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An experimental investigation into the impact of crisis response strategies and relationship history on relationship quality and corporate credibility
h [electronic resource] /
by Camille Roberts.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
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Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: This study investigates the influence of different crisis response strategies and relationship history on corporate credibility and the dimensions of the organizational-public relationship. The relationship dimensions examined were trust, commitment, satisfaction and control mutuality. An experiment was conducted among undergraduate students drawn from an introductory mass communication class. Results indicate that when an organization's relationship history with its publics is positive, the public is more likely to view the post-crisis relationship quality and organizational credibility as positive than negative. Additionally, more accommodative crisis response strategies have a greater impact on relationship quality than less accommodative strategies. Crisis response strategy does not have an effect on corporate credibility. The results emphasize the importance of relationship building before crises and of assessing previous relationship history when matching response strategies to crises.
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Advisor: Kelly Werder, Ph.D.
Situational crisis communication theory
x Mass Communications
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
An Experimental Investigati on into the Impact of Crisis Response Strategies and Relationship History on Relationship Quality and Corporate Credibility by Camille Roberts A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts School of Mass Communications College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Kelly Werder, Ph.D. Kimberly Golombisky, Ph.D. Scott Liu, Ph.D. Date of Approval: June 25, 2009 Keywords: crisis communication, crisis type s, attribution theory, organization-public relationship, situational crisis communication theory Copyright 2009 Camille Roberts
Dedication This thesis is dedicated to my husband, D ean, whose enduring patie nce, untiring support and confidence in my ability made it possible for me to complete this journey. This is also dedicated to my daughter, Al yssa. You are my reminder that with God, anything is possible.
Acknowledgements I owe my deepest gratitude to my pare nts whose unwavering support has seen me through my academic career. Your love, sacr ifice and words of wisdom are cherished dearly, thank you. To my thesis chair, Dr. Werder, I sin cerely appreciate your time and patience for my many questions. Your guidance through this process was instrumental in completing this manuscript. I am grateful to my committee member s: Dr. Golombisky and Dr. Liu. Dr. G., from day one you have challenged me to aspire for excellence. Thank you for a fulfilling graduate experience. Sincere thanks to Dr. Liu for your input and advice. Your words certainly helped to keep me grounded and focused. To Professor Batchelor, thank you for al lowing me to use your class to conduct my research. My gratitude extends my colleagues and friends who have ei ther journeyed along on this same road or have stood on the side lines with words of encouragement. Thank you for multiplying the joys and dividing the so rrows. Charlene and Denise, you are both angels, your constant support was very much appreciated. Linda, thank you for being my outlet and my comic relief during the really stressful moments. Finally, this thesis would not have be en possible without the support of Dean. Thank you for doing more than your share of th e housework and childcare so that I could complete this manuscript. I am sincerely appr eciative of the many nights you stayed up to help me or just to give moral support. This thesis is as much yours as it is mine.
i Table of Contents List of Tables iv Abstract vi Chapter One: Introduction 1 Background 2 Purpose 4 Theoretical Framework 5 Importance of Study 6 Outline of Study 7 Chapter Two: Literature Review 9 The Relational Approach to Public Relations 9 The Organization-Public Relationship 13 Crisis Communication 19 Foundation of SCCT: A ttribution Theory 21 Crisis Types 23 Crisis Response Strategies 25 Corporate Credibility 29 Research Questions and Hypotheses 32 Chapter Three: Methodology 35 Design of Study and Study Respondents 35
ii Stimuli and Procedure 36 Instrumentation 37 Manipulation check 39 Data Analysis 40 Chapter Four: Results 41 Descriptive Statistics 44 Relational and Corporate Credibility Item Analysis 47 Research Question 1 and Hypothesis 1 48 Research Question 2 and Hypothesis 2 53 Research Question 3 and Hypothesis 3 56 Chapter Five: Discussion 61 Chapter Six: Conclusion 67 Limitations 68 Areas for Future Research 69 Implications 70 References 72 Appendices 81 Appendix A.1: Respondent Directions 82 Appendix B.1: Positive Rela tionship History Treatment 83 Appendix B.2: Negative Relatio nship History Treatment 84 Appendix C.1: Attitude Measurement Scale 85 Appendix D.1: Deny Strategy Treatment 86 Appendix D.2: Diminish Strategy Treatment 87
iii Appendix D.3: Deal Strategy Treatment 88 Appendix E.1: Measurement Instrument 89
iv List of Tables Table 1 Demographic Prof ile of Study Respondents 42 Table 2 Distribution of Res pondents Across Treatments 43 Table 3 Factor and Reliability Analysis 43 Table 4 Descriptive Statistics 45 Table 5 Final CronbachÂ’s Alphas for Multiple-Item Indices 47 Table 6 Means and Standard Deviat ions for Composite Measures 48 Table 7 Means and Standard Deviat ions for Trust Across Crisis Response Strategy 49 Table 8 Means and Standard Devi ations for Satisfaction Across Crisis Response Strategy 50 Table 9 Means and Standard Devi ations for Commitment Across Crisis Response Strategy 50 Table 10 Means and Standard De viations for Control Mutuality Across Crisis Response Strategy 51 Table 11 Post Hoc Comparisons for Relationship Dimensions Across Treatment 51 Table 12 Means and Standard De viations for Expertise Across Crisis Response Strategy 53 Table 13 Means and Standard Deviations for Trust Across Relationship History 54 Table 14 Means and Standard De viations for Satisfaction Across Relationship History 54
v Table 15 Means and Standard De viations for Commitment Across Relationship History 55 Table 16 Means and Standard De viations for Control Mutuality Across Relationship History 55 Table 17 Means and Standard De viations for Expertise Across Relationship History 56 Table 18 Means and Standard De viations for History, Strategy and Trust 57 Table 19 Means and Standard De viations for History, Strategy and Satisfaction 57 Table 20 Means and Standard De viations for History, Strategy and Commitment 58 Table 21 Means and Standard De viations for History, Strategy and Control Mutuality 59 Table 22 Means and Standard De viations for History, Strategy and Expertise 60
vi An Experimental Investigati on into the Impact of Crisis Response Strategies and Relationship History on Relationship Quality and Corporate Credibility Camille Roberts ABSTRACT This study investigates the in fluence of different crisis response strategies and relationship history on corporate credibility and the dimensions of the organizationalpublic relationship. The relationship dimensi ons examined were trust, commitment, satisfaction and control mutuality. An e xperiment was conducted among undergraduate students drawn from an introductory mass co mmunication class. Resu lts indicate that when an organizationÂ’s relations hip history with its publics is positive, the public is more likely to view the post-crisis relationship qua lity and organizational credibility as positive than negative. Additionally, more accommodative crisis response strategies have a greater impact on relationship quality than less accommodative strategies. Crisis response strategy does not have an effect on corpor ate credibility. The results emphasize the importance of relationship building before cris es and of assessing previous relationship history when matching response strategies to crises.
1 Chapter One Introduction The interaction between an organization a nd its publics is a prominent topic in the public relations discipline. In recent years, there has been a surge in emphasizing the maintenance of such interact ion through relationship buildin g and the repair of these relationships through crisis management. Ho wever, few studies have blended those themes to adopt a relational approach to crisis communica tion. The merger of relationship management and crisis management is a logical one because crises affect the relationship between the or ganization and its publics. Extant research has addressed th e organization-pub lic relationship by investigating its dimensions (Ledingham & Bruning, 1998); its fusion with symbolic approaches (Coombs & Holladay, 2001); it s antecedents and outcomes (Grunig, J. & Huang, 2000); perceptions of satisfacti on (Bruning & Ledingham, 2000) and its relevance to crisis management (Coombs, 2000) Despite this, there is a great deal more to be uncovered regarding organization-public relationships in cr isis situations.
2 Background Many scholars advocate for a relational appr oach to public relations (L.A. Grunig, J.E. Grunig, & Ehling, 1992; Broom, Casey & Ritchey, 1997; J.E. Grunig & Huang, 2000); however, it is only w ithin the last ten years th at relationships between organizations and publics have been directly investigated. For a long time, the field of public relations lacked an operational defini tion of Â‘relationshipÂ’ which hindered progress in the studies that were undertaken. Without a working definition of the term Â“researchers cannot derive valid and reliable measures usef ul for positing and test ing public relations theoryÂ” nor can they Â“describe and compare organization-public rela tionships with any validity or reliabilityÂ” (Broom, Casey & Ritchey, 1997, p. 86). For this study, Broom, Casey and RitcheyÂ’s (1997) c oncept of a relationship as a pattern of linkages between entities seeking to service their in terdependent needs will be used. As a relatively new profession, public relations is still being cha llenged as a valid dimension of business strategy. In fact, the drive to validate public re lations as a strategic management function has acted as a catalyst fo r the current relational perspective adopted by researchers and practitioners. Traditionall y, communication was the center of public relations where Â“message creation, dissemination, and measurement was the primary focus of public relations re searchÂ” (Bruning & Ledingham, 2000, p. 86). Public relationsÂ’ identity has evolved from publicity and persua sion to issues/crisis management, activism, lobbying, and investor relations Now more than ever, the focus is on building, maintaining, and repairing organization-stakeh older relationships. Moreover, results from
3 the Excellence study (Grunig, L.A., Grunig, J.E. & Ehling, 1992) have lent credence to the relational shift in public relations. Findings from that study support the symmetrical model of public relations (where twoway communication and organization-public relationships are emphasized) as the ideal. Another trend that has emerged in public relations research is the emphasis on crisis communication and crisis management. The basis of this stream of research can be traced to the high value placed on protecti ng, maintaining and repairing organizationpublic relationships. Thus, the popularity of crisis communica tion research can partially be attributed to the relationa l approach that public relations has adopted. Crisis research has revealed factors which thre aten organization-public relati onships, types of crises, and response strategies employed to repa ir/renew affected relationships. Many scholars have offered their own definitions of what constitutes a crisis (Seeger, Sellnow & Ulmer, 2003; Millar & H eath, 2004; Coombs, 2006). For this study, a crisis is defined as Â“a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome affecting an organization, company, or industry, as well as its publics, products, services, or good nameÂ” (Fearn-Banks, 1996, p. 1). Historic cases such as Johnson & JohnsonÂ’s Tylenol crisis (1982), the Union-Carbide Bhopal chemical accident (1984) and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill (1989) triggered academic interest in understanding the nature and consequences of crises (Benoit & Lindsay 1987; Ice, 1991; Harrison & Prugh, 1989). The study of crises holds practical and th eoretical value because organizations can learn from the mistakes of others and scholar s can explore the dynamics that shape crisis
4 situations and responses. Moreover, the pe rception of corporate credibility is an important part of assessing implications of crisis response strategies. Although corporate credibility has mainly been explored in marketing and advertising research, this concept is very relevant to public relations and the organization-public relationship. Crises are increasingly becoming Â“comm on parts of the social, psychological, political, economic, and organizational land scape of modern lifeÂ” (Seeger, Sellnow & Ulmer, 2003, p. 3). Indeed, recent incidents like the 9/11 terrorist attack, the Enron scandal (2001), and the recent financial cris is on Wall Street (2008) emphasize the need for both a deeper understanding of crises and th e ability of organiza tions to effectively handle them when they occur. Crisis communi cation is an important aspect of crisis management. More research of crisis scenario s is needed to examine the antecedents and consequences faced by organizations when dea ling with major unexpected situations. It is important to analyze such situations because crisis theories can be tested and factors affecting crisis situations and the effec tiveness of organizatio nal response can be revealed. Purpose There are many ways an organization can c hoose to respond to a crisis. The crisis response strategies employed by an organization have implications for both its credibility and its relationship with major st akeholders. If the aim of cris is response strategies is to restore image or repair relationships, then it is imperative that the dimensions of the organization-public relations hip be examined. This study posits that more
5 accommodative strategies will have a greater impact on the quality of the relationship experienced by the public during a crisis. Specif ically, this study investigates the impact of crisis response strategi es on relationship quality and corporate credibility. The purpose of this study is to determine the influence of different crisis response strategies and organizationa l relationship history on co rporate credibility and the dimensions of the organization-public rela tionship. The objectives of the study are: 1. To determine how crisis response strate gies affect corpor ate credibility and the stakeholderÂ’s relationship dimensions of trust, commitment, satisfaction, and control mutuality. 2. To determine how an organizationÂ’s re lationship history affects corporate credibility and the stakeholderÂ’s re lationship dimensions of trust, commitment, satisfaction, and control mutuality. 3. To determine whether or not an organi zationÂ’s relationship history moderates the impact of its crisis res ponse strategies during a crisis. Theoretical Framework Scholars have offered various approaches for investigating crises (Benoit 1997, Ware & Linkugel, 1973; Seeger, Sellnow & Ul mer, 1998). While these studies provided detailed response options available during crisis situations, they fell short in recommending exactly when a particular res ponse should be used. This study is based on
6 CoombsÂ’ and HolladayÂ’s (2002) Situational Crisis Communication Theory which goes one step further than previous approaches by matching crisis response strategies to crisis types. The Situational Crisis Communication Theo ry (SCCT) uses Attribution Theory to link crisis types to specific response strategies. Attribution theory assumes that people make their judgments of events based on th e cause(s) of the event. SCCT evaluates attributes of crisis respon sibility, organizational crisis history, prior relationship reputation and crisis type to match the cris is response strategy that would best fit in repairing the organiza tionÂ’s reputation. Importance of study This study is significant because it extends the Situational Crisis Communication Theory by focusing on the impact of crisis re sponse strategy on corporate credibility and relationship quality. The current SCCT mode l acknowledges that prior relationship can affect attribution of crisis responsibility and organizationa l reputation. However, it does not address the possible factor s that affect the organizati on-public relationship after a specific crisis response strategy is empl oyed. Whereas previous crisis research emphasized factors affecting crisis responsibil ity and reputation, this study looks at the effectiveness of response strategies in the context of organizationpublic relationship and corporate credibility.
