Episode 6: Crisis communication

In the first part of the episode, we introduce different types of crisis as well as communication strategies to deal with them. Two central readings here are:

Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image repair discourse and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 23(2), 177-187.

Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2012). The Handbook of Crisis Communication. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

This link provides some examples of how broad crisis comms strategies are put into practice in specific messages: http://lirias.kuleuven.be/cv?Username=U0090854

Bernard mentions one communication strategy to head off a crisis, ‘stealing thunder’. It is for instance discussed in this article:

Claeys, A-S., Cauberghe, V., Leysen, J. (2013). Implications of stealing thunder for the impact of expressing emotions in organizational crisis communication. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41(3), 293-308.

As part of our discussion, Erika cites a study showing that even unnecessary apologies can make others more likely to respond to a request:

Brooks, A.W., Dai, H., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2014). I’m sorry about the rain! Superfluous apologies demonstrate empathic concern and increase trust. Social Psychological & Personality Science, 5(4), 467-474.

Our interview guest for this episode is Matteo Fuoli, whose publications include:

Fuoli, M., & Hart, C. (2018). Trust-building strategies in corporate discourse: An experimental study. Discourse & Society, 29(5), 514-552.

Fuoli, M., & Paradis, C. (2014). A model of trust-repair discourse. Journal of Pragmatics, 74, 52-69

Fuoli, M., van de Weijer, J., & Paradis, C. (2017). Denial outperforms apology in repairing organizational trust despite strong evidence of guilt. Public Relations Review, 43(4), 645-660.

Matteo in turn makes reference to this study on regaining trust:

Kim, P. H., Ferrin, D. L., Cooper, C. D., & Dirks, K. T. (2004). Removing the shadow of suspicion: the effects of apology versus denial for repairing competence- versus integrity-based trust violations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(1), 104–118.

The model of trust that he mentions is explained in

Colquitt, J. A., & Salam, S. C. (2009). Foster trust through ability, benevolence, and integrity. In Locke, E. (ed.) Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley, pp. 389-404.

In the course of the interview, Matteo provides some detail of his research in:

Fuoli, M. (2012). Assessing social responsibility: A quantitative analysis of Appraisal in BP’s and IKEA’s social reports. Discourse & Communication, 6(1), 55-81.

Fuoli, M. (2015). Trust dynamics in multimodal corporate discourse: the role of metaphor. Paper presented at 13th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC-13), Newcastle/UK.

The video by pharmaceutical company Novartis that Matteo talks about is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzXFugXU33M

In the final part of the episode, we analyse a letter featuring an apology, written in 1928 by artist Thelma Wood to her former lover, the writer Djuna Barnes:

Djuna beautiful – I know I had lost you – I realized every misdeed committed in eight years would come back – that every one in Paris would be against me … The knowing you saw us, I had said such terrible things I hated myself – something I did not care about – It seemed a shame for foolishness to spoil us – I wanted no acknowledged disloyalty and after you came back from N.Y. I loved you so terribly – and my one idea was to wipe out the fact I’d been stupid … As for the rest of our eight years you seemed to have had a pretty rotten time – with my brutishness and I’m sorry – sorry

The letter is quoted in

Weiss, A. (1995). Paris was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank. San Francisco: Harper.

As promised, we also have an example of a corporate apology. It comes from the fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), whose restaurants in the UK faced delivery problems in February 2018 that left them without any chicken. A week or so after that crisis, they published this apology in a number of different newspapers:

The apology is a nice example of different strategies being used in a short text. The key feature here is humour, with the company’s acronym KFC changed to FCK (i.e.’fuck’) and an empty cup. Combining humour with an expression of regret (‘we’re sorry’) in the heading, the company acknowledges the problem immediately and takes an honest approach.

The humour continues with the ironic use of a diminishing strategy and evaluative language: ‘a chicken restaurant without chicken: it’s not ideal.’ This diminishing is followed by its opposite, intensification (‘Huge apologies’) plus an acknowledgement of efforts by customers. KFC here shows empathy, not only to customers, but also to staff. In addition, they use the crisis communication strategy of ingratiation by reassuring the reader that they are improving the situation (‘we’re making progress’). This is preceded by mortification (‘It’s been a hell of a week’) and a human voice for a more personalised approach.

