance in the media, it is important to understand that the initial response after the crisis must be thoughtfully laid out. Another problem with the communication was the difference in culture. Hayward, being English, failed to acknowledge the cultural difference between the two nations and failed to react to the sentiment of the people of the US. Further, the media that had been used to deliver the communication was essentially traditional media like newspaper and television. The company website was also presented with information regarding the spillage and the recovery operation going on in the area. An official message from the CEO was also posted in the website where he addressed the public with a note of apology for the tragic incident. Nevertheless, this message was posted later. Further, the initial interaction of the CEO with the media was not planned as he made a few comments that may have hampered the image of the company. Such public comment after a crisis must be planned and executed, rather than being haphazard and instantaneous. Therefore, the overall understanding of BP shows that the crisis communication of BP faltered at the time of Gulf of Mexico oil spillage incident. The case shows that BP had not been very successful in handling the crisis communication at the early stage of the crisis.

Within case analysis of Toyota

Toyota is one of the largest car manufacturers of the world. It produces and markets automobiles and has stake in financial and other industries. It sells cars in more than 170 countries around the world (Datamonitor, p. 4). The main markets where the company operates are Japan, USA, Europe, and Asia. The revenue of Toyota in 2009 was $205295 million that fell by 21.9 percent since 2008 (Datamonitor, p. 4). Toyota faced an operating loss of $4610 million in 2009, which fell from $22703.8 million in 2008.

Doing a SWOT analysis of the company shows that Toyota has a strong brand recognition that helps them to price their product at premium and is highly dedicated to maintaining quality of the product. The company has a large geographical presence therefore making distribution easy and convenient. Further, the system of production and operations helps in reducing cost of production. The weaknesses of the company is brand image depletion due to the car recalls.

The case is based on the car recall that Toyota announced in February 2010.

Toyota recalled almost 8 million cars. The cars had problem with their brakes and ABS system. The US transportation department has charged the company of concealment of safety information and therefore will be fined heavily. BusinessWeek states that the reputation on which Toyota so far rested was a bubble (Tedlow, p. 76). Toyota was known for its reputation as a quality car maker, however, with the problem of the cars with faulty accelerators and brakes the prism of the success of Toyota should have been broken. However, in 2010, the president regarding the fault in the company made cars did the communication. The president of the company Akio Toyoda made the first announcement:

I, Akio Toyoda, deeply regret the inconvenience and concern caused to our customers and others by our recent recalls of multiple vehicle models across multiple regions. …As Toyota revealed yesterday, new Prius now in showrooms include an improvement. For Prius in the hands of customers, I have instructed that consideration be made as soon as possible regarding the way to address such units. … As for the accelerator-pedal recall in the United States, Europe, China and other countries and regions, repair-work preparations are being made at our dealers. (Toyota).

This address perfectly shows what the technical problem is there in the cars that have been recalled and the kind of procedure that will be made to change them. However, the crisis situation was not eased through these communications. The address also suggested the concrete action plan that the company intends to follow in order to ease off the maximum amount of anxiety. Further, the address of the president in the financial review of 2010 also mentions the recall of cars and an acknowledgement that it is an area of concern for the company too (Toyota). However, assurance is presented to show that the company is taking steps to come out of the crisis. In another address Toyoda mentions, “I regret the quality and safety issues that have caused concern for our customers” (Toyota), indicating that the company realizes the extent of inconvenience for the customers and what need to be done for to avoid the same. He further adds, “I apologize for the uncertainty that vehicle owners will experience while awaiting the repairs.” (Toyota) This therefore indicates that the company is constantly apologizing and showing their regret for the crisis that has occurred and emphasis on the company’s “commitment to quality as our most fundamental principle” the communication emphasizes that Toyota is a name associated with best quality products.

The strategy undertaken by Toyoda is good, as the company has taken the initiative to call beck the cars. Therefore, this shows the commitment the company has to ensure quality to customers. However, this should have been done a long time back as the cars that have these defects are quite old. Therefore, the main issue in the communication of Toyota is swiftness. The communication itself is right and without any drawbacks, but the communication should have been done earlier. Therefore, the corporate communication of Toyota was not done timely, thus reducing its effectiveness.

