Communication as a tool to overcome crises

Bachelor Thesis, 2004

105 Pages, Grade: pass with destinction


Table of contents

1.1.1 Crises
1.1.2 Communication as a part of Public Relations
1.5.1 Theoretical Relevance
1.5.2 Practical Relevance

2.2.1 Positivistic Approach versus Hermeneutic Approach
2.2.2 Deductive, Inductive and Abductive Approaches
2.3.1 General Knowledge of Theories
2.3.2 Specific Knowledge
2.3.3 Personal Attributes
2.5.1 Theoretical Data Collection
2.5.2 Empirical Data Collection
2.6.1 Qualitative versus Quantitative Approach

3.4.1 Before the Crisis Setting the Team Risk Identification and Assessment Developing the Crisis Communications Plan Warning Stage
3.4.2 During the Crisis Point-of-no-Return The Response Stage
3.4.3 After the Crisis

4.1.1 History
4.1.2 Global Presence
4.1.3 The Case
4.3.1 Before the Crisis Setting the Team Risk Identification and Assessment Developing the Crisis Communications Plan Warning Stage
4.3.2 During the Crisis The Point-of-no-Return The Response Stage
4.3.3 After the Crisis

5.2.1 Before the Crisis Setting the Team Risk Identification and Assessment Developing the Crisis Communications Plan Warning Stage
5.2.2 During the Crisis The Point-of-no-Return The Response Stage
5.2.3 After the Crisis


Table of Figures










List of Tables




1. Introduction

In the introduction chapter, we give the reader a general idea about the background of the subject that we have chosen to investigate. Furthermore, we develop our research question, present our objectives and limitations. Finally, we show the theoretical and practical relevance of our study.

1.1 Background

Crises can take multiple characters and all of us have probably seen ourselves in a situation that we recall as a crisis situation. Crises do not only happen to ordinary people but to organisations as well. When an organisation is faced with a crisis, having good public relations and good communication skills is very important in order to manage this situation successfully.

1.1.1 Crises

There are many definitions of crises, which do not differ much but rather support each other. A crisis can be defined as a situation experienced by an individual, group or organisation that cannot be handled by normal routine procedures (Loosemoore, 1998:24). Another definition of crisis consists of the assumption that a crisis is any incident that can focus negative attention on a company and has a harmful effect on its overall financial condition, its relationships with the audiences, or its reputation in the market place (Reid, 2000, in NyBlom, 2003:20).

Pauchant and Mitroff (1992, in Guth et al, 2000:386ff) see crises as a disruption that affects the whole system and menaces its existential core. According to them a crisis can lead to jeopardise the legitimateness of an industry, invert the strategic mission of a firm, and disrupt the way people appreciate their world and themselves. Barton (1993, in Guth et al., 2000:386ff) goes further and describes a crisis as an occasion that has potentially negative consequences. "The event and its aftermath may significantly damage an organisation and its employees, products, services, financial conditions, and reputation. " (Barton, 1993, in Guth et al, 2000, p.388) Crises are often instinctively understood as an occurrence such as hurricanes or earthquakes. But they can be more and may occur due to different reasons. Rike (2003:26f) divides crises into three possible groups:

- The first group regards natural or environmental threats and hazards. This could for example be flooding or earthquakes, incidents the human beings have no influence on. Further this includes aspects that concern the environment, for example if an organisation gets bad publicity because they help to deforest the rainforest, pollutes the environment. Another example for an environmental crisis is the SARS crisis that appeared not long ago. Occasions like this may very well lead to a crisis for a company that depends on the related industries.
- The second group includes technical or mechanical hazards. This could for example appear in the form of problems with the product, as it happened in The Coca-Cola Company in Belgium 1999. In this case more than 100 consumers of products of The Coca-Cola Company got ill due to production and distribution problems, which the company identified after it received complaints. This matter lead to the order of the Belgian Health Ministry to withdraw Coca-Cola trademarked products from the Belgian market, what resulted in substantial financial costs to the company and in considerable damage to its global image and reputation. (Johnson and Peppas, 2003:18ff)
- The third group regards human activities and threats. This can for example be terrorist activities or blackmail.