7 Additionally, this study adds to the body of knowledge of the relational approach to public relations and crisis management. A pplying a relational approach to crises can give the public relations pr actitioner a clearer understa nding of attr ibutions of responsibility and the effec tiveness of the matched re sponse in maintaining the organization-public relationship. More studie s on relationships can help validate the contribution of public relations as a bona fide avenue in assisting an organization to achieve its goals. In fact, some scholars assert that Â“the value of public relations can be determined by measuring the quality of relationships w ith strategic publicsÂ” (Hon & Grunig, 1999, p. 11). This study contributes to unde rstanding of the effectiven ess of crisis response strategies. The study has both theoretical and pr actical implications. It helps fill the gap of knowledge in applying organizationpublic relationship theory to crisis communication. It further guides practitioners in choosing a crisis re sponse strategy that will not only match the crisis situation but that will support its credibility and protect/strengthen the dimensions of the organization-public relationship. Outline of study Chapter 2 will assess the pe rtinent literature related to public relations as relationship management and the dimensions of the organization-public relationship. Crisis communication and factor s affecting crisis response st rategies will be reviewed. This chapter will also discuss the notion of co rporate credibility and its importance to the organization. Chapter 3 will describe the me thodology chosen to conduct the research. It
8 will also outline the procedure used to collect and analyze the data. Chapter 4 presents the results found from this experiment, and Chapter 5 will analyze and discuss the findings from the previous chapter. Finally, Chapter 6 will present conclusions, review limitations and suggest implications and avenues for future research.
9 Chapter Two Literature Review This literature review discusses the rele vant studies and findings related to this study. The first section will l ook at the relational approach to public relations, the organization-public relationship, its types and dimensions. Th e next section will discuss the notion of crisis communication, its foundatio n, types of crises and crisis response strategies. In the third secti on, the relatively new topic of corporate credibility will be addressed and its measurement will be discussed. The relational approach to public relations There were four important developments which acted as catalysts in bringing about the relational perspectiv e in public relations resear ch and practice (Ledingham, 2003). The first development was the recognition of the central role that relationships played in public relations. The basis of public relations shifted from communication to relationships. Public relations became less about information management and control, and more about reciprocity and mutual unde rstanding. The second development was the emerging view that public relations was a ma nagement function. Historically, the role was viewed as a technical function. The adop tion of managerial processes demanded that
10 practitioners become more acc ountable and be able to att ach a Â‘trueÂ’ value of public relations to the organization. New studies into the organization-public relationship and its connection to attitudes, perceptions, and behavior became the third development to further validate the relational approach as a framework for public relations. During that time, a scale was developed to test satisfac tion, loyalty, and behavior in the organizationpublic relationship. The fourth development that propelled the relational approach to the forefront of public relations was the crea tion of models of the organization-public relationship that reviewed antecedents, processes, and consequences. It is important to note th at no agreed upon definition that fully expounds the term relationship exists in public relations. In fact, Broom, Casey, and Ritchey (1997) reviewed the concept of relationship in public relations and other fi elds (psychotherapy, interorganizational relationships, systems theory, interpersonal communication) and concluded that since the term held a diverse and sometimes unclear definition, researchers should measure it i ndependent from the parties in the relationship and distinct from its consequences and antecedents. For the purpose of this investigation, a relationship is defined as a linkage cons isting of exchanges, transactions and communications through which the parties involv ed seek and service their interdependent needs (Broom, Casey & Ritchey, 1997). The emphasis on relationships in public re lations propelled the development of a theory of relationship management. The theory of relationship management is Â“effectively managing organizational-public relationships around common interests and
11 shared goals, over time, results in mutual understanding and bene fit for interacting organizations and publicsÂ” (Ledingham, 2003, p. 190). The benefits of the theory were that Â“it specifies how to build toward sy mmetryÂ…when to apply that approach [and] predicts outcomes and the conditions unde r which those outcomes occurÂ” (p.192). The relational perspective made communi cation functions the tools which built and maintained organization-public re lationships. Although communication was important, it could not be depended upon alone to foster long-term relationships between organizations and their publics (Ledingham, 2003). Supportive organizational behavior which promoted benefit and mutual understa nding was seen as the effective way to manage organization-public relationships. Le dinghamÂ’s (2003) resear ch is significant because a definition of relationship manage ment theory was created which could be applied as a general theo ry of public relations. From this general theory perspective, the value of public relations lies in relationships. Effective organizations achie ve their goals because they develop a relationship with their constituencies, choose goals that are valued by management and stakeholders and collaborate with stakeholde rs before making a final decision. Thus Â“the process of developing and main tain relationships with st rategic publics is a crucial component of strategic management, issues management, and crisis managementÂ” (Hon & Grunig, 1999, p.8). A good relationship between the public a nd the organization serves to cultivate beneficial factors and to prevent negative effects. A positive relationship can encourage
12 support among customers, shareholders, employees and legislators. On the other hand, a poor relationship can literally cost the organization through boycotts, litigation or legislation. A good relationship ca n be maintained by the following strategies: positivity, openness, access, networking, sharing tasks and assurances (Hon & Grunig, 1999). These strategies are relevant to cr isis communication because they are often utilized in crisis situations to maintain/repair relationships. An effective way to evaluate the long term relationship between an organization and its publics is to measur e the outcomes of the rela tionship (Hon & Grunig, 1999). Hon and Grunig (1999) used the indicators of trust, control mutuality, commitment, satisfaction and exchange vs. communal relati onships to develop a reliable measurement scale to assess relationships. Tr ust is defined as Â“one partyÂ’ s level of confidence in and willingness to open oneself to the other partyÂ” (p. 19). The three dimensions of trust are competence, dependability and integrity. C ontrol mutuality is Â“the degree to which parties agree on who has rightful power to in fluence one anotherÂ” (p.19). Commitment indicates Â“the extent to whic h one party believes and feels th at the relationship is worth spending energy to maintain and promoteÂ”, whil e satisfaction is Â“the extent to which one party feels favorably toward the other because positive expectations about the relationship are reinforcedÂ” (p. 20). Those indicators were previously id entified by Huang (2001) as dynamics of relationships. Hon and Grunig (1999) added th e exchange vs. communal relationship to identify Â“the kinds of relationships that publ ic relations programs attempt to achieve, in
13 comparison with the nature of relationship outcomes produced by othe r fields such as marketingÂ” (p. 20). In exchange relationships, one party gives benefits to the other simply because they expect the favor to be returned or because benefits were received in the past. In communal relationships both parties have a mutual concern for each other and may provide benefits without nece ssarily expecting re ciprocity. Exchange relationship is representative of the mark eting relationship, whereas th e communal relationship is representative of public re lations. The importance of H on and GrunigÂ’s (1999) findings lies in the argument that the purest indicator of the effectiveness of public relations as a management function is the degree to which its publics perceives a communal relationship with the organization. The organization-public relationship The organization-public rela tionship is an important component of effective public relations. It is Â“the state which exists between an organization and its key publics in which the actions of either entity impact the economic, social, pol itical and/or cultural well-being of the other entityÂ” (Ledingham & Bruning, 1998, p. 62). A mixed method approach was used to identify the relationshi p dimensions which initiated, developed, and maintained a good organizat ion-public relationship. The dimensions impacting the organizati on-public relationship were identified by a focus group as: openness, trust and involve ment (investment and commitment). A telephone survey was then conducted am ong members of a telephone company and findings indicated that in a competitive e nvironment, public perception of relationship
14 dimensions influenced whether or not a person stayed with or left their organization. The value of this study is that it reiterates the strategic impor tance of public relations as relationship management where fosteri ng positive relationships can encourage stakeholder loyalty. Another instrument which used explorator y and confirmatory analyses to measure relationships was created by Ki m (2001). He posited the necessity of such an instrument in aiding theory development in public relati ons. Aspects of interpersonal relationships, public relations, and relationship marketing we re used as the basis for measuring the organization-publics relationship. As a result, a four-dimensi on scale with 16 questions was developed. The dimensions measured were trust, commitment, reputation and local/community involvement. Although the sample size was sm all (the first survey had 102 respondents; the second survey had 157 resp ondents), the findings are useful because an instrument was created that practitio ners could use to further understand the organization-public relationship and that researchers could use to develop relationship theory. One development which fostered research into organization-pu blic relationships was the creation of a multi-dimensional scale (Bruning & Ledingham, 1999). The instrument measured how the perception of the organization-public relationship affected consumer attitudes, behavior, and predisposi tions. The dimensions tested were trust, involvement, openness, commitment, inve stment, mutual legitimacy, mutual
15 understanding and reciprocity. The last thr ee dimensions were included because they influence the relationship perception between the organization and its main stakeholders. The study found that there were three type s of organization-public relationships. The relationship types were: professional, personal and community. Perception of the personal relationship dimension included quest ions about social responsibility, honesty and the organizationÂ’s awareness and support of its publicsÂ’ welfare and interests. The personal relationship dimension investigat ed trust, stakeholder convenience and understanding and investment in consumer s. The community relationship dimension consisted of the organizationÂ’s openness about its future plans, support of events that customers are interested in, and role played in the community. Findings from Bruning and Ledingham ( 1999) indicate that the organizationpublic relationship is indeed multi-dimensiona l. The major implication of their study is that organizations need to manage the diffe rent dimensions of their relationship. In managing the professional relationship, orga nizations should maintain a business-like outlook when offering products/services. In building a personal relationship, organizations should focus on trust and meani ngful interaction betw een themselves and the public. For development of community rela tionships, organizations should sponsor or support events that positively affect the community in which it operates (Bruning & Ledingham, 1999, p. 165). The multi-dimensiona l approach to organization-public relationships offers a more comprehensive assessment of the t opic, yet reveals the complexity of the relationship concept.
