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[What does Crisis Communication mean to you,or how would you describe it to your students?]
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS: Defining crisis communicationwe define for our students-- it's pretty complex,because what you have is crisis communication involvesmanaging both information and managingmeaning during the entire crisis communication process.So that means you're involved with crisis communicationwhen you're preparing for a crisis, when you're workingto mitigate a crisis, when you're respondingto the crisis, and afterwards when you're recoveringand trying to learn from the crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So it's a fairly complex use of communicationthroughout that entire process.[How would you define a "crisis"?What are some examples?]When I define a crisis I see it as there'sa violation of stakeholder expectations.And those violations either do or have the potentialto create negative effects on the organizationsuch as disrupting organizations or damage their reputation.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And they also will at times pose a threatto actually the safety and security of your stakeholdersas well.Yes, a good example is last summer in Canadathere was a train derailment.It was owned by Rail World.And it derailed in a small town of Lac-Megantic up in Canada.And was carrying crude oil.And over 60 cars derailed, exploded, and burneda good portion of the town, and killed over 40 peopleas a result of that.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And that's a crisis situation.It's how do you manage that?How do you manage the burning situation?How do you get people to safety?They evacuated 1/3 of the town.How do you address that?How do you address the victioms?How do you help the town recover?There's all these types of concernsthat go in with a crisis like that.[Why is Crisis Communication an important or relevant areaof study for today's students?]Well what's interesting is when youask CEOs what's an important job skillfor their corporate communicators,crisis communication comes out in the top three or fouror five, oftentimes.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So it's being recognized by CEOs as a really important skillto have for their top communicators.[What are the areas of difference or similaritybetween Crisis Communication and Public Relations?]Oftentimes you see crisis communicationsas very closely related to public relations.Because what happens is when organizations get into troublethey turn to the public relations department.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So can you help us out with this?And whether it's a crisis or not they oftengo to public relations for help.And the key interest is that crisis communication reallybegan as a focus and as a practice on what yousay after the crisis occurs, so your public statementsand your public actions.And that's why they needed public relations at first.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And in particular you see a very heavy emphasisin the early days on media relations.How do we handle the media during a crisis?Well crisis communication has become much more sophisticatedthan that nowadays.But it's still a good housing to have it in the public relationsarea.Because communication is so central and importantthroughout that process.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: [What first inspired you to research the area of CrisisCommunication?]It goes back to when I was in graduate school at PurdueUniversity.And I was in a class on genre.And unless you know rhetoric, you don't know what genre is.But it's a study of particular types of communicationthat group together.And my professor, Steve Vibbert, likedto give us unusual genres.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And I had the genre of what peoplesaid before they were hanged.It was called gallows genre.And I was thinking there were some companies havingsome really major crises at the time.And I thought there seems to be some similarity.What do companies say when they'rein that type of situation-- when they'reabout to be hanged, when they're having these serious problems.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And that started my interest in crisisand eventually led to the researchthat I've done in crisis communication.[How did the field of Crisis Communication emerge?]There wasn't really a field at the time.I started doing the research in the 1980s.And that's when you first starting seeing the practiseemerge.And they track it back to about 1986or so, when it emerges as a distinct practice.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: There's always been crises.And organizations always dealt with them.But they didn't have specific practices in them.So if you were to go to say a consulting firm,they wouldn't have a specialty in crisis.And on the research side, there was notthat much research going on.The first book in crisis communicationdoesn't appear until 1986.And it's by a practitioner.It's not until the '90s that you startseeing more academic research in the area.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And that's when it really started to grow.But at first there wasn't a definable field.We were a few people in public relations,or in rhetoric, or in organizational communication,who were interested in the subject.But you couldn't say there was reallya coalescing field of crisis communicationlike we have today.[How had the field of Crisis Communication changed in recentyears and what developments do you consider most significant?]The field is still fairly young.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And it begins in the 1980s with practitioners.And what they do is they write their storiesin practitioner-oriented journals.So they're very two to three pages,this is what happened to me during a crisis and what I didand what I think worked and didn't work.And from there academics start to get interested in it.So they start doing case studies.So they'll look at crisis cases.And what did the organization do?
