Understanding the organization's stakeholders for effective Crisis Communication
Part 2 of the 5-Part Series on Crisis Communication
After understanding the organization and organizational leaders, we next shift our focus on understanding the organizational stakeholders.
While it is important for an organization to determine a crisis response strategy based on the stance it takes on a continuum between ‘advocacy’ and ‘accommodation’ for each stakeholder (Pang et. al., 2020), it is equally important that the organization understands the emotions of its key stakeholders towards the crisis to address their specific needs (Jin & Pang, 2010, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013). This is because, negative emotions of stakeholders are highly influential, and irrespective of the stage the crisis is in these emotions can cause long term damage to organization’s reputation if not managed well (Yeo et. al., 2020). Based on the study carried out by Yeo et. al. (2020), even for an ongoing crisis like MH370, the announcement of suspension of search caused stakeholders to react with various emotions; few beyond the ones posited in the Revised ICM Model (Jin et. al., 2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013) that was used for the study. While I agree with the significance of emotions in crisis response strategies, to understand the concept better I tried to analyse the United Airlines crisis after a passenger was forcefully removed from the plane (Zdanowicz & Grinberg, 2017) and the crisis faced by Pepsi after it released an ad featuring Kendall Jenner (Smith, 2017) using the Revised ICM Model (Jin et. al., 2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013) and the social media crisis management matrix developed by Lambret & Barki (2017).
When analysing the two crises using the Revised ICM Model (Jin et. al., 2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013), we can see that both reputational damage crises fall in Quadrant 1, requiring high engagement from the organization and conative coping from the stakeholders with the presence of the emotions of anxiety and anger, along with sadness. Based on Lambret & Barki’s (2017) model, the origin of the United Airlines crisis was internal, it belonged to the preventable cluster and the organization should have chosen an accommodating response after the video of the incident was posted online and started attracting negative feedback towards the organization (Creswell & Maheshwari, 2017). Instead, an internal communication to employees by the CEO indicated that the victim was at fault (Independent, 2017) and an advocating statement was issued on Twitter (United Airlines, 2017). These resulted in further uproar from stakeholders on social media, as well as legislators, trade bodies and shareholders (Creswell & Maheshwari, 2017). Eventually, United Airlines responded with an apology (Munoz, 2017), but the harm was already done. When we analyse Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad crisis using Lambret & Barki’s (2017) model, we can see that the origin of the crisis was internal, it belonged to the preventable cluster and the organization should have chosen an accommodating response after the ad started getting negative feedback from stakeholders on social media (Solon, 2017). Pepsi exactly did that by immediately apologising for the ad and pulling it down from its platforms online (Victor, 2017). If we compare the two crisis situations of United Airlines and Pepsi, we see that understanding the emotions of the stakeholders and building a response strategy based on them is a necessity for organizations in a world where social media hype is generated during a crisis (Pang, 2013b, as cited in Yeo et. al., 2020).
While the emotions of external stakeholders are important factors of crisis management, I agree with Pang et. al. (2013) that understanding the emotions of internal stakeholders is equally important. I tried to analyse the email from David Karp after he stepped down as CEO of Tumbler (Karp, 2017) to understand how leaders manage internal crisis. Karp’s announcement would fall in Quadrant 3 of Revised ICM Model (Jin et. al., 2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013), requiring low engagement from the organization and cognitive coping from the stakeholders with the presence of the emotions of anxiety and fright, along with anger. In the email, Karp displayed a lot of emotions that try to satisfy the emotional needs of his colleagues – it is full of praises for the team he built the company with, it is very inspiring for the team to continue doing great work, and he tackles the reason for his leaving head-on.
Creswell, J. & Maheshwari, S. (2017). United Grapples With PR Crisis Over Videos of Man Being Dragged Off Plane. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/business/united-airline-passenger-overbooked-flights.html
Independent. (2017). United Airlines: Read CEO Oscar Munoz’s leaked email to employees in full after passenger dragging incident. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/united-airlines-ceo-oscar-munoz-s-leaked-email-full-read-video-incident-dragging-passenger-staff-employees-a7677721.html
Karp, D. (2017). Letter I just sent to my team. https://www.davidslog.com/167947597220/letter-i-just-sent-to-my-team
Lambret, C. V., & Barki, E. (2017). Social media crisis management: Aligning corporate response strategies with stakeholders’ emotions online. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 26, 295-305. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-5973.12198
Munoz, O. (2017). Statement from United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, on United Express flight 3411. United Airlines. https://hub.united.com/united-express-3411-statement-oscar-munoz-2355968629.html
Pang, A., Jin, Y., Kim, S., & Cameron, G. (2020). 6. Contingency theory: Evolution from a public relations theory to a theory of strategic conflict management. In F. Frandsen & W. Johansen (Ed.), Crisis Communication (pp. 141-164). De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110554236-006
Pang, A., Kim, H. J., & Chaidaroon, S. (2013). Dealing with emotions of stakeholders during crises: Why should leaders care? In A. J. DuBrin (Ed.). Handbook of Research on Crisis Leadership in Organizations (pp. 127-148). Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781781006405.00015
Smith, A. (2017). Pepsi Pulls Controversial Kendall Jenner Ad After Outcry. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/pepsi-ad-kendall-jenner-echoes-black-lives-matter-sparks-anger-n742811
Solon, O. (2017). Kendall Jenner's Pepsi ad criticized for co-opting protest movements for profit. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2017/apr/04/kendall-jenner-pepsi-ad-protest-black-lives-matter
United Airlines. (2017). United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. https://twitter.com/united/status/851471781827420160
Victor, D. (2017) Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/business/kendall-jenner-pepsi-ad.html
Yeo, S. L., Pang, A., Cheong, M., & Yeo, J. (2020). Emotions in social media: An analysis of tweet responses to MH370 search suspension announcement. International Journal of Business Communication, 57(2), 194-211. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488419882755
Zdanowicz, C., & Grinberg, E. (2017). Passenger dragged off overbooked United flight. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/10/travel/passenger-removed-united-flight-trnd/index.html