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Avow or Avoid?: The Public Communication Strategies of Enron and WorldCom
Unformatted Document Text:  Avow or Avoid? 7 should build relationships with key stakeholder groups that can be segmented for precise communication needs during a crisis, an organization must maintain a reputation for openness and honesty (pp. 480-481). Fitzpatrick and Rubin (1995), in a content analysis of news coverage of sexual harassment cases, found evidence that “organizations [need] to reconcile the often contradictory counsel of public relations and legal professionals and take a more collaborative approach to crisis communication” (p. 21). They noted that these two groups of professionals have standard strategies for dealing with crisis communication that are very different. Fitzpatrick and Rubin suggest the traditional legal strategy is to say nothing or as little as possible (as quietly as possible) citing the legal sensitivity, private nature or company policy of the event in question. The legal strategy also argues for denial of guilt and shifting or, at worst, sharing blame with the plaintiff (p. 22). The traditional public relations strategy is to be candid and state any appropriate company policy on the issue, announce that the allegations are being investigated, admit a problem if one truly exists and then quickly plan, announce and implement a remedy (p. 22). Arpan-Ralstin and Roskos-Ewoldsen (2000) found that when an organization steals thunder, that is, self-discloses a crisis before it is disclosed by another, higher credibility ratings for the organization result. They also found that the crisis is perceived as less severe. The implications of stealing thunder as a crisis communication technique are more logically linked to the Fitzpatrick and Rubin’s (1996) traditional public relations strategy than it is to the traditional legal model. Crisis and conflict Coombs (1998) provides additional evidence of the poor outcomes that can occur when crisis communication is substandard. He found that when an organization is perceived as being responsible for a crisis, the public’s image of the organization is worse. Furthermore, if the organization shows evidence of personal control over the crisis that image, damage is more

Authors: Reber, Bryan. and Gower, Karla.
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Avow or Avoid?
7
should build relationships with key stakeholder groups that can be segmented for precise
communication needs during a crisis, an organization must maintain a reputation for openness
and honesty (pp. 480-481).
Fitzpatrick and Rubin (1995), in a content analysis of news coverage of sexual
harassment cases, found evidence that “organizations [need] to reconcile the often contradictory
counsel of public relations and legal professionals and take a more collaborative approach to
crisis communication” (p. 21). They noted that these two groups of professionals have standard
strategies for dealing with crisis communication that are very different. Fitzpatrick and Rubin
suggest the traditional legal strategy is to say nothing or as little as possible (as quietly as
possible) citing the legal sensitivity, private nature or company policy of the event in question.
The legal strategy also argues for denial of guilt and shifting or, at worst, sharing blame with the
plaintiff (p. 22). The traditional public relations strategy is to be candid and state any
appropriate company policy on the issue, announce that the allegations are being investigated,
admit a problem if one truly exists and then quickly plan, announce and implement a remedy (p.
22).
Arpan-Ralstin and Roskos-Ewoldsen (2000) found that when an organization steals
thunder, that is, self-discloses a crisis before it is disclosed by another, higher credibility ratings
for the organization result. They also found that the crisis is perceived as less severe. The
implications of stealing thunder as a crisis communication technique are more logically linked to
the Fitzpatrick and Rubin’s (1996) traditional public relations strategy than it is to the traditional
legal model.
Crisis and conflict
Coombs (1998) provides additional evidence of the poor outcomes that can occur when
crisis communication is substandard. He found that when an organization is perceived as being
responsible for a crisis, the public’s image of the organization is worse. Furthermore, if the
organization shows evidence of personal control over the crisis that image, damage is more


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