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And then these were more rhetorical case study analyses.And they would speculate on what theythought worked and didn't work.And I think a significant shift iswhen we started moving towards moreof an evidence-based approach to crisis communicationwhere we started bringing in experimental studiesto try and prove that when I use this particular strategyin a crisis I have this type of outcomeand that this strategy's more effective than another.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And that gets associated with me to a large degreeand the research we've done in situational crisiscommunication theory.But we felt that was necessary, that if I'mgoing to recommend to a practitioner here'swhat you should do, I need stronger evidence than justa case study that said I think this might work.I want some data to guide them.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And we started seeing that start to emerge in the 1990s.And that carries through into the 2000s.And even today we're starting to see more experimental studiesalong those lines.And probably in the mid-1990s is whenwe started getting real theory in there.Because we have image restoration theories appearing,SCCT is appearing.Then later on contingency theory gets brought into it as well.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And then we really see an explosion about 2000in the crisis communication research.I like to tell my students that'sthe big bang, sort of 2000 it just explodes.And there's a lot of interest.And we're seeing a lot more publications in journals.We're seeing a lot more academic books that are published on it.And in 2010 we did The Handbook on Crisis Communication.And it just really has flourished.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And has, since at least the late 2000s,really been an identifiable field of its own.[What are some of the biggest contributions that researchin Crisis Communication has made for society?]Crisis communication often gets a bad reputation on the public.People think oh, crisis communicationis what an organization does to cover itself and protectitself.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And really the exact opposite is true.The big contributions for crisis communicationis actually to improve the safetyand the welfare of the public.Through planning, and mitigating,and prevention of crises that comesthrough crisis communication-- and also more effectiveresponses-- we can more rapidly evacuate peopleand help people in various ways to copeboth physically and psychologically with a crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: I think that's really the contribution,to make society better in terms of safety and welfare.[What are the key debates or research questions in CrisisCommunication?]We have some issues.They're not really debates.But one of them is what is a crisis?Because we have people studying crisis in organizations.And that's where my focus is and what I view crises as.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: But you also have people who are doing disasters.That's more on a societal level.And it gets mixed in.They saying oh, we're studying crisis.And it's important to know well, did you mean organizations?Or did you mean disasters?Because there's very different implications for that.For instance, complexity theory is oftenused in crisis communication.But it's best when it's used with disaster,because that make sense.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: On an organizational side, crises usuallyaren't that complex.They can often be fairly simple to dealwith on that side of it.[What key thinkers/researc hers/practitioners have mostinspired you, and who continues to influence you?]I was very influenced by the early works in rhetoricthat were being done.And we have Dionisopoulos and Vibbert, for instance, in 1988,write about corporate apologia, and that'scorporate self defense.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And then Keith Hearit takes up on that ideaand expands it even more greatly.And so does Bill Benoit with his image restoration theory,where he develops-- probably the finestset of response strategies in a crisiscomes through the work of Benoit in image restoration theory.I think those are the biggest influences on meand probably still remain to this day.They still influence my thinking.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: [How has technology influenced the field of CrisisCommunication?]Well what we're seeing generally with technology--and we're seeing some shifts and some changes.And the way it's communicating differentlyis more on a tactical level than on a strategic level.So it's the tactics that are really changing.Strategy remains the same.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: That doesn't go out of style.But our tactical aspect of communication and crisiscommunication is shifting.[What improvements has technology caused?What changes has it caused?]That all deals around speed.Speed has been both helpful but also a handicapto crisis communication.Because when you think now with social media,if I'm an organization-- and the smart ones to do this.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: When they're in a crisis and theyneed to update what's going on-- nowthink of the Carnival Triumph.When it's stranded at sea and they're slowlybringing passengers back to shore, well, they update.They update through Facebook.You can update through Twitter accounts.And that can really help get information outto your stakeholders in a fast manner.The problem is we have unrealistic expectationsabout how quickly an organization cantalk in a crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Because people think well, you just sit there at your computerand you type in a message.You can't do that as an organization.You need to collect information.You need to deliberate.And you have to make a very strategic and conscious choiceswhen you communicate.And I always tell managers I know the first criticism of youduring a crisis-- you were too slow in communicating.Because expectations are just too unrealistictoday with advances in technology.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: [How has social media impacted the field of CrisisCommunication?]Social media has permeated through a varietyof the aspects of crisis communication.It's monitoring now what's going on.So we're monitoring new sources and tryingto sort out when does that really mean something.When people are upset on Twitter, is that a crisis?