16 A later study (Bruning & Ledingham, 2000) explored the interaction between publicsÂ’ perception of relationship types a nd satisfaction with the organization. The survey results indicated that key publicsÂ’ satisfaction with the organization was significantly influenced by their perception of their personal and professional relationship. Thus Â“perceptions of organiza tion-public relationships influence symbolic and behavioral actions of key public membersÂ” (Bruning & Ledingham, 2000 p. 92). Consequently, these findings validate the relational approach to practicing public relations, which establishes a framework where by practitioners could gain entry into the dominant coalition. The value of Bruning and LedinghamÂ’s (2000) research is that it outlines a fivestep process to successfully manage the organization-public relationship. The acronym SMART was created to describe the steps. The first step is to scan the environment to determine stakeholdersÂ’ opinions, attitudes, and behaviors. The second step is to create a strategic plan/ map of relationship goals, st rategies, and tactics. The third step, act, involves testing the effectiveness of the stra tegic plan and making necessary adjustments. The fourth step is to rollout or implement the strategic plan with the key stakeholders. The final step is to track the organizationÂ’ s efforts and activities in influencing the stakeholdersÂ’ behaviors and perceptions. A theoretical model of the organizati on-public relationship was developed by Grunig and Huang (2000). Their model outlined the antecedents, maintenance strategies and outcomes of relationships. Their research is significant not only because of the model
17 proposed but also because it extended the ex cellence theory to describe practical measures of the long-term relationship be tween the organization and its publics. Relationship antecedents are existing environm ental factors that influence change in the organization-public relationship. The antecedents described in the model are: publics affecting the organization; the organizati on affecting the public; the organization affecting an organization-public coalition; an organizati on-public coalition affecting another organization; and multiple orga nizations affecting multiple publics. Traditionally, relationship antecedents were based in exchange theory and resource dependency theory (Grunig & Hua ng, 2000). Exchange theory conceptualized a relationship as a voluntary tr ansaction that stemmed from mutual interests. Resource dependency theory states that the need for re sources drives organiza tions to form trade relationships with key stakeholders. The au thors argue that those theories do not necessarily explain relationship antecedents a nd that public activism may create pressure on the organization-public relationship simply because the activists desire a behavioral change in a particular situation. The m odelÂ’s description of various relationship antecedents supports the notion that relations hips are complex and multi-dimensional. The maintenance strategies proposed in th e model are particularly important in this research because they significantly correl ate with crisis response strategies used to repair organization-public relationships. The conflict-resolution maintenance strategies were labeled as either integrative or dist ributive. Integrative strategies foster a symmetrical approach to pub lic relations and include c ooperating, being unconditionally
18 constructive, and saying win-wi n or no deal. On the other ha nd, distributive strategies are asymmetrical and entail avoiding, contendi ng, accommodating, and compromising. It is contended that Â“symmetrical strategies bu ild relationships more effectively than asymmetrical strategiesÂ” (Grunig & Huang, 2000, p. 41). The final stage of the relationship model identifies the outcomes of relationships. It identifies relational features of trust, commitment, control mutuality, and satisfaction (Huang, 1997) as essential to the organizati on-public relationship. Grunig and Huang (2000) also include goal attain ment since Â“organizations ar e effective when they meet their goalsÂ” (p. 30). Current instruments used to measur e relationship outcomes are unilateral and so there is a need to move toward co-orientational measures where the perception of each partner in the relationship is measured and a third party also observes and compares the perceptions of the partners. This research paper addresses the sec ond and third stages of the relationship model by examining the relationship through a crisis management approach. There is much to be gained from applying a relational perspective to crisis management since Â“a crisis can be understood in terms of the ongoing stakeholde r-organization relationshipsÂ” (Coombs, 2000, p. 77). The relevance of the rela tional approach to crisis management is based on the foundation of stakeholder theory and neoinstitutionaliza tion. Stakeholders are those who affect or can be affected by the organization and thus they have a relationship with the organization. Neoins titutionalizaion deals with organizational
19 legitimacy. When crises occur, they threaten the organizationÂ’s legitimacy to operate within the environment and may affect stakeholders. The publicsÂ’ perception of a cr isis is important because it affects the attributions made about responsibility. Additionally, Â“stakeho lders use the relationa l history as a lens through which to view the current crisis situationÂ” (Coombs, 2000, p. 87). A favorable relational history may provide benefits thr ough the halo effect a nd positive credibility. Clearly, a potential crisis threat can be combated through a strong stakeholderorganization relationship. Crisis response strategies seek to repair broken or damaged relationships, and so a relati onal approach is beneficial when dealing with crises. The benefits of the relati onal approach to crises ar e that it adds to the understanding of attributions of crisis responsibility, offers scholars and practitioners a context for crisis interpretation, and adds depth to understand ing the stakeholder perception of crisis situations The merging of relationship and crisis management sets the tone for future research in public relations. This pape r seeks to expand on CoombsÂ’ (2000) call for research investig ating relationship quality, cred ibility, and cris is response strategies. Crisis communication The most challenging threat to an organi zationÂ’s reputation is a crisis. A corporate crisis is an unexpected even t that disrupts the regular patte rn of conducting business. The message channel and content used to co mmunicate during a crisis can impact an
20 organizationÂ’s ability to rest ore its reputation. Crisis communication is shaped by the specific crisis situation. The Situational Crisis Communicat ion Theory is a valuable framework for organizations to assess how cr isis situations and di fferent responses can affect their reputation. Reputati on is a stakeholderÂ’s evaluatio n of an organization and so crises are a direct threat on reputation becau se they create negative perceptions of the organization. The model of SCCT indicates that an organizationÂ’s repu tation can be affected by crisis responsibility, perfor mance history, and crisis seve rity. Performance history is comprised of crisis history and relationshi p history. Crisis history is determined by whether or not the organization experienced similar crises in the past. Relationship history is a stakeholderÂ’s inte rpretation of how well or how badly an organization treated its stakeholders. These factors are important beca use they can intensify the crisis threat to an organizationÂ’s reputation has a direct imp act on stakeholder beha vioral intentions. Corporate response to crises could be understood from the application of image restoration strategies (Benoit, 1997). During a crisis, Â“perceptions are more important than realityÂ…as long as the audience thinks th e firm at fault, the image is at riskÂ” (p. 178). Benoit built on earlier theories of im age restoration (Ware & Linkugel, 1973) and proposed five strategies that could be empl oyed during a crisis. The first strategy is deny. There are two types of deny: simple deny wher e a company rejects the claim, and shifting the blame where the company contends that another person/organi zation is responsible for the event. The second strategy is to ev ade responsibility by de fensibility, provocation,
21 claiming the problem was an accident, and re vealing the organizati onÂ’s good intentions. The third strategy aims to reduce offensiv eness through the processes of bolstering, minimization, differentiation, and transcendenc e. Corrective action is another proposed strategy whereby the organization attempts to make amends with its stakeholders and promises to prevent future incidences. Th e final strategy is mortification where the company acknowledges and apologi zes for crisis situation. The theory of image repair discourse proposed by Benoit (1997) offers a foundation for creating crisis response message s. Though insightful, the theory fails to indicate under what circumstances each stra tegy should be used. Th e Situational Crisis Communication Theory fills the gap omitted by image repair theory. SCCT assumes that during a crisis, reputation can be managed by st rategically matching the crisis response to the specific crisis situ ation based on the degree of crisis responsibility of the organization. The variables that affect crisis responsibil ity are: the organizati onÂ’s relationship history, the severity of the crisis, a nd the level of personal control over the crisis situation. These variables are shaped by the perceptions and attributions made by stakeholders. Foundation of SCCT: Attribution Theory An organizationÂ’s reputation is increasingly threatened as attributions of crisis responsibility intensify. Attribution theory contributes to an understanding of the factors of the SCCT model. According to attribution theory, when unexpected or negative events occur, people often seek to identify the causes of those events. The way stakeholders attribute responsibility in an organizati onal crisis has implications for both the
22 organizationÂ’s reputation and the possibility of a continuing/future relationship with its publics. The implication of attribution theory for the relationship between crisis situations and response strategies was tested in an experiment by Coombs and Holladay (1996). They posited that an organizationÂ’s crisis response can affect the perception of the dimensions of attribution. The dimensions us ed to make attributions in a crisis are locus/personal control, external contro l and stability. Locus/personal control is determined by the intentionality of the act and whether or not the organization had the ability to control the crisis. External cont rol assesses whether or not the situation is controllable and stability reflects the fre quency with which the situation occurs. The merger of attribution theory and ne oinstitutionalism helped form the current symbolic approach to crisis management. Th e term Â‘symbolic approachÂ’ is used because it focuses on how symbolic re sources (communication strategi es) are used in protecting organizational reputation in crisis situations Neoinstitutionalism is founded in the belief that organizations maintain legitimacy when their stakeholders see them positively and as having a right to operate in the environment. Crises threaten legitimacy and organizations can use specific crisis response strategies to re-establish the publicÂ’s positive good perception and the right to continue operations.