Larsson (2001:241ff) also mentions the above presented groups of crisis but he further adds a fourth category, crises that emerge due to the management of a company. He explains that crises may very well appear in form of lack of control of the management. This concerns problems that arise because the management does for example not respond to clear signs that indicate a crisis in any form. Further Larsson (2001:241ff) states that this kind of crisis implies any dilemma that occurs due to missing competencies and responsibilities of the management. An example for this could be if the management oversees a possible bad working atmosphere in the company and therefor does not take action to do something in order to improve it before the situation escalates and gets out of control.

The crisis definitions previously discussed more or less focused on the negative aspects of crises, but it is not to be taken for granted that crises have to have only negative consequences. According to Meyers and Holusha (1986, in Guth et al, 2000:388) there are several potential benefits that can derive from a crisis. For example crises can make individuals the focus of public attention and heroes can be born. Change can be accelerated, problems are faced and organisations often have no other choice than to tackle these problems. Further new strategies may evolve, as important lessons can be learned form crises.

Guth et al (2000:382) state that crises can happen to everyone and they mostly seem to take place unexpected. This fact does not include that they are unpredictable, furthermore the authors emphasise that most crises are avoidable. Rike (2003:25ff) as well as Guth et al (2000:393f) stresses the importance of identifying and analysing potential risks in order to avoid and eliminate crises before they occur. This leads to the importance of managing crises.

In order to survive a crisis with the organisationís reputation and assets undiminished, an organisation needs to manage crises situations successfully. This procedure is known as crisis management, which is a concept of how organisations handle and should handle crises that could appear. (Larsson, 2001:241ff) Crisis management involves organising, leading, planning and controlling activities and assets, like for example public relations, in the critical period immediately before, during and after an actual catastrophe to reduce the loss of resources essential to the organisationís eventual full recovery (NyBlom 2003:19). In this thesis we will focus on the public relations part of this process in which communication plays the most important role. We chose this focus because according to Pinsdorf (1999:245) during scandals the communication plays the same role that medical treatment plays on the battlefield. That means it serves to sort out priorities under greatest pressure and short amounts of time and resources.

1.1.2 Communication as a part of Public Relations

Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders and Wong (1999:756ff) define public relations as the building of good relations with an organisationís various publics. According to them this is done by obtaining favourable publicity, building up a good corporate image, and handling or heading off unfavourable rumours, stories and events. They state that the major tools of public relations include press relations, product publicity, corporate communications, lobbying and counselling. Cutlip et al (2000:2f) agree with Kotler et als. (1999:756ff) in this definition when they describe public relations as the management function that establishes and maintains beneficial relationships between an organisation and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.

Another definition of public relations, which as well is concordant with the above mentioned, states that the heart of the practice of public relations is the mutually beneficial relationships that an organisation needs in order to be able to operate. Instead of engineering acceptance of a product or service, it is assumed that markets are attracted to and kept by organisation that can create mutually beneficial relationships. This shows the growing importance of the focus on relationships and especially long-term relationships between an organisation, its customers, its suppliers, and further stakeholders. (Heath, 2001:390ff)

These definitions imply that the focus of public relations is the management of an organisationís relationships with its publics. And that public relations is the alignment of the organisationís self-interest with the publicís concerns and interests. A study has been conducted and the result shows that public relations practitioners predominantly view themselves as being the conscience of an organisation and that they have a responsibility rather to society than to clients or employees. (Heath, 2001:390ff)

According to Kotler et als. (1999:830ff) public relations offers several and unique qualities which are all those activities that a company does to communicate with target audiences and which are not directly paid for. Therefor they argue that public relations is very believable, because news, features, and events seem more reliable and convincing to the audience than advertisements do. Another quality of public relations is that it has the ability to reach many potential buyers who avoid salespeople and advertising, since the consumers receive the message as news rather than as sales-directed communication. These unique qualities make public relations to an important tool for companies.

Guth et al (2000:13ff) argue that even if the technology used in the practice of public relations is steadily changing, the process that directs public relations is one that stands the test of time. The authors state that a variety of names have been used to describe the four steps of the public relations and they use the following: research, planning, communication, and evaluation. The following model shows this process:

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Figure 1: The Four-Step Model of the Public Relations Process. Source: Guth et al, 2000:14