Within case analysis of South African Companies

The interview was conducted in three companies from different sectors in South Africa. The interviewees were officials at a certain position who were aware of the crisis communication policy and strategy of the company. The interview was structured to ask questions based on three phases of the communication i.e. preparedness before the occurrence of the crisis, response of occurrence of the crisis, and post-crisis communication.

Table 1: Preparedness for Crisis

Company 1 Company 2 Company 3
Pre-existing Plan Yes Yes Yes
Policy for Quick response Yes Yes Yes
General Policy of Communication Yes No Yes

The crisis communication process as described by the interviewees is shown in figure 2. In terms of a planned approach to crisis communication prior to occurrence of a crisis, all three companies showed that they had specific policy and plan to handle such situation. All the three executives interviewed from different companies showed that they had pre-existing plan to handle crisis, they have a company policy to act quickly in case of crisis, and they have a general policy regarding the communication that is released to the media. In terms of prior-preparedness, the companies showed that they are officially prepared to face a crisis as all agreed to have a pre-planned communication plan set for them to tackle such situation. Two out of three companies stated that they had a prepared press release material that is used to hand over to the media when a crisis occurs. One of the companies explicitly differentiates between the team within the company that handle normal media communication and the team that communicates only during crisis: “We differentiate between BAU media handling and crisis media handling.” While, other companies have a diagrammatic plan that guides them in handling crises.

The general policy for crisis communication is present in two out of three companies. The main problem of the process of communication is that many companies have said that they have a general policy to handle crisis situation, but many give out general literature in term of communication to the media. Further, the companies, depending on the nature of crises develop a single communication speech. One of the executives therefore mentions, “However, the basic structure of the communication is pre-decided. We have developed some standard holding statements to deal with generic type incidents. The focus of the crisis communication is to ensure that a quick holding statement is issued while we ascertain the facts and implications impacting on the bank.” This statement confirms that companies have a generic communication ready during the crises. They alter it according the nature of the crises.

Companies usually have a pre-determined person responsible for speaking to the media: “The general policy is for the bank to make use of official nominated persons within the bank that are allowed to talk to the media.” This spokesperson is trained to communicate to the media about the present situation. The training is imparted by external consultants or is given in-house. The crisis communications by companies are usually aimed at specific group stakeholders. During the crisis, the companies want to standardize the amount and the nature of communication released to the media. This brings forth a consistency to the communication. This allows a complete and thorough review of the outgoing communication. Further, a consistent communication helps in monitoring the coverage of the communication whenever the communication is to be made. This helps in standardization of the communication sent out to the media. In order to maintain the consistency of communication, a general press material is made for the company:

Standard media statements are in place. The banks Crisis Management Framework that is in fact coordinated by the Crisis Management Command Centre (CMCC). The manner in which the CMCC operates is that they act as the central coordination point to ensure accurate, timely and reliable information is obtained to support any type of crisis which we need to prepare and develop a media statement for.

Media prioritization is not done by many companies. The reason for this is that he companies send in their communication during crisis to all possible media is it is decided by companies to broadcast their crisis communication through all possible medium in order to increase possibility of the communication reaching the concerned people. Therefore, the companies believe that the choice and prioritization of the media coverage would depend “… on the crisis, local, national and even International media press conferences to be launched where required”.

Mostly the companies themselves do crisis communication. This is an internal communication to the external stakeholders, and hiring a third party communication is seldom done. The reason for not hiring external communicators is that they have many “fall back” strategy. However, the companies who use third party PR consultancy, they do it as these consultants help in dissemination of the communication to the right people.

The diagrammatic representation of the crisis communication process
Figure 2: The diagrammatic representation of the crisis communication process

One person is usually appointed from the company who represent the company for communication during crisis. Usually these people are from the top management position. The interview results are supported through the case analysis of Toyota and BP where the communicators are the top executives of the company. In some companies, many officials in the top management position are given the job to communicate with the media: “Each Executive member of the senior management team is also an official media spokesperson.” These people are usually appointed from within the company: “It is an official mandated role within the organisation.” Therefore, the people who are responsible for the communication are usually allowed by the company to speak to the media.