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Is that a few upset people?What do we really do with all of that?And then we can build that into our responses as well, and alsomonitoring our responses, how arepeople reacting to our messages.We can see that in real time.Now it's not a perfectly accurate picture,because it's just the people who are responding in social mediato your crisis communication.But it can give you more insightsinto how the stakeholders are reacting to your effortsto manage that crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: [What are strategies in Crisis Communication thatorganizations can use in dealing with a crisis?]I think we've talked in-- and in SCCT theorywhat we've worked on-- is the notion that you can havean ethical-based response, that whenever you have a crisis thatinvolves victims, what you need to dois you need to first tell them how to protect themselvesphysically from the crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And that might be giving recall information, sayingdon't use this product, don't eat that peanut butter,don't drive your car.It could be helping them to understandyou need to evacuate the area or you need to shelter in place.You need to stay in your house.Because there's been a chemical release in the area.And so that's to try and protect their safety.Then secondly, in the second partthat ethical-base response, is to helpthem cope psychologically.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: That involves explaining to them what happened,because they're confused.What happened here?If I can tell you what I'm doing to preventthat crisis from occurring again that helps with it.Expressions of sympathy help you to cope psychologically.And also trying to identify who might need counseling.There can be very traumatic experienceswhen you're talking about explosionsthat have damaged communities, that have damaged facilities.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So it could be people in the community.It could be customers.It could be employees.But they might need some type of counseling from that.And that's with the ethical-based response.And for the vast majority of crisesorganizations encounter that's going to be enough.But what do you do when you're not in those situations?And there's two that you might encounter.One is you have a situation, it's clearly your fault,and you need to acknowledge that.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So you have your ethical-based response.And on top of that you're going to needto add some form of compensation and or an apology,taking public responsibility for your actions.That's not always a favorite among lawyers though.However, companies do benefit from using that strategy.Your other situation is where there really isn't a crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: It's complete misinformation.In 2009 there was a recall in the US of peanut butter paste.And peanut butter paste was used in thousandsof products-- cookies, crackers, all types of things.Well, they did a study out of Harvard.And they asked people around the USis peanut butter involved in this recall?75% said yes.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: But that wasn't true.So if you were to go to the website of any of the threemajor peanut butter manufacturers--Jiff, Skippy, Peter Pan-- the first statement you would seewas our product was not recalled.This is peanut butter paste.This has nothing to do with us.So there are times you need to denythere's a crisis when there is misinformation.But that's the only time you ever used denial,is when there's misinformation.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: If there's any possibility you're reallyinvolved in this crisis, have any responsibility for it,you never use denial.Because that intensifies the damage whenit's found that you actually do haveresponsibility for that crisis.[Can you describe a case study from your research thatillustrates the importance of Crisis Communication?]An example of one that handled it well is a companycalled West Pharmaceuticals.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And with a name like West Pharmaceuticalsyou'd think they would make some type of medication.But what they actually do is they make the little rubberstoppers that go on syringes.And what happened is they had a facility in Kingston, NorthCarolina.And there was an organic dust explosion.And people in the Midwest understand organic dustexplosions, because feed mills can have that.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Dust can just explode.And that's what happened.It exploded.It destroyed the facility.It injured a large number of workers.It killed three workers.They were very quick to get messages out.And they started talking about whatthey were doing, how they were going to try and helpemployees, how they were trying to help their families,how they were going to rebuild.They talked about holding a memorial service and whatthey did.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And it took them a year, but theyrebuilt in another location.And they had a special ceremony.And they had a little memorial to commemoratethe employees who had been killed.And they talked through the whole process.They kept people informed.They stayed in contact.And they had that notion of really getting compassioncoming out in that.So if you want to talk about instructing and adjusting,that's what they provided with people.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And they showed a constant concern for the victimsand talked about them during the entire crisis, not themselves.So a company that didn't handle it well was Rail World.When their train derailed in the town of Lac-Meganticand caught it on fire, their CEO said everything wrong.And the first thing he came out ishe said we know-- we're certain this was sabotage whyour train rolled down the tracks and derailed and causedthis problem.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Well the next day he had to say oh no, there wasn't sabotage.In fact, it was probably employee negligence.Our employee didn't properly set a break.And then, when he started fielding questionsfrom the press, he started talkingabout how well you know, this is a problem for metoo, because I have personally lost a lot of my net worth,because our stock has dropped as a result of this crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And then he started attacking the news mediafor the questions they were asking him.Then he blamed firemen in another nearby townwho had put out a small fire on that trainbefore it started to roll towards the other city.It was all wrong.It was all about them.It was about Rail World.It wasn't about the victims.And you had a lot of victims.