- The research level is the discovery phase of a problem-solving process. Formal and informal methods of information gathering are used in order to learn about an organisation, its challenges and opportunities, and the publics important to its success.
- The planning level is the strategy phase of the public relations process. In this phase the information gathered in the research phase is used to develop effective and efficient strategies to meet the needs of their clients or organisations.
- The communication level is the execution phase of the public relation process. Public relations practitioners direct messages to specific publics in support of specified goals. In this phase one has to keep in mind that good plans always have to be flexible, because changes may occur suddenly in the social or business environment. Therefor it is sometimes necessary to adjust, overhaul, or abandon the planned strategies in this level.
- The evaluation level is the measurement of how efficiently and effectively a public relations effort met the organisationís goal. (Guth et al, 2000:13ff)

Guth et al (2000:13ff) criticise this model when they argue that this linear process oversimplifies a very dynamic process. They state that in reality all four levels of the process interrelate and every single one should occur at any time of the process. Therefore they developed the dynamic model of the public relations process.

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Figure 2: The Dynamic Model of the Public Relations Process. Source: Guth et al, 2000:15

In this paper we investigate how this process works in times of crises and how an organisation may make use of public relations and especially communication to manage and survive such a situation. Therefore the model presented in figure 2 will serve as a basis for the theories presented later in this paper.

Communication appears daily all over the world whether it is communication with yourself, between two or many people, or from an organisation towards its stakeholders. With help of communication messages are exchanged. There is always one person who performs the message, the sender, and another person who receives it, the receiver. The receiver will register the message, understand and store it, or he/she will take direct action and give feedback to the sender. (Dimbleby and Burton, 1998:41ff)

When it comes to communication one should never doubt the power of the media to influence the public opinion. The force of media hugely dominates our civilisation. After our own families, no one has a greater impact on shaping our personality than the media. Nobody likes to be told what to think, but all of us, every single day, are told precisely what to think about. There are two primary reasons why the mass media are most effective in influencing the public. First, they teach new behaviour and second, they let us know that certain behaviours are legitimate and appropriate. (Levine 1993:3ff) A mobilised public can shut down a firm that does not respect the mediaís power easily. Therefore especially in times of crisis a well

thought communications plan is obligatory in order to prevent such a consequence. Failing to communicate the companyís story or how the company is responding will provoke the public to believe what they learn from the media ñ and competitors. Open, honest communication executed quickly and consistently throughout a crisis can maintain and maybe even enhance a firmís reputation. (Reid, 2000 in NyBlom, 2003:20)

1.2 Problem Discussion

During the last years many companies have had a crisis and a lot of firms were founded which try to help organisations to prevent or minimise their damage. This shows that crisis management has become a buzzword in todayís business environment, which leads to the importance of analysing the aspects of crises and the ways of how to manage them. Several factors have to be considered in order to create a successful crisis management such as organising and leading but according to ¥tHart (1996, in Castenfors and Svedin, 2001:242f) crisis communication may be the most important factor in successful crisis management.

Communication has a huge impact on the relationship between an organisation and its publics. This fact of how an organisation communicates has a great influence on whether a crisis is handled successfully or not. As mentioned before the role of relationships becomes increasingly important in nowadays fast changing hyper competitive environment. There has been a change in focus during the last decade among business people and researchers. The old marketing ideas have been questioned and a new paradigm has arisen ñ the focus on long- term relationship instead of transaction and exchange of products to create profit. (Gummesson, 2002:17f) Skoglund et al (1995:12) share this opinion and further point out that todayís media are demanding an openness from the companies that was not obligated years ago. Due to the mediaís increased demand on reporting about companies and especially their corporate crises, crises become fast news for the public.

Crisis management can be seen as an overall subject that contains of all business activities such as operations, marketing and media relations, distribution and legal matters. Further crisis management includes aspects of planning, leading, organising and monitoring activities and assets all through the crisis. The aim of crisis management is to overcome an organisationís crisis without damaging its reputation and assets. Crises force organisations to use the media in order to communicate to the publics as well as within the organisation. Therefore it is essential that interpersonal communication is being used among the whole organisation. (NyBlom, 2003:19f)

Due to the fact that communication may influence the outcome of the crisis and therefore plays an important role in the crisis management, we will focus on the communication aspect in our paper. We are going to examine the connection between communication and crisis management before, during and after a crisis.

This coherence of communication and crisis management in mind, and in view of the opportunities when it comes to manage crises in organisations, we come to our research question, which we will try to answer by using a case study (check p. 21 for the explanation of case study).

How does communication serve as a tool for an organisation to overcome a crisis successfully?