23 Crisis types Coombs and Holladay (1996) conducted an experiment with 116 undergraduate students to test the symbolic approach. Th e experiment manipulated the factors of relationship history, crisis t ype and crisis response strate gy. The researchers found that organizations with a high frequency of cris es were perceived more negatively than organizations with low crisis frequency. Th eir study identified four crisis types: accidents, transgressions, faux pas, and terrorism. Accidents were internal and unintentional crises; transgressions were internal and intentional; faux pas were external and unintentional; terrorism was external and intentional. The result s of the experiment concluded that transgressions were percei ved as having greater intentionality than accidents because organizations had gr eater control over them. Additionally, Â“organizations suffered the least reputation damage when a matched crisis response strategy from the symbolic approach was usedÂ” (Coombs & Holladay, 1996, p. 293). These findings gave support to SCCT becau se they provided empirical evidence that matched crisis response strategies had a more positive impact on an organizationÂ’s reputation than a mismatched res ponse or no resp onse at all. In an attempt to discover if there wa s a relationship between an organizationÂ’s reputation and perception of crisis responsibility, the pr opositions of SCCT were tested (Coombs & Holladay, 2002). Results indicated that observers rated an organizationÂ’s reputation more negatively when they attri buted greater crisis responsibility to the organization. The study also condensed thirte en crisis types (see Coombs & Holladay,
24 2002 for list) into three clusters. The cluste rs identified were victim, accidental, and preventable. The victim cluster applies to crisis situ ations where both the organization and its stakeholders are victims. Examples of su ch crisis situations are product tampering, natural disasters, workplace violence, and rumors. Organizations were considered minimally responsible for victim situations. Th e accidental cluster involves situations of technical breakdowns, accidents and challenges where the crisis stems from unintentional actions of the organization. Participants attri buted moderate responsib ility to accidental crises. The third cluster consists of accide nts and breakdowns due to human error and organizational misdeeds. These crises were labeled preventable because observers believed that the crisis could have been a voided or that the organization intentionally engaged in inappropriate action. The findings of Coombs and HolladayÂ’s ( 2002) study are signific ant because they provide specific guidelines in assessing crisis responsibility and ma tching organizational response strategy to the type of crisis bei ng experienced. However, they did not explore participantsÂ’ perceptions of or ganizational responses to cris is strategies in this study. Since reputation is a percepti on of stakeholders, the effectiveness of crisis response strategies must be asse ssed through their eyes.
25 Crisis response strategies According to the SCCT, a direct linkage exists between attributions of crisis responsibility and the crisis re sponse strategies utilized. Appr opriate crisis responses can only be made when the crisis situation is thoroughly understood a nd the organization has assessed how the public has attributed respons ibility. The placement of crisis response strategies along a continuum of defensive versus accommodative strategies matches the level of responsibility to the preferable response. The le ss responsible an organization is, the more defensive it can be; however, high a ttributions of respons ibility require more accommodative strategies. The continuum aligne d organizational response strategies with crisis situations and provided a specific recommendation of how to respond based on the type of crisis they experience. The crisis response strategy found on the ex treme end of the defensive continuum is Â‘attack the accuserÂ’. Like the phrase implies, the organization confronts the person(s) who claims that a crisis exists. It is possibl e that the organization employing this response strategy may threaten legal action in respons e to the claim. The next strategy is deny, where the organization refutes existence of a crisis. The creation of an excuse to minimize organizational responsibility is the ne xt response. Justification follows excuse on the continuum. In justification, the organi zation tries to minimize crisis perceptions by stating that the injuries or damages were not serious, or that the victims got what they deserved. The next strategy is ingratia tion where the organization seeks to get stakeholders to have a positive feeling toward it. The remaining strategies, which fall on
26 the accommodative end of the continuum, are corrective action and full apology. In corrective action, the or ganization attempts to repair th e damage from the crisis and initiate steps to prevent future occurrence of the crisis. The full apology is at the extreme end of the continuum and represents th e most accommodative organizational crisis response strategy. This is where the organizatio n publicly takes full responsibility for the crisis, seeks atonement, and may offers compensation. The relation between reputation and percepti on of crisis responsibility was tested through an experiment conducted among 518 u ndergraduate students aged 18 to 50 (Coombs, 1998). Eight scenarios were created to test the influence of crisis attribution dimensions and past crisis history on percep tion of crisis responsibility. The scenarios in the experimental method included: one tim e minor damage accident, one time major damage accident, repeated minor accident, one time minor damage transgression, one time major damage transgression an d repeated minor transgression. The results of Coombs (1998) study indicate d that stronger perceptions of crisis responsibility were developed for crises type s at the higher end of the personal control continuum. Moreover, past crisis history infl uenced the interpretati on of present crises. Specifically, the perception of crisis res ponsibility intensified for accidents and transgressions when there was a previous history of crises Interestingly, the study also found that in the case of accidents, image impr oved and crisis responsibility dropped as crisis damage worsened. Coombs (1998) attr ibuted this finding to sympathy from the stakeholders. Accidents have a low perception of personal control and so the organization
27 might be seen as a victim since it had no c ontrol over the crisis. These findings helped support the arrangement of crisis response st rategies and crisis responsibility along an accommodative-defensive continuum. This allows organizations to better locate their type of crisis on the continuum and select the most appropriate response. Such an analytic tool is beneficial to communication managers because it enables them to better prepare and respond faster to crisis situations. Situational Crisis Communication Theory i ndicates that crisis response can affect an organizationÂ’s reputation. In the same wa y, reputation can impact how stakeholders receive an organizationÂ’s crisis response communication. The impact of memory on reputation and crisis respons e strategy was examined through a two-phase experiment with 80 students and non-student particip ants (Payne, 2006). In the first phase, participants were provided with a reputat ion summary of a fi ctional organization followed by a news story cont aining a defensive or apologe tic response strategy and a questionnaire to assess their ability to recall information presented. One week later, the second phase was conducted where the sa me respondents answered the same questionnaire again. Payne (2006) argued Â“rep utation is an ongoing index of previous responses to situations, making the most im mediate response strate gy a key element of that index, but also a response th at should be made in light of the current relationshipÂ” (p. 162). She further posited that th e interaction of cr isis response and reputation might make traditional strategies invalid in certain cases.
28 PayneÂ’s (2006) results indicated that despite their actu al response style, organizations with a good reputation were ra ted as significantly more apologetic than organizations with poor reputations. During th e first experimental phase, participants were less able to recall details about an orga nization with a bad reputation that apologized as opposed to an organization with a bad reput ation that used the de fense strategy. On the other hand, they were better able to rememb er the apologetic response of an organization with a good reputation than a defensive respons e. The type of response strategy did not affect the memory relationship for an organization with a bad reputation. The significance of this study is that reputation can have an impact Â“so powerful that individuals may make unfounded attributions about other as pects of an organization based on reputationÂ” (Payne, 2006, p. 177). In some instances, an organizationÂ’s prior reputation may influence the effect of crisis response strategy on stakeholdersÂ’ memory. Since the stakeholder determines reputa tion strength, it is logical to assess stakeholder perception of crisis response strategies. Extant research on crisis communication assumes that stakeholders percei ve the crisis response strategies as the organization intends. However, this assumpti on may not be accurate. Therefore, Coombs (2006) argued that the analysis of crisis response strategy should shift to a receiverorientation, and he tested st akeholder perception of crisis response strategies among 78 undergraduate students. Coombs (2006) findings indicated that the ten response stra tegies identified by SCCT were collapsible into three clusters : deny, diminish and deal. The deny cluster
29 comprised of attack the accuser, denial res ponses and scapegoat responses; the diminish cluster was made up of the excuse and justif ication strategies. Th e response strategies included in the deal cluster were compassi on, concern, regret, ingr atiation, and apology. The findings confirmed that stakeholders' per ception of crisis response strategies were being received as they were intended. The rese arch findings bolster th e situational crisis communication theoryÂ’s ability to match specific crisis response stra tegies to different types of crises. Corporate credibility The relational approach to public relati ons and crisis communication emphasizes the importance of stakeholder pe rception. If crisis response stra tegies are to be effective and organization-public relationshi ps are to be maintained and repaired, then stakeholders must perceive the organization as credible. It is necessary to ex amine the concept of corporate credibility in order to establish its im portance to an organization, particularly in times of crisis. The notion of credibility in communication can be traced as far back to AristotleÂ’s concepts of ethos, logos, and pathos. Sour ce credibility is Â“a communicatorÂ’s positive characteristics that affect the receiverÂ’s acceptance of the messageÂ” (Ohanian, 1990, p. 41). Dimensions of source credibility in clude expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness (Goldsmith, Lafferty, & Newell, 2000a). Corporate credibility is one type of source credibility; another type of source credibility often studied is spokesperson/endorse r credibility.
30 Although both endorser and cor porate credibility are simila r, the latter does not include attractiveness as one of its dimensions. Corporate credibility Â“refers to consumer and other stakeholder perceptions of a compa nyÂ’s trustworthiness and expertise, that is, the believability of its intentions and comm unications at a particul ar moment in timeÂ” (Goldsmith, Lafferty, & Newell, 2000b, p. 304). Co rporate credibility is important to organizations because low credibility can lessen the effectiveness of communication efforts, the publicÂ’s purchase intent, stakeholder loyalty, a nd the organizationÂ’s financial prosperity. The concept of source credibility has been a popular research theme; however, very few researchers have addressed the issue of corporate credibility. The limited research on corporate credibility investigates its role in consumersÂ’ attitudes and purchase intentions (Lafferty & Goldsmith, 1999; Gold smith, Lafferty & Newell, 2000b; Lafferty, Goldsmith & Newell, 2002); its relationship with celebrity credibility (Goldsmith, Lafferty & Newell, 2000a); and its influen ce on innovator reactions to high-technology products (Lafferty & Goldsmith, 2004). These studies addressed co rporate credibility from a marketing/advertising perspective. The application of the concept in the field of public relations is sadly lacki ng. This study will aid in fillin g the gap in public relations by examining corporate credibility in th e context of crisis communication and relationship theory. Early credibility-related research (New ell & Goldsmith, 2001) used scales which measured different, though related, items (company reputation, at titude toward the
31 sponsor, company credibility). In an attempt to accurately measure corporate credibility, Newell and Goldsmith (2001) conducted research to develop a reliable and valid scale that could be standardized in academic studi es. They initially developed 66 items which tested the corporate credibility dimensi ons of expertise, trustworthiness, and truthfulness/honesty. Expertise was defined as the competence and capability of the company to make and deliver the products it advertises. Trustworthiness was the reliability of the company and truthfulness was whether or not the company was honest or mislead consumers. In the process of developi ng the corporate credibility sc ale, five data sets were analyzed. The first data set was subjected to exploratory factor anal ysis and analysis of internal item consistency. The scale items we re reduced to 33 questi ons on a seven-point Likert-type scale. The results of this analysis pr oduced a two-factor, eight item scale which reliably measured expertise and trustwor thiness as factors of corporate credibility. The second data set was subjected to confirmatory factor analys is and analysis of internal item consistency, while the third set was subject ed to construct validity. The fourth and fifth sets further tested construct validity and compared corporate credibility across companies, respectively. The development of a valid and reliable scale to measure corporate credibility holds both practical and theore tical implications. Practically, organizations can use it to examine how crises and crisis response stra tegies affect the dimensions of trust and expertise. Theoretically, the scale establishe d the multi-dimensional nature of corporate
32 credibility. Such a scale is beneficial becau se Â“by understanding each of the dimensions of credibility, corporations ma y be able to develop better st rategies to monitor, and if necessary, modify consumer a nd other stakeholder percepti ons of the firmÂ” (Newell & Goldsmith, 2001, p. 245). Consequently, Newell and GoldsmithÂ’s (2001) investigation holds the supposition that by understanding how various crisis response strategies impact corporate credibility, corporations may be able to strategically preserve, or if necessary, repair the organizationpublic relationship. The preceding review of the relevant literat ure in the relational approach to public relations, crisis communication, and corporate credibility validates the need for this research. This research will join the stream of literature that view s crisis management from a relational perspective. Moreover, it will emphasize the importance of corporate credibility in the relationship management approach to public relations. Research Questions and Hypotheses The trend in public relati ons to adopt a relational a pproach to its function and outcomes has provided the impetus for this study to apply the same approach to understanding the relationship between crisis response stra tegies, relationship quality, and corporate credibility. Based on the purpose of this study and the literature reviewed, the following research ques tions and hypotheses are posed: RQ1: What effect do crisis response strategies have on post-crisis relationship quality and corporat e credibility?
