Master's Theses


Communication Studies

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) posits that communicative responses to individual crises must be customized to each situation. An organization’s response following a crisis event could be to deny any knowledge of the crisis, accept full responsibility for the crisis or any of the various options spanning the difference. The options chosen by an organization dictate perceived damage or increase of organizational reputation (Coombs & Holladay, 2002). This study continues the evolution of SCCT by measuring respondent’s perceptions of crisis response strategies and their ability to protect organizational reputation. / SCCT had identified ten crisis response strategies and grouped them into three clusters based on their incremental ability to protect organizational reputation. The purpose of this study was to establish that the communicative responses chosen by organizations during crisis grant the incremental protective powers established by Coombs (2006). / This study surveyed 164 undergraduate communication students from a predominantly rural area currently attending a Midwestern university. A 7-point Likert scale was used to determine two items: emphasis on protecting crisis victims and organizational acceptance of responsibility for each in a set of ten, single sentence crisis response strategies. / Hierarchical cluster analysis was used to group similar survey responses and resulted in two distinct clusters that correspond to the “deny” cluster and the combined “diminish” and “deal” clusters that were established by Coombs (2006). Analysis demonstrated these two clusters to be statistically distinct. Responses were relatively homogenous across the range of respondents’ demographics. / Organizational reputation is an asset that must be managed in times of crisis. SCCT attempts to customize response to crisis situations to minimize negative effects on reputation. This research shows that respondents assigned relatively low protective powers to the crisis management strategies: attack the accuser, deny, and scapegoat. Higher levels of protective power were attributed to the strategies: excuse, justification, ingratiation, concern, compassion, regret, and apology. These results provide insight into stakeholder perceptions during crisis, but more research is needed before SCCT can be considered practical to crisis management practitioners by supporting decisions to use appropriate response strategies depending on the situational need.


Carol Haggard

Date of Award

Spring 2007

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 2007 Jeffrey C. Brull


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