1.3 Objectives

The objectives of this thesis are to increase the understanding of how communication can serve as a tool for an organisation to manage a crisis. Further we will investigate in what way an organisation benefits from prior crisis it had to manage, for example if it set up a crisis communications plan or started to train its employees concerning critical situations. In order to meet these objectives we set step-by-step activities:

- Show the background and significance of aspects of communication, public relation and crises.
- Describing and relating the theoretical concepts of crisis management and communication.
- Carrying out empirical research in order to find out about the crisis situation of a company and how it handled the situation in order to overcome the crisis.
- Analysing if the findings concerning the empirical data correspond to the theoretical concepts.
- Finding practical suggestions and guidelines for an effective crisis management, which can be generalised to a certain extent.

1.4 Limitation of the research

To narrow down our research field we have to establish several limitations:

- Since we are focusing on communication, we will not consider any other elements of crisis management, such as organising, setting safety and emergency plans and so on.
- We will not investigate the impact of a companyís reputation on its business and if a crisis influences this reputation.
- Our empirical data refers to a technical crisis an organisation experienced and not on the other types of crises we mentioned earlier.
- The empirical study is limited to one company before, during and after a crisis situation.

1.5 Theoretical & Practical Relevance

1.5.1 Theoretical Relevance

After having read books and articles concerning public relations, communication, and crisis management, we reached the conclusion that it would be interesting to follow the development of a crisis and the affect the companyís communication has to its stakeholders throughout the different stages of the crisis. Today crisis management has become an important issue for companies to deal with and within crisis management there are many aspects to consider. Since we focus on the aspect of communication and how it may serve as a tool to manage crises, we state that our thesis is an innovative approach. ë

1.5.2 Practical Relevance

We believe that crises have been more and more acknowledged in todayís society but unfortunately prior research shows that organisations are mostly not prepared to deal with crises. We state that it is extremely important for organisations to be aware of not only what to communicate but also how to communicate towards customers, media, society, and other audiences during a crisis situation. From our collected literature, we reached the point of view that, unfortunately, the minorities of the companies actually have a workable communications plan for how they would deal with a crisis. We state that companies of different characters may gain something out of our thesis and are being encouraged to recheck their crisis communications plan.

This chapter describes the methodological approach that we follow throughout our thesis. The purpose is to show how our research journey led us to our final research question, to illustrate how we gathered our information and data, and how our methodological approach has influenced the conclusions of the thesis.

2.1 Research journey

In this part we intend to give the reader an idea about how we came up with our research question and thus the focus of our paper. When reading this section the reader will realise that we faced some problems during our journey and that we had to change our research question several times.

Our first idea, when it came to deciding what topic to choose, was to write about public relations because of our pre-understanding in this area. We do not only have pre- understanding in this area as we further have a special interest in public relations, since we all think about focusing on this field in our future. We thought that public relations might be particularly important for non-profit firms because these organisations might not have the necessary money to run advertising campaigns. This led us to our first research question:

"How may non-profit organisations make use of public relations in order to reach out to their stakeholders? "

After digging deeper into the field of public relations we realised that this area was too huge to cover and that we needed to narrow it down. As mentioned in our introduction part, communication is one of the pillar stones of the public relations and since all of our group members have interest in this topic, we chose to change the focus of our research question from public relations to communication.

"How may non-profit organisations communicate in order to reach out to their stakeholders? "

When we had decided to focus on communication we noticed that we needed to find a special situation that requires certain communication in order to get an interesting touch of the paper. Further, we wanted to write about something that had both theoretical and practical relevance so that it would be useful and interesting for companies as well. This is when we came up with the idea of focusing on crises and crisis management. We think that it may be interesting to investigate what opportunities companies have in times of crises in order to overcome those, and especially how they may use communication as a tool to do so. After collecting the first bits of theoretical data and getting a deeper understanding of this field we decided that it does not make sense to focus on non-profit organisation any more. This is because crises happen to every kind of organisation in the same dimension and the opportunities to overcome crises are the same for every kind of organisation. This led us to our final research question:

"How does communication serve as a tool for an organisation to overcome a crisis successfully? "

After deciding our research question we started to look for a company we could work with. Unfortunately we had to find out that not many companies were willing to collaborate with us. First we contacted the company Skanska because it had a huge crisis concerning a construction building of a tunnel. Unfortunately they replied by answering that they did not want to look in the past but in the future. Other companies such as McDonaldís did not give any response at all after contacting them. We got the impression that many organisations were not interested in an analysis of their crisis management and that they did not want to be confronted with the crisis again. We state that the fact that these companies were not willing to communicate with us shows that the communication strategies of these companies possibly are really bad. Since we are members of the public we believe that they should show more interest in communicating with us. Finally we found a company that was really pleased to work with us and was very interested in the results of our analysis. The medical health-care company Baxter (p.51) represents an appropriate firm for us because it is a global working company and its crisis affected many countries world-wide, which made their crisis management and their communication strategy even more interesting to examine.

