Bringing crisis communication to life

Part 1: Reading and Background
Please read Chapters 1-3 in our course text, W. Timothy Coombs’ Ongoing
Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing and Responding. The author
provides a relatively brief overview of the ways organizational leaders or
communication professionals should view crises, basic stages of crises,
factors that influence or perpetuate and intensify crises, proactive
management functions that relate to crisis management, some
fundamentals about the ‘crisis prevention process,’ and other important
crisis communication concepts. Once you have completed reading these
chapters, consider how the information they contain and what you’ve
learned applies to the following.
In the recently released Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2021, the
United States (U.S.) was cited for “human rights failings” and the
“disproportionate impact of COVID-19” on all people of color, not just black
Americans. The Human Rights Watch (2021) states,
Racial discrimination is a serious human rights problem in the
United States that intersects with all of the US domestic issues
covered by Human Rights Watch—from over-incarceration of
Black and Latinx people fueled by the disproportionately harsh
sentences meted out for all categories of crime, including
violent offenses, to the failed War on Drugs, to prosecution and
bail policies that coerce people into guilty pleas, to surveillance
of specific groups, such as Muslims or political activists from
other ethnic or religious minorities, to immigration policies that
scapegoat immigrants as criminals, or subject asylum seekers
and refugees to disparate treatment based on their national
origin. Human Rights Watch documents, investigates, and
analyzes human rights abuses involving racial discrimination in
“purpose or effect,” meaning violations that result in racial
disparities even without intent to discriminate, and we advocate
for the US to meet its international human rights obligation to
end all forms of racial discrimination (para. 1).
One explosive example of a human rights failing happened in May 2020,
when after being arrested for passing counterfeit money, George Floyd
died in police custody. The release of a ‘citizen reporter’s’ personal
smartphone video showing a police officer’s knee on the neck of George
Floyd produced multiple outcomes, nationally and globally. In April 2021,
the police officer involved was convicted of 2nd degree manslaughter and
two charges of murder.
In one video, a shocking number of revelations, accusations, and crisis
response efforts faced by individuals and organizations such as first
responders and police departments, found themselves face-to-face with
charges of racial profiling, racial discrimination, and racial victimization.
The George Floyd story is one of many recent similar events whereby
organizations have been scrutinized in the media for their shocking,
aggressive and misdirected pattern of communication. Likewise, the
response to crises that arose from these events have highlighted the need
for new crisis communication management protocols.
While these kinds of behaviors and the crises many organizations and
individuals face in association with them are far from new, the scope and
attention recently brought to these issues is unprecedented. It is
characterized and has been fueled by (1) the “#DefundPolice” movement,
which clearly and dramatically spread throughout the United States; (2)
high profile accusations involving news and entertainment industry
celebrities and extensive news media coverage of these stories; (3) the
organized banding together of black American families who feel victimized
in many of these cases and those who have been victimized in some way
at some point in their lives; (4) efforts on the part of many entertainment
industry celebrities to publicly rally against this kind of behavior, and the
criticism of those who support or defend law enforcement officers
(#BackTheBlue); (5) advocacy groups of various types tying themselves to
and supporting the “BLM,” “DefundPolice,” or “BackTheBlue” movements
for a variety of reasons; (6) political parties and candidates aligning
themselves with the movement/issues or counter-issues, sometimes for
unrelated purposes; (7) an apparent rise in cases of accusations that were
later proven to be false; (8) a rise in initial denials in response to
accusations that were later proven to be true; (9) businesses and other
organizations reviewing and changing their human rights and racial
discrimination policies in their workplaces; (10) legislative measures being
introduced, considered and to some degree passed at all levels of
government in response to one or all of these movements; (11) litigation
and settlements related to racial issues; (12) numerous public relations
events, marches, demonstrations and other activities fostered by various
organizations related to these issues; and, (13) some organizations
integrating the cause into their consumer advertising and promotional
Overall, the #BLM, #DefundPolice, and #BackTheBlue movements started
in the United States (U.S.) and have increased awareness of racial
profiling, discrimination, and victimization issues related to people of color
throughout this country and worldwide. This is in part because of our
current media environment and in part because these problems can be
found in every culture.
Some have noted that in many parts of the U.S. and the world this problem
is still dismissed. For those organizations concerned with managing their
reputations effectively and involved in planning and responding to crises,
these are trends and a cultural climate that cannot be ignored.
Part 2: Reputation Management/Crisis Communication Assignment
As you respond to this assignment, please view this from a reputation
management/crisis communication point of view or as if you were a
consultant hired to help an organization rather than on the basis of views or
feelings you may have about these issues or particular events.
First conduct an Internet search for recent news reports and articles
dealing with the happenings and issues listed above. This will further
familiarize you with the nature of the current image, reputation, and crisis
communication issues that all organizations may now face in some form.
Second, select ONE ORGANIZATION in the United States that has
experienced a crisis involving accusations of racial profiling, racial
discrimination or victimization on/with persons associated with it. It must
have taken place in the past year or so. This could be a national or a local
organization and may even be located in the city or town where you live.
Once you have chosen your particular organization and locale, conduct
another Internet search or search for other sources that focus on the
organization you’ve chosen and the particular crisis communication
challenges it has faced dealing with these specific issues within the past
year or so. (
Third, using Chapters 1 and 2 in Coombs books as a guide, assess the
ways you believe the crises they have experienced in the past year or so
exemplifies the nature, stages, responses to and influences on crises as
discussed in these chapters. Be sure to identify what organizations and
stakeholders have been affected in the case of your organization and how
such matters as the value of reputations, stakeholder activism, having
broader views of crises, failure to plan, and the importance of leadership
are exemplified. Also, specifically exemplify how the “effects of the online
world on crisis communication” has been at work.
After you have responded to this, apply Chapters 3 and 4 in the Coombs
book to the next part of your evaluation of this case.
Next, based specifically on what you have learned about the crises
your chosen organization may have experienced, discuss specifically
what the leader(s) of this organization might have done or might do to be
more proactive in their crisis prevention and crisis management.
Be specific in applying the Coombs readings to your particular case, even
though your information about the internal workings of the organization you
chose will be quite limited.
Finally, based on your assessment of all communication that has taken
place in the case you have chosen, what specifically do you believe has
been handled ethically or unethically, using Dr. Timothy Sellnow’s video
message and biblical truth as your guide?
Your written response for this assignment should be 500-1,000 words and
include links to the key articles you use in your work, in-text source
citations from the Coombs chapters, and any other necessary identifying
source information.