And finally, let’s return to our theme for this special Valentine’s episode. Believe it or not, we have actually found an example that combines romance and fried chicken. It again involves KFC’s public reaction to their supplier problems and uses self-irony along with the assumed voice of customers:

Happy Valentine’s Day to all listeners and readers!

Listen to the episode here

Full transcription of the episode

References and Further Reading

Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image repair discourse and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 23(2), 177-187.

Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2012). The Handbook of Crisis Communication. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Claeys, A-S., Cauberghe, V., Leysen, J. (2013). Implications of stealing thunder for the impact of expressing emotions in organizational crisis communication. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41(3), 293-308.

Brooks, A.W., Dai, H., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2014). I’m sorry about the rain! Superfluous apologies demonstrate empathic concern and increase trust. Social Psychological & Personality Science, 5(4), 467-474.

Fuoli, M., & Hart, C. (2018). Trust-building strategies in corporate discourse: An experimental study. Discourse & Society, 29(5), 514-552.

Fuoli, M., & Paradis, C. (2014). A model of trust-repair discourse. Journal of Pragmatics, 74, 52-69

Fuoli, M., van de Weijer, J., & Paradis, C. (2017). Denial outperforms apology in repairing organizational trust despite strong evidence of guilt. Public Relations Review, 43(4), 645-660.

Kim, P. H., Ferrin, D. L., Cooper, C. D., & Dirks, K. T. (2004). Removing the shadow of suspicion: the effects of apology versus denial for repairing competence- versus integrity-based trust violations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(1), 104–118.

Colquitt, J. A., & Salam, S. C. (2009). Foster trust through ability, benevolence, and integrity. In Locke, E. (ed.) Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley, pp. 389-404.

Fuoli, M. (2012). Assessing social responsibility: A quantitative analysis of Appraisal in BP’s and IKEA’s social reports. Discourse & Communication, 6(1), 55-81.

Fuoli, M. (2015). Trust dynamics in multimodal corporate discourse: the role of metaphor. Paper presented at 13th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC-13), Newcastle/UK.

Weiss, A. (1995). Paris was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank. San Francisco: Harper.

8 comments

  1. The trustworthiness of businesses is something very important nowadays. This podcast shed light onto the different strategies that companies can use and that they’re not always as trustworthy as they may seem.

    Like

  2. I found this podcast very interesting. I liked the focus on the language aspect and its connection to the poem. I loved the analysis of the love letter!

    Like

  3. I really enjoyed the fact that you guys used a love letter for the final part of the podcast. It’s nice to see the theory incorporated in daily life struggles instead of only focusing on the business aspect of the matter.

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  4. I would like to thank the hosts and Doctor Fuoli for giving me more insight on the topic crisis communication. I never thought about the language used by companies to deal with crises before listening to this podcast. And I never realised that there was a correct and incorrect way of doing so. Thank you for educating me further on this topic. I did not realise how important crisis communication actually is. I will definitely be taking what I learned into account, the next time I deal with a crisis.

    Like

  5. This was a very interesting episode. A company will soon or later have a crisis, so it’s a good topic to learn more about. Also I thought it was very unique and clever to use an old letter to use the theories on. I liked this very much.

    Like

  6. I think this is one of the most important topics you can talk about. Nowadays you see a lot of companies or people taking cultural appropriation without even apologizing. I think this is a topic that should be bigger than it is now. I want to thank you for putting this back on the map.

    Like

  7. This was a very interesting episode, I really liked learning about crisis communication and loved that you involved Valentine’s day in this episode because it showed me that business issues are also present in our personal life.

    Like

  8. Very nice podcast about how the companies react or should react to certain crises. The podcast contains lots of examples which are very relevant. The language aspect explained by Mr Fuoli is very interesting. I’ve learned a lot from this podcast! By that, I’am still curious about the following podcasts.

    Like

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