2.2 Scientific Perspectives

The choice of the scientific perspective is very significant as it goes through the whole research process and its outcomes. Further this choice implies several assumptions by the researchers about aspects such as objectivity or subjectivity and further the opportunity to make generalisations about the results of the studied project.

2.2.1 Positivistic Approach versus Hermeneutic Approach

Gummesson (2000:176ff) distinguishes between two general scientific perspectives, the positivistic approach and the hermeneutic approach. The first approach is based on quantitative methods and statistical data analysis and assumes that only knowledge that has been obtained through measurement and objective identification can be considered to contain truth. The second approach is characterised by qualitative material and a more subjective and interpretative process. Whereas the first approach suggests an objective reality that can be captured by research, the hermeneutic perspective implies no objective world but rather that people make sense of the world and agree on what is defined as reality in a process of social construction.

The positivistic paradigm origins from the French sociologist August Comte who was active in this field in the middle of the 19th century (Patel and Davidson, 1994:23). According to Gummesson (2000:178ff) research that is done according to the positivistic approach mainly focuses on description and explanation of issues. The problem of the research is well defined and narrowed down and the vantage point is primarily deductive. Researchers use explicit stated theories and hypotheses with the assistance of statistical analysis and mathematical techniques. Since the positivistic paradigm is supposed to be objective, researchers seek to keep up a sharply distinction between science and personal value judgements with the aim that research results can be generalised and abstracted.

During the 17th and 18th century the hermeneutic approach was used as a method to understand the bible. But nowadays this method is used even outside of the religious context. (Patel et al, 1994:25) Gummesson (2000:177ff) explains that research that is done according to the hermeneutic paradigm mainly concentrates on understanding and interpretation of the issue. Instead of being based on quantitative methods, language and qualitative assessment play a more important role. Furthermore the specific point of view replaces the general and the vantage point is primarily inductive. Since the researcher views himself not only as an independent observer but also as an actor who influences the research process, there is no room for absolute abstraction and generalisation of results. The researcher is aware and accepts the influence of personal experience and attempts to generalise results to a certain extent, which can be seen as being beneficial for the outcome.

We have adopted the hermeneutic approach with concentrating on qualitative methods with the help of understanding and interpretation. In order to clarify our choices we have conducted a table (p.18), which gives the reader an overview of how we positioned our research approach.

2.2.2 Deductive, Inductive and Abductive Approaches

Another choice that has to be made and which is closely related to the decision of the scientific perspective is the choice between a deductive, an inductive or an abductive point of view. We as researchers are challenged to connect reality and theory and depending on the different methods we have our starting points either in the theory or in the empirical data.

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Figure 3: Research approach: deduction, induction, abduction. Source: Alvesson and Skˆldeberg, 1994:45

- The deductive approach refers to the testing of existing theory. Thus the starting point is the theory, that further develops into hypotheses and finally ends in testing them with the aim to verify or falsify them. Therefore the research design is mostly determined by the hypothesis. (Alvesson et al, 1994:45ff)
- The inductive approach is used to generate new theory. It first focuses on the phenomenon studied in practice and then tries to transform it into models and hypotheses and develop new theory. (ibid.)
- The abductive approach is a combination between the two previous and therefore cannot be seen as a third type of approach. Rather it can be described as iteration between the deductive and inductive approach. (Gummesson, 2000:64)

In this thesis we use the inductive approach. Even if we do not start from the empirical data, we are not going to test theories but to use them in order to increase our knowledge and understanding for the empirical data. The basis of our empirical study is our research question, which we generated from an observed real world phenomenon ñ crises.

2.3 Pre-understanding

When starting a research project, researchers usually already have a certain perspective on the subject that they want to engage. They may already have some experiences about the issue, or even a particular knowledge or insights about it, which may influence the research process to a certain extent and therefore is discussed in this chapter.

