Ware and Linkugel (1973) developed the Apologia theory, and became the founding fathers of what later will become known as crisis response in organizational leadership. Benoit (1995) is another innovator in the area of crisis intervention response who added image restoration as one of many strategies to save an organization during crisis. The gist of all of these frameworks is the same, and it is that it is extremely important to have a plan in place to "show face" and help redeem an organization in the event that something goes awry. Saying the right words at the right time will prevent the organization from sinking in its entirety.
Ware and Linkugel's "apologia" model is very good to understand ways in which organizations can deflect the blame from themselves under a crisis. This is a four-factor model that includes:
- Denial - "It wasn't our fault"
- Bolstering- "WE could not have done something like that"
- Differentiation- "We have nothing to do with that group/person"
- Transcendence- "If it happened it was God's will"
If we go with their model, then the most effective strategy would be to decide which course of the four actions to take, but establishing a protocol in place that will be followed by each and every member of the organization. Such protocol should reflect the culture of the organization, their purpose, their clientele and everything that it represents. A common vocabulary should be used where the reputation of the organization is continuously heightened, and differentiation with bolstering should be considered first.
Let's illustrate with an example:
Victoria's Secret, as a corporation, must prepare themselves against any attack coming from, say, feminist groups who disagree with the brand selling sensual female undergarments. Hence, the leadership and public-relations team of VS must establish a protocol to be followed by ALL employees of VS if the brand name ever comes under attack publically or in the media.
Such protocol must contain wording, messages, actions, and counter-actions that maintain the defense of the store's goal, and that deflect away from any negative connotation toward the store, or the brand. It also must contain information that shows evidence that "the store is good, the opposition is bad", and most importantly, it must demonstrate to customers and consumers of VS products that they are doing the right thing by sticking to their products and to the brand. This is basically what organizational crisis prevention means within the specific culture of the corporation. Burger King, for example, would take a completely different direction than Victoria's Secret if they ever came under a crisis or an attack.
Another effective plan proposed by Coomb's (2007) is the Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT). This theory shows how, by dividing the crisis into different clusters you can find a quicker way to do any of the four factors proposed by Ware and Linkugel. Coomb proposed the
- Victim Cluster - "They are picking on us; we're being bullied"
- Accidental Cluster- "tech error- it still wasn't us!"
- Preventive Cluster- "human error-we will fire whoever did it".
Conclusively, prevention by protocol is the most effective strategy. To have a common vocabulary to use under pressure and to save the reputation of the organization is what will ultimately save it.