Preparing Crisis Response Plans

One can wait until a crisis occurs before developing a response. However, it is advisable to prepare a crisis response plan before it is needed. A crisis response plan, as conceptualized here, is a contingency plan:
The purpose of this plan is to prepare image repair responses before the crisis erupts, so they can be developed without the stress and time pressure that exist in a crisis. Of course, such contingency plans must be adapted to the specific situation and implemented thoughtfully, not followed blindly. Response plans should be reviewed periodically and updated as needed. Some will need to develop multiple contingency plans for different potential crises.

A person or organization may not know when accusations of wrongdoing will emerge or every image threat they will face. Crises almost always erupt unexpectedly. Some offensive acts occur through carelessness and are not predictable. Others, such as sexual harassment or types of discrimination, are meant to be secret. Still, many potential threats to image can be anticipated. For example, a restaurant can prepare for accusations of food poisoning; hopefully the restaurant will work to prevent such illnesses, but it can prepare a defense if food poisoning does happen. Passenger airline companies should strive for safety, but they can also prepare responses in case a plane crashes. Reflection on the activities an organization (or a person) pursues allows some contingency plans to be developed. When multiple potential problems are identified, they should be prioritized by likelihood and severity to develop responses.

A contingency plan should answer a number of questions:

1. What actions, if any, should be taken (e.g., shut down production, ground planes)?

2. Who in the organization needs to be informed, and what information will they need?

3. Who outside the organization needs to be informed, and what should they be told?

4. Who will be the organization's spokesperson?

5. Who designs (and who approves) image repair messages?

6. How will the message be disseminated? If there are multiple messages, when and to whom will they be distributed?

7. Under what conditions, if any, should the image repair message(s) be changed?

8. When should image repair efforts cease?

Use of the phrase contingency plans is meant to emphasize that these plans should consider different kinds of threats or threats of different levels of severity. Plan for choices in plans to increase the likelihood that the response implemented is suitable for the specific threat
encountered. As suggested, contingency plans should be reviewed regularly and improved if possible. Once a crisis does occur, the actual response and the plans used to develop the response should be reviewed as soon as possible after the crisis is over.

Image repair is a recurrent feature of society at all levels. This book works to understand this important form of persuasive communication. Human beings and communication are so complex that we will never be able to stop thinking about and studying image repair. We do have a solid beginning in theory and research.

Future Research on Image Repair

We have come a long way in trying to understand how to respond persuasively to threats to our reputation. However, more work can further enhance our understanding. I want to sketch a few areas that deserve attention; surely readers can imagine other possibilities. Preemptive image repair is intriguing: Surely it would be better to prevent damage to reputation than to try to repair an image after the damage has been done. As we adopt new media (e.g., the Internet, Facebook, Twitter) we need to investigate image repair in those media (see Moody, 2011; Muralidharan, Dillistone, & Shin, 2011). Image repair that occurs in an exchange (such as Stein's [2008] concept of antapologia) or attacks and defenses that alternate in conversations would reward our attention. Image repair in other countries besides the United States, and particularly image repair between countries with the possibility of cultural clashes, ought to be on our research agenda. Image repair discourse is a vital part of individual and organizational culture and we need to work toward a thorough understanding of this process.

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