33 The aim of crisis response strategies is to repair/renew the relationship between the organization and its publics. This study will investigate th e effectiveness of different crisis response strategies by examining thei r effect on the relationship dimensions of trust, satisfaction, control mutuality, and commitment. It will also examine the stakeholdersÂ’ view of the organizationÂ’s e xpertise and trustworthiness when different crisis response strategies are employed. H1a: The deal strategy has greater positive effect on relationship quality than diminish and deny strategies. H1b: The deal strategy has greater positive effect on corporate credibility than diminish and deny strategies. RQ2: What effect does relationship histor y have on post-cris is relationship quality and corporat e credibility? These hypotheses posit that an organizationÂ’ s relationship histor y will affect the publicÂ’s perception of relationship quality and corporate credibility. H2a: Post-crisis relationship quality will be more positive when relationship history is positive than when it is negative. H2b: Post-crisis corporate credibility will be more positive when relationship history is positive than when it is negative.
34 RQ3. Does an interaction effe ct exist between crisis response strategy type and relationship history? H3a. The effects of crisis response strate gies on post-crisis re lationship quality are moderated by relationship history. H3b. The effects of crisis response st rategies on corporate credibility are moderated by relationship history. These hypotheses assume that when organizationa l relationship history is negative, crisis response strategies on the lower end of the cr isis response spectrum will not be effective in establishing a positive organization-public relationship. During a crisis, the only way to foster positive relationship dimensions with publics who perceive a negative relationship quality will be for it to employ the most accommodative crisis response strategies (deal strategies). The research questions and hypotheses pr oposed seek to address the impact of different crisis response stra tegies and relationship histor y on relationship quality and corporate credibility. This study examines how prior relational history can affect the effectiveness of crisis respons e strategies in shaping the di mensions of the organizationpublic relationship and the percep tion of corporate credibility. The next chapter describes the methodology employed during this investigation.
35 Chapter Three Methodology This chapter explains the methodology unde rtaken in this study. It reviews the type of research conducted, its design, data co llection procedure, instrumentation used to measure variables and data analysis perfor med. The study used a 2 x 3 factorial design based on the manipulation of relationship history and crisis response strategy. Relationship history was opera tionalized by positive and nega tive relationship; crisis response strategy was operationalized by deny, diminish and deal responses. Design of Study and Study Respondents An experiment was used to gather data fo r this study. The type of crisis chosen for this investigation was an accident. Accidents ca rry a greater diversity in attributions of responsibility during a crisis. Public per ception of an accident can influence how receptive they are to specific crisis res ponse strategies. Moreove r, accidents are a reasonable choice because they are among the mo re common crises that occur in society. The use of a prevalent type of crisis is be neficial because any fi ndings would be more practicable in everyday, real life situations. A seven-point Likert-type scale was used to measure responses ranging from Â‘str ongly disagreeÂ’ to Â‘strongly agreeÂ’.
36 Respondents were recruited from a large undergraduate mass communication class at the University of South Florida. The experiment was performed during a regular class session. Although this was convenience sample, the factors being investigated (relationship and credibility) are common enough to be present in a ny type of sample. The probability of a diverse sample is increased by the fact that the class is offered to all undergraduates as an option in fulfilling their general education requirements. Stimuli and Procedure The organization chosen was a theme/amus ement park. This type of organization was chosen because it was presumed that a majority of the respondents (undergraduate college students) have probably patronized su ch an organization in the past and have some sort of relationship with it. A real crisis scenario that occurred in an existing theme/amusement park was adapted and used in this experiment. The actual name of the organization and the park ride will be replaced with fictional names so as to control for any possible existing bias. The 2 x 3 design required the development of six different scenarios. First, a stimulus paragraph was presented which reflected either a positive relationship history and high credibility or a negative relationshi p history and low cred ibility. Although some researchers may state that a re lationship with a fictional orga nization cannot be measured, it can be argued that prolonged interaction with an organization displaying certain characteristics can lead its publics to develop a generally positive or negative relationship with it. Thus, it is logical to presume that exposure to pos itive characteristics where no
37 prior knowledge exists will lead to high a ssessments of relationship qualities and corporate credibility. Since the time factor in this experiment limits the measurement of prolonged interaction, it is necessary to cont rol relationship history and perception of corporate credibility. After the stimulus paragraph on relationshi p history and corpor ate credibility was presented, respondentsÂ’ attitude toward the organization was assessed. Next, a scenario describing the type of crisis and organizat ional response was given. A majority of the accidentÂ’s description was replicated from an actual story filed by the Associated Press. This was done to maintain a journalistic quality to the cas e presentation. The organizationÂ’s response was manipulated to reflect th e deny, diminish, and deal strategies. The three main crisis response clus ters were tested because often organizations do not use just one response strategy but employ multiple strategies, usually within the same cluster. Each cluster will be exhibited by a brief quotation from the organizationÂ’s spokesperson. In order to maintain a balan ced story length for all scenarios, the quotations will have between 19 to 25 words. The layout and presentation of the case will be as a newspaper article so that the expe rience of reading Â‘a real storyÂ’ will be simulated. Finally, respondents wi ll be asked to consider th e organizationÂ’s response and respond to the same questionnaire they originally completed. Instrumentation The relationship scale proposed by Hon and Grunig (1999) was used to assess the respondentsÂ’ perception of th eir relationship with the theme/amusement park. The
38 dimension of trust was measured using the following items: 1) This organization treats people like me fairly and justly; 2) When ever this organization makes an important decision, I know it will be concerned about pe ople like me; 3) This organization can be relied on to keep its promises; 4) I believe that this organization takes the opinions of people like me into account when making decisi ons; 5) I feel very confident about this organizationÂ’s skills; and 6) This organizati on has the ability to accomplish what it says it will do. Satisfaction was measured by the follow ing items: 1) I am happy with this organization; 2) Both the organization and pe ople like me benefit from the relationship; 3) Most people like me are happy in their in teractions with this organization; and 4) Generally speaking, I am pleased with the relationship this organization has established with people like me. The following items measured commitment: 1) I feel that this organization is trying to maintain a long-term commitment to people like me; 2) I can see that this organization wants to maintain a relationshi p with people like me; 3) There is a longlasting bond between this organization and pe ople like me; and 4) Compared to other organizations, I value my relations hip with this organization more. The items measuring control mutuality were : 1) This organization and people like me are attentive to what each other say; 2) This organization believes the opinions of people like me are legitimate; 3) In dealing with people like me, this organization has a
39 tendency to throw its weight around; and 40 This organizatio n really listens to what people like me have to say. The scale developed by Newell and Gold smith (2001) to measure corporate credibility was used in this study. The dimensions of corpor ate credibility are corporate expertise and trustworthiness. Corporat e expertise was measured by the following questions: 1) This organizati on has a great amount of expe rience; 2) This organization does not have much experience; 3) This organi zation is skilled in wh at they do; 4) This organization has great expertise. The items measuring trustworthiness were: 1) This organization is honest; 2) This organization makes truthful claims; 3) I trust this organization; and 4) I do not believe what they tell me. Manipulation check A manipulation check was incorporated into the study design to test the relationship history stimulus paragraph. It was assumed that a positive relationship history would induce a positive attitude from respondents toward the organization, whereas a negative history w ould reflect a negative attit ude toward the organization. Attitude toward the organization was measured by a six item semantic differential scale. The adjectives used to assess the orga nization were: trustworthy, responsible, good, favorable, positive and likeable. An analysis of variance test was conduc ted to examine the relationship between attitude and relationship hist ory. The results indicated that relationship history had a
40 significant impact on attitude, F (1,100)=200; p<.001; =.67. Approximately 67% of the variance in attitude was due to relationsh ip history. The positive relationship history generated higher mean scores for attitude ( =5.69) than negative relationship history (M=2.40). An analysis of the results confirmed that the manipulation of relationship history was successful. Data Analysis Once the data were collected, SPSS 17 was used to analyze the information. CronbachÂ’s alpha was used to m easure the reliability of the survey items. The accepted level of reliability was set at Â› .80. Descriptiv es were assessed and other statistical procedures (ANOVAs) were conduc ted to detect possible relationships and differences between variables. Chapter Four presents and discusses the results of the statistical analyses perfor med on the data collected.
41 Chapter Four Results The purpose of this study was to determine the influence of different crisis response strategies and organizational relations hip history on corporate credibility and the organization-public relationship. Research hypotheses stated that (i) the deal strategy would have a greater positive effect on relati onal quality and corporate credibility than the diminish and deny strategi es; (ii) post crisis relati onship quality and corporate credibility would be more positive when or ganizational relationshi p history is positive than when it is negative; (iii) prior relati onship history moderates the effects of crisis response strategies on post-crisis rela tional quality and corporate credibility. This chapter presents the findings and re sults of the study. The study investigated the responses of undergraduate co llege students to three main crisis response strategies. The respondents who completed the surv ey were from an upper level mass communication class, and so a majority of th em (n= 45) were in their junior year in college. The mean age of the respondents was 20.9. Table 1 presents the demographic characteristics of the sample.
42 Table 1. Demographic profile of study respondents n% Academic rank Freshman 18 17.5 Sophomore 31 30.1 Junior 45 43.7 Senior 7 6.8 Other 2 1.9 College Arts & Science 88 86.3 Business 5 4.9 Education 2 2.0 English 2 2.0 Honors College 1 1.0 Medicine 1 1.0 Nursing 2 2.0 Visual/Performing 1 1.0 Age 18 10 9.7 19 23 22.3 20 30 29.1 21 17 16.5 22 8 7.8 23 5 4.9 24 1 1.0 25 1 1.0 26 3 2.9 27 2 1.9 28 1 1.0 36 1 1.0 46 1 1.0 Gender Male 38 36.9 Female 65 63.1 A total of 107 surveys were distributed and 103 completed responses were returned. Table 2 shows the distribution of respondents among the six treatments.
