Crisis Communications and Reputation Risk

Course Number
DYNM 654 001
Course Code
Course Key
Non-DYNM students:
Primary Program
Course Note
DYNM Category: DE. DYNM Concentration: LMC, GL, SD.
Course Description
Chemical plant explosions, defective products, financial impropriety, cover-ups, corrupt practices, reckless behavior, and other corporate failings are ruining reputations, toppling corporations, and sending responsible parties to prison for failing to obey the law or act ethically. Worse, these behaviors are harming the public and the institutional trust with which our society must have in order to function. Whereas improper, illegal, and even immoral behavior on the part of business owners and operators is not new, the Internet and social media are bringing such acts into public scrutiny with both 24/7 coverage and worldwide attention. Reputations that took sometimes a century to build are lost in minutes, either never to be rebuilt or permanently damaged, harming customers, shareholders, employees, and suppliers in their wake. Individuals as well are subject to the same forces and dynamics of reputation and ethical behavioral lapses. Yet why do some companies and individuals rebound while others do not? Are common factors at work? Do they have a predictive quality in terms of other or all organizations? Crises are often blamed on bad PR, a poor crisis communications plan, or a less-than-credible spokesperson. If so, the company could just hire a slick PR firm, media-savvy advisor, or say a few mea culpas and move on. Often what is at stake is a core failing--a breakdown in ethical behavior or problem-solving systems--that can't catch problems before they happen or when they do, tap into a network and a reservoir of employee goodwill, customer credibility, supplier loyalty, and stakeholder confidence. Still, even an ethically-guided, resilient organization that has all these assets will need help when a crisis hits. That's when solid and real-world based crisis communications take front and center stage. The course will both tease out how dysfunctional organizational dynamics can lead a company or organization down such a path and what options it took or should have taken to restore its reputation and what an ethical company can do when an event threatens to derail its reputation. It will examine the variables involved in crisis formation, communication once a crisis occurs, and management as it unfolds. In doing so we will consider the organization's vulnerabilities, the environment in which it thrives, the stakeholders who can influence its operation, and the strategies best suited to maintaining or enhancing its reputation. We will also examine the role of media in a crisis, as both a catalyst and intermediary in a communication strategy, and what to say and not say. This will include a real-life "hot box" session that will be video-taped in which students will prepare and read a crisis statement and then be grilled by both students, the professor, and outside guest experts about their organization's crisis and response. By course end, students should have developed a deeper understanding of the range of crises facing organizations, an enhanced appreciation of communication tactics and strategies that can be brought to bear in such situations, and a greater understanding and ability to diagnose and formulate viable outcomes. 
Subject Area Vocab