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Effective Crisis Communication

Effective Crisis Communication
Moving From Crisis to Opportunity

Fourth Edition

December 2017 | 240 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

In this fully updated Fourth Edition of Effective Crisis Communication, three of today’s most respected crisis/risk communication scholars provide the latest theories and innovative approaches for handling crisis. Unlike other crisis communication texts, this acclaimed book answers the question, “what now?” and explains how organizations can create the potential for opportunity, renewal, and growth through effective crisis communication. Authors Robert R. Ulmer, Timothy L. Sellnow, and Matthew W. Seeger provide guidelines for taking the many challenges that crises present and turning those challenges into opportunities. Practical lessons and in-depth case studies highlight successes and failures in dealing with core issues of crisis leadership, including managing uncertainty, communicating effectively, understanding risk, promoting communication ethics, enabling organizational learning, and producing renewing responses to crisis. 

New to the Fourth Edition: 

  • New and updated examples and case studies include diverse cases from recent headlines such as SeaWorld’s reaction to Blackfish, the United Airlines debacle, and the Flint Water Crisis.
  • Updated theories and references throughout provide readers with the latest information for effective crisis communication. 

Chapter 1. Defining Crisis Communication
A Definition of Crisis Communication  
Expanding the Traditional Definition of Crisis  
Disasters, Emergencies, Crisis, and Risk  
Types of Crises  
The Significance of Crisis in a Global Environment  
Understanding the Misconceptions Associated With Crises and Crisis Communication  
Chapter 2. Understanding Crisis Communication Theory and Practice
Media Theories and Crisis Communication  
Organizational Theories of Crisis Communication  
Crisis Communication Theories That Describe, Explain, and Prescribe  
Understanding and Defining the Threat Bias in Crisis Communication  
Chapter 3. Lessons on Effective Crisis Communication
Determining Your Goals  
Partnering With Crisis Audiences  
Understanding the Diversity of Your Audiences  
Primary and Secondary Stakeholders Defined  
Communicating With Underrepresented Groups During Crises  
A Word on Partnerships and Listening  
What Information Do Stakeholders Need Following a Crisis?  
Is Certain Communication Always the Best Approach?  
Avoid Overreassuring Your Stakeholders  
Tell Your Stakeholders How to Protect Themselves  
Reducing and Intensifying Uncertainty Before, During, and After Organizational Crises  
Social Media and Effective Crisis Communication  
The Power of Positive Action  
Chapter 4. Applying the Lessons to Produce Effective Crisis Communication
Example 4.1. The Largest Environmental Crisis in United States History: BP and the United States Coast Guard Respond  
Example 4.2. A Plant Fire at Malden Mills  
Example 4.3. Long-Term Complexities in the Tainted Odwalla Apple Juice Crisis  
Example 4.4. What’s in a Name?: Beef Products Incorporated Face “Pink Slime”  
Example 4.5. Rural Renewal After a Tornado in Greensburg, Kansas  
Example 4.6. A Costly YouTube Hoax for Domino’s Pizza  
Chapter 5. Lessons on Managing Crisis Uncertainty Effectively
Defining Uncertainty  
Unexpected Crises and Uncertainty  
Nonroutine Crisis Events and Uncertainty  
Threat Perception and Uncertainty  
Short Response Time and Uncertainty  
The Impact of Crisis-Induced Uncertainty on Stakeholders  
Managing Communication Ambiguity Ethically During Crisis  
Consistent Questions of Ambiguity  
Training, Simulations, and Uncertainty  
Belief Structures and Uncertainty  
Chapter 6. Applying the Lessons for Managing Crisis Uncertainty Effectively
Example 6.1. Tennessee Valley Authority and the Kingston Ash Slide  
Example 6.2. L’Aquila: A Case of Miscommunication  
Example 6.3. General Motors and Mary Barra  
Example 6.4. King Car’s Response to the 2008 Melamine Crisis  
Example 6.5. Flint, Michigan, Water Contamination  
Example 6.6. Fukushima Daiichi: Uncertainty Created by Three Interrelated Crisis Events  
Chapter 7. Lessons on Effective Crisis Leadership
The Importance of Effective Leadership  
Why Visibility Following a Crisis Is Important  
Developing Networks of Support  
Being Available, Open, and Honest  
The Impact of Leadership on Renewal Following a Crisis  
Ineffective Leadership During a Crisis  
What Makes an Effective Crisis Leader?  
Leadership Virtues  
Managing Uncertainty, Responding, Resolving, and Learning From Crisis  
Chapter 8. Applying the Lessons for Developing Effective Crisis Leadership
Example 8.1. The Sweeping Impact of a Contaminated Food Ingredient: Peanut Corporation of America  
Example 8.2. A Fire at Cole Hardwood  
Example 8.3. The Largest Food-Borne Illness Outbreak in History: Schwan’s Sales Enterprises  
Example 8.4. Freedom Industries and the West Virginia Drinking Water Contamination  
Example 8.5. United Airlines: Failed Crisis Leadership  
Example 8.6. SeaWorld’s Orca: A Symbol of Tragedy  
Chapter 9. Learning Through Failure
Failing to Learn From Failure  
Learning Through Failure  
Vicarious Learning  
Organizational Memory  
Chapter 10. Risk Communication
Distinguishing Between Risk and Crisis  
Identifying Risk  
Analyzing Multiple Audiences  
Convergence Theory and Risk Communication  
Responsible Risk Communication  
Chapter 11. Responding to the Ethical Demands of Crisis
Corporations as Moral Agents  
Values and Crisis  
Responsibility and Accountability  
Access to Information  
Humanism and Care  
The Role of Values in a Crisis Response  
Chapter 12. Facilitating Renewal Through Effective Crisis Communication
Considering the Opportunities Associated With Crisis  
Theoretical Components of the Discourse of Renewal  
Summary of the Discourse of Renewal  
The Discourse of Renewal and Crisis Planning  
About the Authors
Key features
  • New and updated examples and case studies include diverse cases from recent headlines such as SeaWorld’s reaction to Blackfish, the United Airlines debacle, and the Flint Water Crisis.
  • Updated theories and references throughout provide readers with the latest information for effective crisis communication. 



  • Theory-based and practical lessons in the introductory chapters cover managing uncertainty and effective crisis communication and leadership, setting the stage for the case studies that follow.
  • Timely cases and practical guidelines show readers how organizations can take the challenges presented by crises and turn them into opportunities.
  • Coverage of ethics is included in every chapter.
  • You Make the Call exercises ask readers to examine and build their own crisis communication skills by critiquing the decisions made in a wide range of recent important cases.

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