The spokespeople usually receive training on how to handle the crisis communication session. All the companies have training procedures as theya re trained to become profession media spokesperson. Further, the companies also facilitate simulated crisis situations that help them to hone their skills: “… we also facilitate crisis communication exercises to rehearse not only the media spokesperson but the end-to-end value chain of the communications cycle.” Further many companies give training to their official spokespersons on how to conduct press conferences. This is an essential part of crisis communication as many of the blunders of communication are done in the delivery stage.

Crisis communications are disseminated for a specific group of stakeholders. These stakeholders differ on the importance laid by companies. Many companies feel the main stakeholders to whom crisis communication should reach first are shareholders and customers. This is a vital part of communication as on the basis of this priority, the communication will be designed.

Companies dispense general information about the company to the media. The reason behind this action is given in the interview: “as a publicly traded organisation, there is a constant need for preparing information for dissemination. To this end, we have specific departments focusing on various stakeholders: Independent directors, Government, Investor relations, Regulators, and Shareholders”. Others believe that general information given out by the company is aimed towards the customers, shareholders, and employees of the company. Further, the companies who send general information to the media do it regularly throughout the year.

Once the crisis occurs, there are various stages of communication. The most important part is to impart the news of the crisis at the earliest possible to the media. However, companies may or may not immediately accept the existence of the crisis at the initial stage. Therefore, companies may choose to conceal many of the information in order to handle the situation in a better way or because they themselves did not manage to gather all the information: “Yes, although we will not always know all the facts.” Further, the first media viewpoint of the company is very important as this shapes the complete image of the company after the crisis occurs. Therefore, it is important to take the viewpoint of the stakeholders to understand their reaction or argument regarding the situation. Thus, many companies consider the viewpoint of the stakeholders: “the key business stakeholders are consulted during the media message preparation.” Others take only the viewpoint of the top management. Many companies do not bother about this, as they believe that too many stakeholders will have varying viewpoints.

Media becomes a vehicle for companies for dissemination of the news. Companies often use media as a means to reach out to the right stakeholders with the crisis information. Further, the choice of media again depends on the nature of crisis. Therefore, it is believed that many companies withhold information from the media. As in case of Toyota and BP it is believed that, the communication was not immediately done and in case of BP not the whole information was revealed. However, the interview reveals that companies do not withhold information on their own volition or design:

There is no information intentionally withheld. The focus is on ensuring consistent, reliable and accurate information. The delay of issuing media statements is usually around ensuring this is met because we do not want to be in a position to provide incorrect information.

This explains the reason why Toyota took so long time to recall its cars. Further BP’s non-divulgence of information to the media did not actually represent their intentional miscommunication or concealment of facts. Rather, this showed that companies take a lot of precaution and cross checking before specific information is released to the media for broadcasting. Further the nature of the crisis also decide upon the kind of media that will be used for broadcasting the information. For instance if it is a small incident then the crisis will be released only through press while if it s very critical crisis, as in case of BP, then the communication will be made through all kinds of media.

Another important aspect of crisis communication is concluding it. Many companies do not release any information after the crisis dissipates. Therefore, companies usually do not have inclination to have a set media policy to handle communication once the crisis is over. However, some companies mention that they “follow a closure plan”. The crisis management response allows the companies to show how the communication will be handled in accordance with the crisis management strategy employed by the company. However, companies defer from using media sources used in during crisis communication in the post-crisis situation. in the post-crisis situation companies usually have an audit of the communication process. Many companies employ surveys as a method of gauging the success of the crisis communication handled. Further, reduction of media communication after crisis is over is a usual feature for the companies. However, this may differ depending on the crisis. As one of the interviewee mentions, “… each situation is different which will require a specific strategy to be adopted. Further, once the crisis is over a debriefing takes place within the company to identify shortfalls within the system of communication followed: “Yes, an incident debrief is conducted for all crisis’ that are registered. The process is used to evaluate what worked and how to improve on what did not work.”