43 Table 2. Distribution of Responden ts Across Treatments n% Negative History Deny 19 18 Diminish 16 16 Deal 14 14 Positive History Deny 18 17 Diminish 17 17 Deal 19 18 Factor analysis was performed to determine the unidimensionality of the items used to measure prior attitude. All attitude items loaded on a single factor, labeled prior attitude. Next, the in ternal consistency of the items was examined using CronbachÂ’s alpha. The items produced a coefficient alpha of .98. Table 3 presents the results of the factor and reliability analysis. Table 3. Factor and Reliability Analysis Facto r Al p ha Prior attitude .979 This organization is likeable .964 This organization is favorable .963 This organization is good .963 This organization is positive .963 This organization is .918 This organization is .880
44 Descriptive Statistics The research instrument included items to measure respond entsÂ’ perception of relationship and corporate credib ility. Table 4 presents the means and standard deviations for each of the items used to measure the c onstructs of trust, sa tisfaction, commitment, control mutuality and expertise. The relationship construct comprised of items that measured trust, satisfaction, commitment and control mutuality. Study respon dents most strongly agreed with the trust item Â“I believe this organization treats pe ople like me fairly a nd justlyÂ” (M = 4.11). Respondents agreed that most people like them would be happy in their interactions with the organization (M = 3.91); however, ther e was less agreement with the questions Â“generally speaking, I am pleas ed with the relationship this organization has established with people like meÂ” (M=3.69) and Â“I w ould trust this orga nizationÂ” (M=3.40). In terms of commitment, respondents st rongly agreed that the organization wanted to maintain a relationship with pe ople like them (M = 4.24), yet there was less agreement with the question Â“compared to other organizations, I would value my relationship with this or ganization moreÂ” (M=3.23). Of the four control mutual ity items, study respondents most strongly agreed that the organization believes the opinions of people like them are legitimate (M=4.07). Respondents strongly agreed that the organization had a great amount of experience (M = 4.42), but were less inclined to agree that th e organization had great expertise (M=3.77).
45 Table 4. Descriptive Statistics Construct I tem M SD Attitude This organization is trustworthy. 4.12 1.95 This organization is responsible. 4.00 2.06 This organization is good. 4.29 2.05 This organization is favorable 4.02 2.19 This organization is positive 4.24 2.17 This organization is likeable 4.15 2.22 Trust I believe this organiza tion treats people like me fairly and justly. 4.11 1.57 Whenever this organization makes an important decision, I believe it will be concerned about people like me. 3.73 1.77 This organization can be relied on to keep its promises. 3.44 1.66 I believe that this organization would take the opinions of people like me into account when making decisions. 3.83 1.74 I feel very confident about this organizationÂ’s skills. 3.52 1.67 This organization has the ability to accomplish what it says it will do. 3.85 1.77 This organization makes truthful claims 3.50 1.63 I would trust this organization. 3.40 1.78 I would not believe what they tell me. 3.81 1.70 Satisfaction I would be happy with this organization. 3.71 1.69
46 Table 4. (Continued) Construct I tem M SD Both the organization and people like me would benefit from the relationship. 3.82 1.89 Most people like me would be happy in their interactions with this organization. 3.91 1.71 Generally speaking, I am pleased with the relationship this organiza tion has established with people like me. 3.69 1.73 Commitment I feel that this organization is trying to maintain a long-term commitment to people like me. 3.99 1.79 I can see that this organization wants to maintain a relationship with people like me. 4.24 1.79 There is a long-las ting bond between this organization and people like me. 3.53 1.68 Compared to other orga nizations, I would value my relationship with th is organization more. 3.23 1.61 Control Mutuality This organization and people like me would be attentive to what each other say. 4.01 1.66 This organization believes the opinions of people like me are legitimate. 4.07 1.61 In dealing with people like me, this organization has a tendency to th row its weight around. 3.90 1.55 I believe this organizati on would really listen to what people like me have to say. 3.61 1.77 Expertise This organizati on has a great amount of experience. 4.42 1.61 This organization does not have much experience. 3.26 1.58 This organization is skil led in what it does. 3.97 1.65 This organization has great expertise. 3.77 1.61
47 Relational and corporate credibility item analysis Before the hypotheses were tested, Cronb achÂ’s alpha was used to assess the internal consistency of the multiple-item i ndices for trust, satisfaction, commitment, control mutuality and expertise. Reversed it ems were transformed before performing the reliability analysis. Moderate reliability es timates were set at .70 or higher, strong reliability was set at .80 or higher, and any estimate above .90 was considered extremely strong. The results of the anal yses are shown in Table 5. Table 5. Final CronbachÂ’s Alphas fo r Multiple-Item Indices Variables Number o f items Trust .964 9 Satisfaction .929 4 Commitment .906 4 Control Mutuality .879 3 Expertise .889 3 Ten items were used to measure tr ust: six items from the dimension of relationship and four items from the dimensi on of corporate credibili ty. The alpha of the ten items was .911. The scale reliability was hi gher when the relationship dimension item Â“I would not believe what they tell meÂ” wa s dropped. The nine remaining items produced a reliability coefficient of .964. Satisfacti on and commitment were measured by four items each. Four items were used to test control mutuality, and the alph a indicated a higher scale reliability by dropping the item Â“In dea ling with people like me this organization
48 has the tendency to throw its weight around.Â” By dropping this item, the reliability coefficient changed from .743 to .879. Four items were included to measure expe rtise; however, the al pha indicated scale reliability was higher by dropping the revers e item Â“This organization does not have much experience.Â” The three remaining items produced a reliability coefficient of .889, whereas the original four items produced an alpha of .816. Following the reliability analysis, the multi-item scales for each variable were collapsed to create composite measures for hypothesis testing. The items were collapsed into indices for the five constructs: trust, satisfaction, commitment, control mutuality and expertise. Table 6 reports the means and standard deviations for each composite measure. Table 6. Means and Standard Deviations for Composite Measures M SD Trust 3.71 1.29 Satisfaction 3.79 1.61 Commitment 3.76 1.52 Control Mutuality 2.94 1.13 Expertise 3.04 1.10 Research Question 1 and Hypothesis 1 Research Question 1 asked what effect crisis response strate gy has on post-crisis perceived relationship quality and corporate cr edibility. To answer this question, a series of hypotheses were tested.
49 Hypothesis 1a. Hypothesis 1a predicted that the d eal strategy would have a greater positive effect on perceived relationship quality than the diminish and deny strategies. A series of one-way analysis of variance ( ANOVAs) tests were conducted to examine this hypothesis. The results indicated that crisis response strategy had a significant impact on the relationship dimension of trust, F (2,97)=6.227; p=.003; 2 =.114. Specifically, approximately 11% of the variance in trust was due to crisis strategy type. An analysis of the mean scores for trust for the three groups showed that the deal strategy had the greatest influence on trust (M = 4.16), follo wed by the diminish strategy (M = 3.87) and the deny strategy (M = 2.97). Table 7 reports th e trust means and standard deviations for trust across crisis response strategies, from the highest to the lowest. Table 7. Means and Standard Deviations for Trust across Crisis Response Strategy Treatment Grou p N M SD Deal 32 4.16 1.50 Diminish 33 3.87 1.57 Deny 35 2.97 1.26 Satisfaction was also significantly affected by crisis response strategy, F (2,97)=3.650; p=.030; 2=.070. Specifically, 7% of the va riance in satisfaction was due to crisis strategy type. An evaluation of the m ean scores for satisfaction indicated the deal strategy (M = 4.26) was higher than both the diminish (M = 3.92) and deny (M = 3.25) strategies. The mean and standard deviation sc ores for satisfaction ac ross crisis response strategies are shown in Table 8.
50 Table 8. Means and Standard Deviations for Satisfact ion Across Crisis Response Strategy Treatment Grou p N M SD Deal 31 4.26 1.52 Diminish 33 3.92 1.68 Deny 36 3.25 1.50 An analysis of the results determined th at crisis response st rategy had a significant and strong impact on commitment, F (2,99)=7.12; p=.001; 2=.126). Specifically, nearly 13% of the variance in commitment was due to crisis strategy type. A cursory analysis of the results showed that the mean commitment score for the deal strategy (M = 4.39) was greater than the diminish (M = 3.83) and deny (M = 3.10) stra tegies. Table 9 reports the means and standard deviations for commi tment across crisis response strategy. Table 9. Means and Standard Deviations for Commitm ent Across Crisis Response Strategy Treatment Grou p N M SD Deal 33 4.39 1.39 Diminish 33 3.83 1.57 Deny 36 3.10 1.34 Treatment effects on control mutuality were found to be significant, F (2,97)=5.221; p=.007; 2=.097). Approximately 10% of the variance in control mutuality was due to crisis strategy type. An evalua tion of the mean scores (found in Table 10) indicated that the deal strategy produced the greatest influence on control mutuality (M = 4.35), followed by the diminish (M = 4.17) and deny (M = 3.30) strategies.
51 Table 10. Means and Standard Deviations for Contro l Mutuality across Crisis Response Strategy Treatment Grou p N M SD Deal 33 4.35 1.41 Diminish 32 4.17 1.58 Deny 35 3.30 1.34 Data analysis indicated that the d eal crisis response strategy produced significantly higher mean scores than the diminish or deny strategies across the relationship measures. Post hoc analysis was conducted to examine specific differences in means. The follow-up tests consisted of a ll pairwise comparisons among the different types of crisis response strategies. Tukey HS D was used to control for Type I error. The results indicated that the mean difference fo r the deal and diminish strategies were significantly higher than the deny strategy for the relations hip dimensions of trust, commitment and control mutuality. In each cas e, the means for the deal strategy were higher than the means for the deny strategy. Th e post hoc tests revealed that although the level of satisfaction under the de al strategy was significantly hi gher than that of the deny strategy, the diminish strategy was not signifi cantly different from either of the other strategies. Table 11 presents the results of the multiple comparison. Table 11. Post Hoc Comparisons for Relations hip Dimensions Across Treatments Dimension (I)Crisis Strategy (J) Crisis Strategy Mean difference Sig Tukey Trust Deny Diminish -.8369* .013 Deal -1.1821* .000 Diminish Deny .8369* .013 Deal -.3452 .478
52 Table 11. (Continued) Dimension (I) Crisis Strategy (J) Crisis Strategy Mean difference Sig Deal Deny 1.1821* .000 Diminish .3452 .478 Satisfaction Deny Diminish -.6742 .091 Deal -1.0081* .007 Diminish Deny .6742 .091 Deal -.3338 .572 Deal Deny 1.0081* .007 Diminish .3338 .572 Commitment Deny Diminish -.7361* .038 Deal -1.2967* .000 Diminish Deny .7361* .038 Deal -.5606 .156 Deal Deny 1.2967* .000 Diminish .5606 .156 Control Mutuality Deny Diminish -.7025* .012 Deal -.7050* .010 Diminish Deny .7025* .012 Deal -.0024 1.000 Deal Deny .7050* .010 Diminish .0024 1.00 *The mean difference is si g nificant at the .05 level Hypothesis 1b. Hypothesis 1b predicted that th e deal strategy would have a greater positive effect on corporate credibi lity than the diminish and deny strategies. Expertise was the main dimension used to as sess corporate credibi lity. An evaluation of the results indicated that there were no signi ficant differences in expertise mean scores across crisis response strategies, F (2, 97)=.249; p=.780; 2=.005). Hypothesis 1b was not supported. However, respondents in the deal treatment group repor ted slightly higher expertise scores (M = 4.13) than those in the diminish (M = 4.11) and deny (M = 3.90)
53 treatment groups. Table 12 displays the expertis e means and standard deviations for each treatment group. Table 12. Means and Standard Deviations for Expert ise Across Crisis Response Strategy Treatment Grou p N M SD Deal 33 4.13 1.40 Diminish 32 4.11 1.63 Deny 35 3.90 1.40 Research question 2 and hypothesis 2. Research question 2 asked what effect relationship history has on post-crisis relationship quality and corporate credibilit y. Two hypotheses were tested to investigate the research question posed. Hypothesis 2a. Hypothesis 2a predicted that post relationship quality would be more positive when a companyÂ’s relationship history is positive than when it is negative. A series of one-way analysis of variance ( ANOVA) tests were conducted to examine this hypothesis. The results indicated that relati onship history had a significant impact on the relationship dimension of trust, F (1, 98)=37.90; p=<.001; 2 =.279. The eta square index ( ) indicated that approxim ately 28% of the variance wa s accounted for by relationship history. Table 13 reports the trust means a nd standard deviations across relationship history.
