Crisis Jackinthebox

Crisis Jackinthebox - Consistent Questions of Ambiguity in...

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ABSTRACT. The complexity of crisis situations allows for corporate responses to create multiple inter- pretations for organizational stakeholders concerning crisis evidence, the organization’s intentions, and the locus of responsibility. Hence, organizations have the ability to emphasize an interpretation where the organization is viewed most favorably. Using Jack in the Box as a case study, we apply stakeholder theory to ascertain the ethical implications of employing strategic ambiguity in organizational crisis commu- nication. We conclude that the crisis response provided by Jack in the Box’s leaders was ethically questionable in the areas of evidence, intent, and locus because the ambiguity they introduced privileged their financial stakeholders over others. Ultimately, this strategic use of ambiguity diminished the delib- erative ability of Jack in the Box’s publics. Most organizational theorists agree that crises, of varying magnitude, are inevitable (Fink, 1986; Perrow, 1984). If handled effectively, organiza- tions have the potential to benefit from crises. To do so, effective communication is essential. Crable and Vibbert (1985) contend that organi- zations have the right and capacity to participate in the formation of public policy rather than simply being responsive to regulatory agencies. They view crisis as “a moment of decision” where a policy resolution is demanded (p. 6). Rather than being passive in such instances, Crable and Vibbert recommend that organiza- tions engage in “corporate advocacy” or “issue advocacy” so that when issues peak in the public agenda, the organization is prepared to argue for policy decisions that are conducive to their goals. Any strategic selection of messages by organiza- tions facing crisis, however, must take into account the complex audiences organizations face. Although single speakers seek to appeal to as large an audience as possible, organizations can not survive unless they are able to satisfy diverse audiences or stakeholders with distinct interests (Ice, 1991; Schultz and Seeger, 1991). For example, corporations must maintain the support of customers, employees, stockholders, and regulatory agencies. In crisis situations, the inter- ests and needs of these distinct groups are often contradictory. Schuetz (1990) explains that companies often structure a complex case in response to a crisis and direct different elements of the case to different audiences. She explains that, in some extreme cases, “companies may advocate new policies and defend old ones in the same messages” (p. 283). In short, the composite corporate audience serves as an important con- straint to organizations communicating in the aftermath of a crisis. Most contemporary definitions of organiza-
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Crisis Jackinthebox - Consistent Questions of Ambiguity in...

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