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: You have over 40 people who were killed.At that point in time people were still missing.A good 1/3 of the town had burned down.And there was another 1/3 of the population thathad been evacuated from the city.But you didn't hear about what they were doing for them.Obviously they were doing some things.But the message was completely overshadowed.Because he made it about himself and about the company.[How do a company's organizational ethics impacthow they approach Crisis Communication?]Yeah, that's a very good question.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Because what you find is companiesthat have a strong ethical moral centerperform very well in crises because they know what to do.And the common example of that that's givenis Johnson & Johnson when they had the Tylenol recallin the 1980s when cyanide poisoning killed sevenpeople, actually in the Chicagoland area, around here.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: What they did is they immediately recalledthe product and told people we'regoing to get this off the market.We're going to improve it.That's when they started experimentingwith tamper-resistant packaging as well.Johnson & Johnson is often used as an example of a company thathad a strong ethic, a strong moral code thatsaw them through the crisis.Because when they faced the Tylenol poisonings-- and sevenpeople died of cyanide poisoning in the Chicagoland areahere-- what they did is no plan.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So what should we do?Well our credo, our guidance, is weput the customers and their concerns first.So they just immediately recalled the productbefore anyone knew if there was a problem with the product.It was actually product tampering.It wasn't a problem with their production.But they put the victims first.And that type of company, that type of thought, works.And unfortunately not all companies have that.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: But the ones that do have that strong ethical, moral centerto them will automatically do what's right in a crisisand put the victims first.[What are some practical benefits of studying CrisisCommunication for a student's future academic or professionalcareer?]I think Johnson & Johnson stands as an example of that.You're hard pressed to find an introductory textbookin public relations that does not have the Johnson & Johnsoncase in it, and look how well they handled it,and giving a lot of kudos to Johnson & Johnson.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: If you flash forward, over the last four yearsJohnson & Johnson's been involvedin a series of product recalls.It's not tampering.And the products weren't dangerous.They just were ineffective and had impurities in them.And in fact, in one case, the US governmentcame in and took over one of their production facilitiesbecause it was so unsanitary.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: That didn't get talked about.The media didn't talk about that.And if you were to ask people well,how does Johnson & Johnson handle a crisis they'relike oh, they handle them so well,not noting that the one they had more recently theyhandled actually very badly.And in fact, their leadership acknowledgedthat they had forgotten their credoduring that entire episode.Then this was over about a four year period from 2009 to 2014.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: [What are some practical benefits of studying CrisisCommunication for a student's future academic or professionalcareer?]I think it's really beneficial to them on a practitionercareer.Because when you get out you have a very particular skillthat you can bring to an organization.And what that skill does is it helps to differentiate youfrom someone who's simply a tactical practitioner.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Because you can bring the strategy part to it.Because what we often find is that management recognizesthe value of public relations during a crisisbecause they see what public relations people can contributeto the crisis management team.So I think that's very helpful in that regard,for a future career, if you want to be in a managerial level.And if you're just going to be a researcher in a career,it's a great research field to get into, because there's stilla lot to be done and a lot to be explored.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And it's great also from the factthat you can look at it from so many different methods,whether you're qualitative or quantitative in it,there's a wide range of how this is approached in the field.[How important is research methodology and methodsfor a rigorous analysis of Crisis Communication?]The research methods is really criticaland it's probably often overtimes overlookedin crisis communication because of the heavy use of casestudies.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And I'm not condemning case studies.They have their place.They help build some general ideas saying oh, theseare some interesting ideas that are going on.But at some point we need to move further.We need stronger evidence.If we want to show cause and effectrelationships between crisis communicationand specific outcomes for an organizationor for specific stakeholder groups,we need to move to the experimental design part of it.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So we have to know what we're doing.Are we doing exploratory research, or case studies work,interviews work, or do we now needto move into prescriptive actions,saying these are the guidelines.These are the things you should be doing during a crisis.Well then we start needing to have experiments to really testthat cause and effect relationship.I use both experimental but I alsouse some case study method at timeswhen I'm exploring new ideas and even,at times, some critical methods as well,reflecting back what we're doing well or poorlyand the unintended consequences crisis communicationcan have on society.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: But for the most part it's still experimental methods.[What would you identify as the key challenges of a coursein Crisis Communication for a student,and what strategies would you advise them to counter thesechallenges?]The challenges I see students facing, for the most part,is trying to make that transitionfrom tactics to strategy.Because tactics in crisis communication is pretty simple.They've been around for decades.It's be fast.Speak with one voice.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Be open.OK, we can do that.But beyond that, what are your strategies?What are you communicating and why?When you construct that message that you're putting out there,what should be coming out of that message?Is it public safety?Is it public welfare?Is it reputation repair?If so, how do we get to that?And what I would recommend for the studentsis to pay a lot closer attention to the strategies.