Gummesson (2000:15) defines pre-understanding as "people í s insights into a specific problem and social environment before they start a research program or consulting assignment." He states that pre-understanding is crucial for the researcher, otherwise he/she would spend an immense amount of time in gathering basic information about the subject for every new project over and over again. Thus, Gummesson (2000:60ff) regards pre- understanding as an essential input for the research process, and also as a potential asset to the researcherís work. Further pre-understanding can support the outcome by opening new insights and allow new perspectives on the research question. Though it is also able to contribute as an obstacle to the research in form of producing one-sidedness when some aspects might not be covered. This can occur in circumstances where a researcherís pre-

understanding is wrong or obsolescent and has a negative influence on the quality of the research.

Gummesson (2000:67) distinguishes between two different sources of pre-understanding: firsthand and second-hand.

- Firsthand pre-understanding is obtained by the researcherís personal experience, which has been made during lifetime. Education, culture, previous research projects, and colleagues of the researcher considerably influence it.
- Second-hand pre-understanding arises from experiences of others that the researcher has obtained via intermediaries such as articles, books, lectures, and discussions with colleagues.

Gummesson (2000:81) says that firsthand as well as second-hand pre-understanding should be in balance. Therefore, researchers ought to be critical about their knowledge sources and should not rely only on second-hand pre-understanding.

Due to the fact that we are students from Germany and Sweden, we have different backgrounds as well as experiences. Two of us have been studying Business Administration for several years in their home country and the third member attends the Marketing Program at the V‰xjˆ University. Even so we specialised in marketing in our previous studies, our perspectives on the subject may differ. Our pre-understanding of our research area has been very diverse which influenced the evolution of our research question. The reason for that can be found in our different bases of knowledge. Our sources of knowledge are based on several articles, books, lectures, discussions, and prior experiences we have had in our home countries. However, we consider this as a great value concerning the development of our research question.

2.3.1 General Knowledge of Theories

Gummesson (2000:72ff) distinguishes knowledge into general and specific knowledge and sees that, together with personal attributes, as influences of our preunderstanding. According to him, the researcher gains general knowledge with help of theories, concepts, models, techniques, research methods and tools. This knowledge of theories can be achieved through university education and/or a scientific environment. All members of our group have knowledge in the field of marketing and communication as we all studied aspects of marketing for more than two years by now. These studies also implied aspects of public relations what gives us knowledge regarding this field as well.

2.3.2 Specific Knowledge

Specific knowledge involves knowledge about institutional conditions and about social patterns. The first category implies aspects of industry, company, product, market and so forth, which are related to for instance technical conditions, customary practice or key decisions makers. Social patterns contain organisational culture, working climate and social relationships at the workplace. Specific knowledge is concretely applied to a certain context. (Gummesson, 2000:73f)

We all are familiar with the situation of a company in a crisis but before starting to investigate we did not have any deep knowledge about institutional conditions or about social patterns concerning crisis management. We think that we gained an increased knowledge about the link between communication and crisis management within our thesis. In order to ensure this we studied various theories about the aspects of communication, crises and how to manage them. We also spent much time in exploring the empirical data of a firm that has been into a crisis.

2.3.3 Personal Attributes

Gummesson (2000:75f) stresses the importance of personal attributes on the outcome of the study that refers to the personality and characteristics of the researchers. Personal attributes include issues such as the individual intuition, creativity, vitality and human understanding. Since we intend to follow the objective point of view we state that the aspect of personal attributes is not crucial for this paper. But we are aware that the interpretation of the material highly depends on the personality of the researcher and the circumstances provided by the environment and are not at all objective.

2.4 Positioning of our Research Approach

The following table illustrates the main ideas of the positivistic and hermeneutic approach, according to Gummesson (2000:178). In the third column we give an overview of the positioning of our research approach.

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Table 2: Our Research Approach.

Source: adapted from Gummesson, 2000:178.

2.5 Data Collection

2.5.1 Theoretical Data Collection

We started our research by searching for books in the library at V‰xjˆ University. We decided to subdivide our subject into two main areas: public relations and the management of crises with the focus on communication. We realised that the literature we were searching for has not been sufficient at the library thus we requested many of the books from the University of Lund and the University of Oldenburg, Germany. We also relied heavily on electronic databases in order to find up-to-date articles that support the theories we have found in the books. Furthermore we utilised different search engines like Google. The following keywords or key phrases played an important role while using all mentioned sources: ìpublic relations", ìcommunication", ìcrisis", ìcrisis management" and ìscandal". Using the Internet as an additional source of theoretical data collection we have been aware of different risks such as reliability, bias and quality.