From the above analysis a general model for crisis communication can be developed. Figure 3 diagrammatically shows the basic model that is usually followed by companies for crisis communication. For having a good crisis communication, it is important to have a plan for the whole of the crisis process. A company must plan its communication into three parts – Crisis Initiation, during the crisis, and post-crisis. Therefore, a company first take initiatives to recognize a crisis. It is important to remain vigilant of possible outbursts of crisis and there should be measures taken to address it publicly. A crisis plan always be existing in the company. A set team should be responsible for timely revamping and training of the officials to remain vigilant of the crises and be ready with their first communication statement. The crisis spokesperson of the company, usually a top official, must be trained to handle PR initiatives with the media, so that his inability to communicate does not tarnish the image of the company. Therefore, declaration of a crisis is the first form of communication of the company with the media and immense care must be taken to ascertain that the crisis management team PR officials are approachable by the important stakeholders for communication.

Proposed model of crisis communication
Figure 3: Proposed model of crisis communication

The overall analysis of the interview shows that companies usually have a set policy or strategy to handle crisis communication. There are set rules and regulations that help companies to identify how strategies will be taken to dedicatedly handle a crisis and what media form would be used. The main stakeholders toward who are also decided and based on this the medium of communication is decided upon.

Companies often use media as a means to reach out to the right stakeholders with the crisis information. Further, the choice of media again depends on the nature of crisis. Therefore, it is believed that many companies withhold information from the media. Thus, the choice of media that is used for crisis communication indicates the kind of stakeholders who presume importance in crisis communication may be decided through the choice of medium of communication and the kind of information released. Further, the nature of the release will also depend on the nature of the crisis. If the crisis is of a minor character then the company may only disperse only a press release, whereas, when the crisis is very big, the dissemination may have to be done through different medium like press, broadcasting, media, etc. following this process would allow companies to manage crisis communication without any problem. All they must maintain is consistency in statements made over the media.

Conclusions and implications

General Discussion

Crisis communication is an integral part of crisis management. Today as the importance of stakeholders are becoming increasingly important to businesses, corporations are stressing more on planned and strategic crisis communication that becomes the first step in image recovery or maintaining for the company. This leads to the discussion of the first two cases discussed in the paper – BP and Toyota. Both the companies showed that wrong crisis communication could lead to tarnishing of the corporate image. In the case of BP, there was lack on the part of the communicator to deliver the right kind of feeling and information to the public in the first media response that made the company a villain in the Gulf of Mexico spillage crisis. On the other hand, Toyota with its proper communication speech and apology strategy failed to gain public support of their car recalls in 2010, as many believed that the company could have done it earlier. Thus, there remained a suspicion on the mind of the stakeholders, as the media dissemination of the crisis was not strong. Literature suggests that the crisis communicators or organizational leaders who are the usual communicators must use integrated strategic communication to manage government regulations, complex inter-organizational systems, and increase the trustworthiness of the organization (Argenti, Howell and Beck, p. 84). Thus, the main job of the communicator, in case of Toyota and BP, their president and CEO respectively, was to align the aims and objectives of the organization to the messages disseminated through the media communication such that parity is maintained between the two. However, both the leadership of Toyota and BP were unsuccessful in doing this. Therefore, what kind of crisis communication preparedness and strategy should companies have in order to have effective and successful crisis communication? In order to understand this, interviews are conducted to understand the preparedness of people to conduct crisis communication. The interview results demonstrated that companies are usually prepared with a set rule and policy to handle crises. There is a set plan and policy requirement for first communication speech, press release material, target stakeholders, media choice, and the approach to crisis communication that will be used for a specific kind of crisis. Companies have a flow chart ready that they follow when a crisis arises. In case of Toyota and BP, similar kind of situation arose. Both the companies responded to the crises in a very methodical manner. However, in case of BP, the company failed to value human life and stressed on technological superiority. Therefore, the communications sent forth by the CEO of the company were crisper and devoid of any solidarity for the people who died in the accident. Further, there were multiple changes in statement of the CEO in different phases of the situation that reduced the credibility of the company.