54 Table 13. Means and Standard Deviations for Tr ust Across Relationship History Treatment Grou p N M SD Negative 48 2.82 1.28 Positive 54 4.42 1.52 Relationship history also signi ficantly affected satisfaction, F (1, 98)=43.96; p=<.001; =.310. Specifically, 31% of the variance in satisfaction was due to company history. An evaluation of the mean scores for satisfaction indicated that positive relationship history (M=4.62) was higher than negative relationshi p history (2.84). The means and standard deviation scores for satis faction across relations hip history are shown in Table 14. Table 14. Means and Standard Deviations for Satis faction Across Relationship History Treatment Grou p N M SD Negative 47 2.84 1.43 Positive 53 4.62 1.61 The relationship dimension of commitment was also significantly affected by relationship history. F (1,100)=36.99; p=<.001; =.270. The eta square index indicated that 27% of the variance in commitment was due to relationship hi story. Table 15 reports the means and standard deviations for commitment across relationship history.
55 Table 15. Means and Standard Deviations for Comm itment Across Relationship History Treatment Grou p N M SD Negative 49 2.94 1.29 Positive 53 4.51 1.31 An analysis of the results determined th at relationship histor y had a significant impact on control mutuality, F (1, 98)=35.10; p=<.001; =.264. Specifically, approximately 26% of the variance was accounted for by relationship history. An evaluation of the mean scores (found in Ta ble 16) indicated that positive relationship history (M=4.65) produced a greater influe nce on control mutuality than negative relationship history (M=3.12). Table 16. Means and Standard Deviations for Control Mutuality Across Relationship History Treatment Grou p N M SD Negative 47 3.12 1.21 Positive 53 4.65 1.38 Analysis of the data indicated that positive relationship history produced significantly higher mean scores across th e relationship measures than negative relationship history. Thus hypothesis 2a is supported. Hypothesis 2b. Hypothesis 2 b predicted that post-cris is corporate credibility will be more positive when relationship history is positive th an when it is negative. An evaluation of
56 the results indicated that relationship hist ory had a significant impact on expertise, F (1, 98)=29.81; p=<.001; =.233. Approximately 23% of the va riance in expertise was due to relationship history. Table 17 displays the means and standard deviations in expertise across relationship history. H ypothesis 2 b is supported. Table 17. Means and Standard Deviations for Expe rtise Across Relationship History Treatment Grou p N M SD Negative 48 2.82 1.28 Positive 54 4.42 1.52 Research Question 3 and Hypothesis 3 Research question 3 asked whether or not crisis response strategy type was moderated by relationship history. A 2 x 3 ANOVA was conducted to evaluate interaction effects between relationship histor y and crisis response st rategies on perceived relationship quality and corporate credibilit y. The means and standard deviations for dimensions of the relationship dimension of trust as functions of the two factors are presented in Table 18. The ANOVA indicate d no significant interaction between relationship history and cr isis response strategy, F (2, 94)=1.16, p=.32, 2=.024).
57 Table 18. Means and Standard Deviations for History, Strategy and Trust Relationship History Crisis Strategy M SD N Negative Deny 2.51 1.16 19 Diminish 2.97 1.45 16 Deal 3.08 1.25 13 Total 2.82 1.28 48 Positive Deny 3.51 1.19 16 Diminish 4.73 1.18 17 Deal 4.90 1.19 19 Total 4.42 1.31 52 Total Deny 2.97 1.26 35 Diminish 3.87 1.57 33 Deal 4.16 1.50 32 Total 3.65 1.52 100 A two-way analysis of variance yielded no interaction effect between relationship history and crisis st rategy on satisfaction, F (2, 94)=.45, p=.64, 2=.009). Table 19 shows the means and standard deviations for satisfac tion as a function of th e two main factors. Table 19. Means and Standard Deviations for Hi story, Strategy and Satisfaction Relationship History Crisis Strategy M SD N Negative Deny 2.60 1.41 19 Diminish 2.98 1.53 16 Deal 3.04 1.36 12 Total 2.84 1.43 47 Positive Deny 3.99 1.25 17
58 Table 19. (Continued) Relationshi p Histor y Crisis Strate gy M SD N Diminish 4.81 1.32 17 Deal 5.03 1.04 19 Total 4.62 1.26 53 Total Deny 3.25 1.50 36 Diminish 3.92 1.68 33 Deal 4.26 1.52 31 Total 3.79 1.61 100 Once again, there was no significant intera ction between relationship history and crisis strategy on commitment, F (2, 96)=1.01, p=.35, 2=.022). Table 20 presents the means and standard deviations for commitment. Table 20. Means and Standard Deviations for Hi story, Strategy and Commitment Relationshi p Histor y Crisis Strate gy M SD N Negative Deny 2.62 1.30 19 Diminish 2.94 1.48 16 Deal 3.38 .965 14 Total 2.94 1.29 49 Positive Deny 3.63 1.19 17 Diminish 4.68 1.14 17 Deal 5.14 1.18 19 Total 4.51 1.31 53 Total Deny 3.10 1.32 36 Diminish 3.83 1.57 33 Deal 4.40 1.39 33 Total 3.75 1.52 102
59 The ANOVA results for control mutualit y uncovered no signif icant interaction between both factors, F (2, 94)=.56, p=.573, 2=.012). The means and standard deviations for control mutual ity are shown in Table 21. Table 21. Means and Standard Deviations for Histor y, Strategy and Control Mutuality Relationship History Crisis Strategy M SD N Negative Deny 3.10 .823 18 Diminish 3.53 1.27 15 Deal 3.50 .784 14 Total 3.36 .980 47 Positive Deny 3.94 1.16 17 Diminish 4.84 .894 16 Deal 4.74 .814 19 Total 4.51 1.03 52 Total Deny 3.51 1.08 35 Diminish 4.21 1.27 31 Deal 4.21 1.00 33 Total 3.96 1.16 99 The means and standard deviations for expertise are presented in Table 22. The ANOVA results indicated that there was no in teraction between relationship history and crisis strategy, F (2, 94)=2.17, p=.120, 2 =.044).
60 Table 22. Means and Standard Deviations for Hi story, Strategy and Expertise Relationship History Crisis Strategy M SD N Negative Deny 3.57 1.61 18 Diminish 3.23 1.40 16 Deal 3.07 1.08 14 Total 3.31 1.39 48 Positive Deny 4.25 1.08 17 Diminish 5.00 1.36 16 Deal 4.91 1.06 19 Total 4.72 1.19 52 Total Deny 3.90 1.40 35 Diminish 4.11 1.62 32 Deal 4.13 1.40 33 Total 4.04 1.47 100 The findings from this study do not suppor t hypothesis 3. There appears to be no interaction effect between crisis response strategies and relationship history on relationship dimensions a nd corporate credibility.
61 Chapter Five Discussion The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of crisis response strategies on post-crisis perceived relati onship quality and corporate cr edibility. Another aim was to explore the effect of relations hip history on post-crisis per ceived relationship quality and corporate credibility. To accomplish these ob jectives, six hypotheses were tested. This study used Hon and GrunigÂ’s (1999) rela tionship scale to measure post-crisis perceived relationship quality, and found hi gher scale reliability for satisfaction, commitment and control mutuality than the original study. Although the alpha for trust(.96) is also higher in this study than in Hon and Gruni gÂ’s (.86), they cannot be truly compared because this study merged corporate credibility trust factor s with the original scale items to produce four additional items A higher alpha is usually generated when the scale is longer, and so a scale with six items cannot be expected to have as high an alpha as a scale with nine items. Hon and Grunig (1999) tested five organizations and found the average alpha for satisfaction (using four items) was .88. The four items included to test satisfaction in this study produced a reliability coefficient of .93. The four items used to measure
62 commitment produced an alpha of .91. The average reliability alpha for commitment in Hon and GrunigÂ’s (1999) investigation was .84. It is possible that the alphas determined in this study were higher because only one organization was tested, as opposed to computing the average of five organizations. H1a posited that the deal crisis response strategy would have a greater positive effect on relationship quality than diminish a nd deny strategies. The results supported this hypothesis. Crisis strategy type had an impact on dimensions of relationship; approximately 13% of the variance in commitme nt and 11% of variance in trust could be attributed to strategy type. The mean scores for the deal strategy were higher than the other two strategies across all the dimensions of relationship. The deal strategy displayed a greater positive effect on all relationship dimensions than the deny or diminish strategies. The diminish strategy had a gr eater impact than de ny strategy on trust, commitment and control mutuality, but th ere was no significant difference for the dimension of satisfaction. These results sugge st that more accommodative strategies are more effective in producing positive postcrisis responses than less accommodative strategies. An analysis of the mean scores of the relationship variables revealed relatively low scores for the questions: I would tr ust this organization (M=3.40); generally speaking, I am pleased with the relationship this organization has established with people like me (M=3.69); and, compared to other or ganizations, I would value my relationship with this organization more (M=3.23). One fact or which may have attributed to these low
63 scores is the fact that re spondents were responding to a hypothetical situation with a fictional organization. While ther e are challenges in assessing trust and satisfaction with a fictional organization, there is still value in the results found. The notion that perception is reality is fitting in this case because respondentsÂ’ perception of relationship and credibility can be considered real despite the actual existence of the organization. The creation of a fictional organiza tion was necessary to control for possible biases that may have existed from previous experien ce with an actual organization. An analysis of the descriptive statistic s suggested the presence the third person effect. Davidson (1983) argued th at individuals often reason th at others (third persons) would be more influenced by messages and re lationships than they would. There was a higher mean score for the satisfaction item Â“most people like me would be happy with this organizationÂ” (M=3.91) than Â“generally speaking, I am pleased with the relationship this organization has established with peopl e like meÂ” (M=3.69). This is also evident across the dimensions of trus t and commitment; the mean scores for items that directly assessed the dimensions between the responde nts and the organizati on were lower than the items that assessed the respondentsÂ’ pe rception of the dimensions between the organization and others. This result, although unexpected, was not surprising. Respondents may have assumed that unlike themselves, others probably had actual interaction with the organizati on. With such a belief, it is na tural to rate the relationship dimensions between the organization and ot hers higher than between the organization
64 and them. Respondents may have believed that their relationship w ith the organization was less susceptible to organizational infl uence than another personÂ’s relationship. H1b, which stated that the deal strate gy would have a greater positive effect on corporate credibility than diminish and de ny strategies, was not supported by the results of this study. Corporate credib ility was assessed through the dimension of expertise. The results indicate that crisis response stra tegy does not affect the perception of an organizationÂ’s experience, skill, or expertis e. One possible reason for this finding could be the type of crisis used. This study used an accident which could have been labeled either a technical breakdown or a human brea kdown. It may be that accidents have less impact on an organizationÂ’s expertise than anot her type of crisis (organizational misdeed for example). Or perhaps, like Coombs ( 1998) discovery, since accidents have low personal control, they generate more sympat hy from the public. It is possible that this caused respondents to be less critical of th e organizationÂ’s expert ise level. Further research is needed into the impact of crisis types on corporate credibility. Crisis communication literature emphasizes the importance of relationship history in crisis management and attribution of cr isis responsibility (Fer n-Banks, 2002; Coombs, 2000). The results of this study support H2, which posited that both post-crisis relationship quality and corporate credibility will be more positive when relationship history is positive than when it is negative. The findings show that there is a strong relationship between relationshi p history and perception of the relationship. 28% of the
65 variance in trust and 31% of the variance in satisfaction wa s attributed to relationship history. The significant difference in means be tween positive relationship history and negative relationship history illustrate the imp act of those factors on corporate credibility and the organization-public re lationship. A positive relations hip history can act as a buffer to protect the organizat ionÂ’s reputation and relationshi p with its publics during a time of crisis. The results of this study are consistent with CoombsÂ’ (2008) findings that organizations with a negative relationship hi story experience more reputational damage than organizations with a positive relationship history. If an organizationÂ’s reputation is weak it is likely that its relationshi p with its publics is weak as well. The significant and strong relationship between relationship history and all relationship dimensions gives credence to the relational appr oach to crisis communication and management. Coombs (2006) noted that cris is history and relati onship history can act as intensifiers during a crisis. Negative hi story could intensify perception of crisis responsibility, whereas positive history could create a halo effect, protecting the organization from severe damage. During a crisis, members of the public may perceive less damage to an organizationÂ’s reputation and credibility if a positive relationship history existed (Coombs, 2006). Positive relationship history may give an organization more flexibility in selecting a crisis response strategy. An organization that has a positive history may be able to draw on the strength of its relationship with its publics and eff ectively use a less
66 accommodative strategy to respond to a cris is. Yungwook & Lee (2008) noted that the public with a favorable relati onship was less likely to be harsh on an organization than the public with an unfav orable relationship. The third hypothesis investigated the rela tionship between crisis response strategy and relationship history. The anticipated resu lt was that the effects of crisis response strategies on post crisis relationship quality and corporate credibility will be moderated by relationship history. The fi ndings of this study did not support the third hypothesis. Although no interaction effect exis ted, an analysis of the results reveal that mean scores for positive relationship history were more positive than the mean scores for negative history across all dimensions of relationshi p and credibility. In each case, the deal strategy reflected the highest scores, followed by diminish and then deny strategies. It is possible that more important factors may ex ist which moderate the effects of crisis response strategies on the organization-public relationship and corporate credibility. The findings of this study help extend the situati onal crisis communication theory because it shifts the focus from just proper crisis response selection to strategy impact on the organization and its publics. The next chapter presents the conclusions of this study along with limitations faced. Implications of the findings are disc ussed and areas for future research are suggested.
