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Date of Award

2009

Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Carol Ann Hackley

First Committee Member

Qingwen Dong

Second Committee Member

Alan Ray

Abstract

This case study investigated the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada's crisis communication tactics employed in response to the Hepatitis C outbreak springing from the clinic in 2008. The research sought to evaluate the success of the clinic's crisis PR strategy, as it followed the advice of its lawyers and declined to take responsibility for the patients' exposure or offer an apology. The aim of this study is to illuminate public relations alternatives to apology in instances of corporate transgressions resulting in major harm, to salvage reputation and preserve company viability. Content analysis was used to extract public opinion from reader feedback comments on online news stories regarding the clinic. Benoit's (1995) Image Restoration theory and Coombs and Holladay's (2002) Situational Crisis Communication theory were used to develop the content analysis instrument and evaluate the clinic's crisis communication strategies. Agenda-setting theory was also explored between the news stories and the reader feedback. Analysis yielded overwhelmingly negative public response to the clinic's communications, and revealed some possible reasons for the negativity. A list of five crisis communications "best practices" was developed from these discoveries, highlighting five public relations principles to consider when the lawyers say apology is not an option: 1. Have a rapid initial response; 2. Maintain consistent message strategy, especially when employing Situational Crisis Communication tactis; 3. Compensate victims; 4. Give 'em a "pound of flesh," and 5. Get the situation squared away quickly. Evidence showed agenda-setting effects for the public influencing the "tone" of reporting (positive, neutral or negative), and both the news outlet and the public contributed to determining focal issues of the crisis. This finding underscores the importance of following "best practices" guidelines to devise effective communication strategies for shaping reputation in times of crisis.

Pages

80

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