2.5.2 Empirical Data Collection

According to Yin (2003:85ff) there are six sources of evidence for gathering empirical information: documentation, archival records, interviews, direct observation, participantobservation, and physical artefacts. In order to enable a meaningful case study, the researchers ought to try to use as many sources as possible, since the various sources are highly complementary and no single source is better than all others.

Nevertheless Yin (2003:89) further states that the interview is one of the most significant sources of a case study (p.21) and sees an interview as a guided conversation instead of a rigid structured questions. The interviewer has to follow a line of enquiry and questions in an unbiased friendly manner in order to get satisfying information. Thereby he distinguishes between three different types of interviews: the open-ended interview, the focused interview, and the formal survey. An interview in which the interviewee is asked about facts as well as his/her own opinion or suggestions of own insights about events is often of an open-ended nature. A focused interview can be open-ended as well but the interviewer follows more a certain set of questions with the purpose of confirming facts rather than asking questions in a broader, open-ended nature. The third type of interview, the formal survey, is characterised by more structured questions and can generate quantitative data in order to provide more case study evidence. (Yin, 2003:89ff)

Gummesson (2000:125ff) also emphasises the significance of interviews for gathering data and further argues for the impact of documenting methods of an interview. He distinguishes between two methods of documentation. The first method tries to retain the interviewís original form without editing or comment something. This can be done either by writing notes or recording the interview on tape. Further this method enables the interviewer to come back to the verbal information as often as required. The second method contains writing down all obvious data and then adding other references as well. It further involves the drawing of conclusions from observations, which are made during the interview that means a new interview would be necessary in the case of a re-examination of the material.

In our research project the main method for gathering empirical data is an interview we conducted. Through this interview we got better insights about how the company handled the crisis situation. Prior to the interview we obtained general information about the firm and we formulated questions concerning our research question and covering our personal experiences and assessment of the overall situation. We preferred to conduct a personal interview face-to- face, which took place at the company.

We decided to prepare our questions in advanced in order to achieve a guided conversation and therefore we followed a certain set of questions. Yet we asked about facts as well as the personal opinion and propositions of the interviewee and therefore our interview is also of an open-ended nature. Moreover we determined that we do not send the questions in advanced to our interviewee because we want to have spontaneous unstructured answers, which are not prepared. In order to have the possibility to return always to our interview data, we appointed to record the interview on tape.

2.6 Research Strategy - Case Study

The choice of a research strategy depends to a large extent on the problem and the purpose of the study, which is primarily determined by the research question. According to Yin (2003:5) the researchers can choose between five research strategies, which are experiment, survey, archival analysis, history, and case study. Each strategy is linked to three conditions as described in the following table:

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Table 3: Research Strategies.

Source: COSMOS Corporation in Yin, 2003:5 Our type of research question "How does communication serve as a tool for an organisation to overcome a crisis successfully? " leads us to the opportunity of using experiments, histories and case studies. The fact if the researcher requires control over behavioural events or not, excludes the experimental strategy. Furthermore, this type of strategy is not appropriate for our research project because we cannot and do not want to influence any behaviours concerning communication and crisis management. Since the case study focuses on contemporary events and the history does not, our research project is a case study. (Yin, 2003:7f) Histories may overlap with the strategy of the case study but mostly deal with the past. In order to answer our research question we will obtain qualitative material through an interview and documentation such as articles in newspapers.

2.6.1 Qualitative versus Quantitative Approach

Depending on the method that is most appropriate for a certain research, a researcher can choose between the qualitative and the quantitative approach. Qualitative research focuses on the use of language in order to explain characteristics of phenomena in which "the personality of the scientist is a key research instrument ". (Gummesson, 2000:4) These methods have become more popular in social sciences due to increasing doubts about the measurability of social processes (Gummesson, 2000:ix).


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Communication as a tool to overcome crises
Växjö University  (School of Management and Economics)
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Maike Langmaak (Author)Stefanie Heidrich (Author)Marianne Sjöholm (Author), 2004, Communication as a tool to overcome crises, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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