67 Chapter Six Conclusion This study sought to investigate the impact of crisis response strategies and relationship history on organization-public relations hip quality and corporate credibility. Specifically, it asked whether mo re accommodative strategies and positive relationship history had a gr eater effect on dimensions of the organization-public relationship and corporate cr edibility. Additionally, it queried whether or not an interaction effect existed between crisis response strategy and re lationship history. The findings indicate that the diminish strate gy had a greater effect on dimensions of relationship than the deny strategy. The d eal strategy had a greater effect on the dimensions of relationship than both dimini sh and deny strategies. It appears that the more accommodative the crisis response strategy, the more positive the impact on trust, satisfaction, commitment and control mutuality. These findings provide support for previous studies that have advocated adopting a relational approach to crisis management. Re lationship history signifi cantly affected all the dimensions of the organization-public relationship and co rporate credibility. Relationship history can serve to confirm or negate an organizationÂ’s claims of trustworthiness and expertise. It can be inferred that nurturi ng a positive relationship is
68 essential to the successful management of a crisis. Moreover, it appe ars that relationship management is more important than message strategy in post-cris is communication. In fact, building a positive relationship with oneÂ’s publics may serve as an important measure in preventative crisis management. Th is finding also supports the current shift in the field of public relations from message communication to relationship management. There was no significant impact of cris is response strategy on expertise. This finding may provide some measure of relief to organizations that find themselves facing a crisis. It implies that despite whatever strategy may be used to respond, the publicÂ’s perception of expertise may not significantly change. Howeve r, such assumptions cannot be relied upon from this investigation alone; more research is needed in the area of crisis response strategies and corporate credibility. Limitations Despite the significant findings that va lidate the impact of crisis response strategies and relationship hi story on dimensions of the or ganization-public relationship, there are limitations to this study. First, it is unlikely that the sample underg raduate students used was representative of the general public. Since the respondents we re not randomly select ed, the results are only specific to the sample and cannot be generalized to a larger population. Although the type of organization used was carefully selected based on the probability of the respondents having an actual re lationship with such an orga nization, it is possible that no
69 such relationship existed for some respondent s and so it may have been more difficult for them to answer the questions. One major challenge in this study wa s measuring relationship dimensions between a public and an organi zation that did not truly exist. It may have been difficult for respondents to perceive themselves ha ving a relationship w ith the organization presented and so that may have affected the way they responded. Additionally, the use of an experimentation method possibly created responses, which under natural conditions, may have differed due to the in fluence of othe r variables. Due to the restricted scope of this study, other variables which could have affected the organization-public relationship a nd corporate credibility during a crisis were not considered. Coombs and Holladay (2002) id entified thirteen cris is types. Only the accident crisis was considered in this i nvestigation. Other crises may have produced different responses. SCCT identifies ten strategi es that can be used to respond to a crisis. For the purpose of this study, those strategies were collapsed into three categories: deny, diminish and deal. Thus, it remains unknown which specific stra tegy rendered the greatest effect on the dime nsions of relationship. Areas for Future Research The following suggestions for future research are presented based on the findings of this study and the limitations identifie d. The Situational Crisis Communication Theory Model indicates that relations hip history not only affects an organizationÂ’s reputation but
70 attributions of crisis responsibility. Th is study can be extended to examine the relationship between relationshi p history and attributions of responsibility. Currently conflicting research exists regarding the existence of a halo effect. The phenomenon needs to be thoroughly investigated. This study did not consider various type s of crises. Future research should examine whether or not the impact of crisis response strategies a nd relationship history vary by crisis type. It would also be useful to test the effect each crisis response strategy has on the dimensions of relati onship to determine if different strategies within the same posture have a different effect or if all strate gies within the same posture generate similar results. Corporate credibility is a natural exte nsion of organizational reputation. More research is needed to investigate the impact of crisis types and crisis response strategies on corporate credibility and organizational reputation. Finally, one common criticism of organization-public relationship research is that it is ofte n unilateral. Although challenging, future research should attempt to assess the perspec tive of both entities involved in the relationship being examined. Implications The results of this study hold both practic al and theoretical implications for public relations practitioners and researchers. It extends the crisis co mmunication perspective from focusing on crisis response strategies to assessing the effectiven ess of those options
71 on the organizationÂ’s publics. It contributes to understanding the eff ectiveness of crisis response strategies in building and maintain ing specific dimensions of relationship. The findings support the rela tional approach to crisis management. The strong impact of positive relationship history on all relationship dimensions and corporate credibility emphasize the impor tance of maintaining good relationships prior to possible crises. The stronger relationship between rela tionship history and relationship dimensions over crisis response strategies suggest that during a crisis relationship management is more important than message strategy in protecting the organization-public relationship and the organizationÂ’s credibi lity. It would be prudent for public relations practitioners and other crisis managers to focus on devel oping a positive relationship prior to crisis occurrence as a means of combating possibl e detrimental effects during a crisis. The emphasis of public relations is relationships and this shoul d be the case in crisis management as well.
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82 Appendix A.1: Respondent Instructions Instructions 1. This packet contains a ma gazine article, a press re lease and a questionnaire. When instructed, begin reading the docu ment then answer the questions that follow. 2. Most questions make use of a rating scale with seven places. Please answer the questions by circling the number that best describes your opinion. Circle only one number on a single scale. 3. There are a total of three sections. Plea se read each question carefully and be sure to answer all items.
83 Appendix B1. Positive Relationship History
84 Appendix B.2: Negative Relationship History
85 Appendix C.1: Attitudinal Scale Please circle the number that best corres ponds with your belief about Party Planet. This organization is: Trustworthy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Untrustworthy Responsible 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Irresponsible Good 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Bad Favorable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Unfavorable Positive 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Negative Likeable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Unlikeable
86 Appendix D.1: Deny Treatment
87 Appendix D.2: Diminish Treatment
88 Appendix D.3: Deal Treatment
89 Appendix E.1: Measurement Instrument The following questions ask your opinion of the organization that produced the press release. On the following scales, where 1 represents Strongly disagree and 7 represents Strongly agree please indicate the extent to which you agree with each item by circling the number that best reflects your opinion. There is no right or wrong answer. 1) I believe this organization treats pe ople like me fairly and justly. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 2) I would be happy with this organization. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 3) I feel that this organization is trying to maintain a long-term commitment to people like me. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 4) This organization has a gr eat amount of experience. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 5) This organization and people like me would be attentive to what each other say Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 6) Whenever this organization makes an important decision, I believe it will be concerned about people like me. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 7) Both the organization and people like me would benefit from the relationship. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree
90 8) I can see that this organization wants to maintain a relationship with people like me. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 9) This organization does not have much experience. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 10) This organization believes the opinions of people like me are legitimate. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 11) I believe this organization can be relied on to keep its promises. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 12) Most people like me would be happy in thei r interactions with this organization. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 13) There is a long-lasting b ond between this organization and people like me. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 14) This organization is sk illed in what it does. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 15) In dealing with people like me, this or ganization has a tendency to throw its weight around. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 16) I believe that this organization would take the opinions of people like me into account when making decisions. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree
91 17) Generally speaking, I am pleased with th e relationship this organization has established with people like me. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 18) Compared to other organizations, I woul d value my relationship with this organization more. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 19) This organization has great expertise. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 20) I believe this organization would really lis ten to what people like me have to say. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 21) I feel very confident about this organizationÂ’s skills. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 22) This organization is honest. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 23) This organization has the ability to accomplish what it says it will do. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 24) This organization makes truthful claims. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree 25) I would trust this organization. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree
92 26) I would not believe what they tell me. Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly agree The following questions will help us understand your answers. Please respond by marking the appropriate box. 27) What is your academic rank? Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior Other _____________________ 28) What is your gender? Male Female 29) What College are you in? Arts & Science Business Education English Honors College Medicine Nursing Public Health Visual/Performing Arts 30) What is your age? ______________________ Thank you for participating in this study!