Strategic communication during crisis is important for companies to maintain the brand image of the company. It is the corporate social responsibility of the company to inform the stakeholders of the possibilities of the crises. The choice and use of media while handling a crisis is important as this shows how the companies can maintain the corporate image and increase the depleted credibility. Crisis communication is important as this force the companies to maintain or rebuild their image. A model for crisis communication should maintain three steps – first communication, crisis communication, and information flow during the crisis, and concluding a crisis. Companies must have a strategic preparedness to handle crisis. Crisis simulations must keep them abreast with latest crisis management techniques and allow them to hone their skills to choose the best possible strategy to handle a crisis. The team and the official spokesperson’s training should include handling press conference, press releases, and taking interviews over broadcasting. Further, the Internet has been a powerful tool for communication. Therefore, full advantage must be taken of this medium and good web management of the website and the other social networking sites are important. This can be a useful source of disseminating information during the crisis. As in case of BP, the company maintains a micro site in their official website that provides all information regarding the reconstruction work being done by the company at Gulf of Mexico and showing reports both in numbers and pictures demonstrating reconstruction initiatives of the company. This positive handling of the website would allow the company the chance to reincarnate the corporate image and remove the negative publicity after some time. Further, after the crisis is over, such information made available to the stakeholders would make them realise that the company is dedicated towards reconstruction work and would remove the negative representation to rebuild the corporate brand image. A case of brand building initiative must also be encompassed with the crisis communication, as this would allow the corporate to remove all negative publicity and regain their past stature.


Crisis communication and various medium used is an area that need to be dwelt into more deeply. With changes in information technology and availability of other sources of information dissemination, a crisis can be handled in a better way, without another media tampering what the spokesperson may have said. The Internet provides the opportunity for companies to build their own case and present it directly to the stakeholders without the mediation of newspaper or television. Therefore, this allows the companies to handle the situation in a better way as the anxiety related to media handling can be removed. Information and communication technologies (ICT) have said to have brought forth serious changes in crises management and companies for better crisis management must embrace this change.