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Don't think of the strategies as just a list of things to do.But look at them and see why they're constructed.Why we use them.Really get at the why part of strategies.And I think that helps them the most.[What new research directions do you find most exciting?]I think a very interesting research direction, thatwas something I'd been thinking outand I'm now working with a researcher in Belgium who alsohad it and is looking from a slightly different perspective,is the idea of empathy in crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Because we've talked a lot about strategies and tactics.And we talk about reputations.And we talk about market share.But we really haven't looked at empathy,and how we communicate, and what that means in terms of empathy.Both is the organization communicating--are they empathetic-- and can stakeholdersempathize with the organization's communicating.Because that could have a big impact upon the effectivenessoverall of the crisis communication.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So I find that very exciting research area is justbeginning to open up.[Where would you like to take your own research?]What I would like to do it with my own research-- what we'redoing is we're moving just from crisis communication,right after a response, and we'removing into looking at what's going onin the pre-crisis phase.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Because what we're seeing is there is a subtle shift.Crisis communication and crisis managementwas built around what we can call operational crises,that there's a threat to my operations in some way.I explode a facility.That facility's shut down.Heavy snowstorm-- I can't move planes.That's operational.And what we're seeing is a rise in whatare termed more reputational crises, wherethere's not really a victim.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: It's just a threat to the reputation of the organization.But due to the value of reputational assets,that's really critical.And that's actually coming out in the pre-crisis phase,where you're seeing companies now facing risksto their reputation and needing to manage those in publicas they're challenged by groups.Particularly it might be around social issues.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: It could be related to what you're doing in your supplychain, how you treat your workers-- anyof those concerns.But you have to now address those publicly.And that's interesting because it all deals aroundthis notion of being socially irresponsibleand attributions of that.So we're taking SCCT and we're expanding it outinto the pre-crisis phase, looking at the factorsthat influence perceptions of irresponsibility,and also what are some of the communicative optionsthat organizations should use and when each option might bemore effective than the other in terms of what's going on.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So I find that very interesting as we move to the pre-crisis.And long term I would also like to lookat going to the end, what do you do wellafter the crisis is done?So there's a lot of issues now being raised by memorials.And there's a little bit of researchin the crisis literature on that.But more needs to be done.Because when there are victims-- the Costa Concordia'sa good example of that.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: There are going to be commemorations.And when they did the commemoration,it became a whole new crisis.Because a lot of the people weren't invited tothe ceremony, people who survived.It was victims families.And there was a lot a debate.And it created a whole new problem for the organization.And I think we need to look more at these memorials,particularly since many of them now form online after crises.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And as an organization, how do you engage with that?Do you engage with that?So how do you address those questions as well?[Where do you see the field of Crisis Communication going overthe next several years?]I think one of the really under studiedareas that would really help us is to know more about whatgoes on inside of organizations before and during a crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: We know a lot about external communication--what we do in say, after a crisis,or what we do when we're in that pre-crisis mode.But what's going on inside?How do managers talk about it?And there's some very interesting research,most of it coming out of Europe, on what'scalled internal crisis communication.That really needs to be expanded greatly.And so there's a lot of room for researcherswho want to come into the field.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And that's one of the areas of study.And part of that is how do you use employees?Because too often employees aren't informed.Or they're told here's the information.But don't talk to anybody.Well, that's not a very realistic idea.And plus, they're a very valuable channel to them.And they refer to employees as ambassadors during a crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: So how can we better work with that?That's an idea that has great practical implications for itas well.I think that's one of the more interesting areas,that we're seeing this internal focus of crisis communicationto understand that and unpack that more.And we need more studies that can actuallyget in with organizations that are willing to talk about whatthey did during the crisis.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: Most companies don't like to do that.A rare example is JetBlue.JetBlue was very open to have some researchers come inafter they had their Saint Valentine's Day problem, wherethey stranded people out in New York City on the tarmacfor over 12 hours.They were willing to talk about that.And we need more organizations to be open about thatso we can get a better understanding of what they'redoing.
W. TIMOTHY COOMBS [continued]: And then there's still a lot to bedone with external communication as well.But internal is the area that we know virtually nothing about.
View Segments Segment :
Prof. W. Timothy Coombs discusses the relatively new field of crisis communications, defines "crisis," and gives specific examples of how organizations succeed and fail at effective crisis communications.
Prof. W. Timothy Coombs discusses the relatively new field of crisis communications, defines "crisis," and gives specific examples of how organizations succeed and fail at effective crisis communications.