  1. An, Seon-Kyoung and I-Huei Cheng. “Crisis Communication research in public relations journal: Tracking research over thirty years.” Coombs, W. Timothy and Sherry J. Holladay. The Handbook of Crisis Communication. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley and Sons, 2010. 54-90. Print.
  2. Argenti, Paul A., Robert A. Howell and Karen A. Beck. “The Strategic Imperative.” Sloan Management Review, 46(3) (2005): 83-89. Print.
  3. Armon, Dave. “Ready or not: Is your crisis communications pian anti-sociai?” Tactics 2010: 10-11. Print.
  4. Arpan, L. M. “When in Rome? The effects of spokesperson ethnicity on audience evaluation of crisis communication.” Journal of Business Communication, 39(3) (2002): 314-340. Print.
  5. Benoit, W. L. Accounts, excuses, and apologies: A theory of image restoration. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Print.
  6. Bernstein, Jonathan. “Making a Crisis Worse: The Eleven Biggest Mistakes in Crisis Communications.” Journal of Promotion Management, 12(3/4) (2006): 39-45. Print.
  7. BP. “A message from Tony Hayward.” 2010. British Petroleum. Web.
  8. “Annual Report 2009.” 2010. British Petroleum. Web.
  9. “Annual Review.” 2010. British Petroleum.
  10. “Gulf of Mexico response.” 2010. British Petroleum.
  11. Cassell, Catherine and Gillian Symon. Essential guide to qualitative methods in organizational research. London: SAGE, 2004. Print.
  12. Coombs, W. Timothy. “Impact of Past Crises on Current Crisis Communication.” Journal of Business Communication, 41(3) (2004 ): 265-289. Print.
  13. “Protecting Organization Reputations During a Crisis: The Development and Application of Situational Crisis Communication Theory.” Corporate Reputation Review 10(3) (2007): 163–176. Print.
  14. Datamonitor. “Toyota Motor Corporation.” 2010. EbscoHost.
  15. Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” The Academy of Management Review, 14(4) (1989): 532-550. Print.
  16. Falkheimern, Jesper and Mats Heidenn. “Multicultural Crisis Communication: Towards a Social Constructionist Perspective.” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 14(4) (2006): 180-189. Print.
  17. Farmer, Betty and Leila Tvedt. “Top Management Communication During Crises: Guidelines and a ‘Perfect Example’ of a Crisis Leader.” Public Relations Quarterly, 50(2) (2005): 27-31. Print.
  18. Fearn-Banks, Kathleen. Crisis communications: a casebook approach. New Jersey: Routledge, 2007. Print.
  19. Gross, Daniel. “The Bumbler From BP.” 2010. Newsweek. Web.
  20. Hale, Joanne E., Ronald E. Dulek and David P. Hale. “Crisis Response Communication Challenges.” Journal of Business Communication, 42(2) (2005): 112-134. Print.
  21. Healy, Robert and Jennifer J. Griffin. “Building BP’s Reputation: Tooting Your Own Horn 2001 -2002.” Public Relations Quarterly (2004): 33-42. Print.
  22. Holladay, Sherry J. “Crisis Communication Strategies in the Media Coverage of Chemical Accidents.” Journal of Public Relations Research, 21(2) (2009): 208–217. Print.
  23. Kaufmann, J.B., I.F. Kenser and T.L. Hazen. “The myth of full disclosure: A look at the organizational communications during crises.” Busienss Horizons 37 (1994): 29-39. Print.
  24. Lordan, Edward J. “The Sago Mine Disaster: A Crisis in Crisis Communications.” Public Relations Quaterly (2005): 10-12. Print.
  25. Macalister, Terry. “BP shares plunge over oil spill in Gulf of Mexico.” 2010. Guardian. Web.
  26. McHale, John P., Joseph P. Zompetti and Mary Anne Moffitt. “A Hegemonic Model of Crisis Communication.” Journal of Business Communication, 44(4) (2007 ): 374-402. Print.
  27. Miles, Matthew B. and Michael A Huberman. Qualitative Data Analysis (2nd Edition). Thousands Oak: CA: SAGE, 1994. Print.
  28. Mulkern, Annw C. “BP’s PR Blunders Mirror Exxon’s, Appear Destined for Record Book.” 2010. The New York Times. Web.
  29. Palen, Leysia and Sophia B. Liu. “Citizen Communications in Crisis: Anticipating a Future of ICT-Supported Public Participation.” CHI 2007 : 727-736. Print.
  30. Portman, Marius and Asad Amir Pirzada. “Wireless Mesh networkd for public safety and crisis management applications.” IEEE Internet Computing (2008): 18-25. Print.
  31. Segars, Albert H. “Effective communication of corporate crises through the internet.” Business Strategy Review, 14(3) (2003 ): 44-48. Print.
  32. Tedlow, Richard. “Toyota Was in Denial. How About You?” BusinessWeek 2010: 76. Print.
  33. Toyota. “Address by TMC President Akio Toyoda.” 2010. Toyota Motor Corporation. Web.
  34. “Financial results.” 2010. Toyota.
  35. “Toyota Announces Voluntary Recall. 2010. Toyota.
  36. Toyota Motor Corporation.” 2010. Toyota. Web.
  37. Tyler, Lisa. “Liability means never being able to say you’re sorry.” Management Communication Quarterly, 11(1) (1997): 51-74. Print.
  38. Walsh, Bryan. “The Tricky Cleanup of a Deep-Water Oil Spill.” 2010. Time.
  39. Weiner, B. Human motivation. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1985. Print.
  40. Williams, D.E. and B.A. Olaniran. “Exxon’s decision-making flaws: The hypervigilant response to the Valdez grounding.” Public Relations Review, 20 (1994): 461-498. Print.
  41. Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research, Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1994. Print.