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Effective Crisis Communication

Effective Crisis Communication
Moving From Crisis to Opportunity

Fourth Edition

November 2017 | 240 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

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

New to the Fourth Edition: 

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

Chapter 1. Defining Crisis Communication
A Definition of Crisis Communication

Expanding the Traditional Definition of Crisis

Disasters, Emergencies, Crisis, and Risk

Types of Crises

The Significance of Crisis in a Global Environment

Understanding the Misconceptions Associated With Crises and Crisis Communication


Chapter 2. Understanding Crisis Communication Theory and Practice
Media Theories and Crisis Communication

Organizational Theories of Crisis Communication

Crisis Communication Theories That Describe, Explain, and Prescribe

Understanding and Defining the Threat Bias in Crisis Communication


Chapter 3. Lessons on Effective Crisis Communication
Determining Your Goals

Partnering With Crisis Audiences

Understanding the Diversity of Your Audiences

Primary and Secondary Stakeholders Defined

Communicating With Underrepresented Groups During Crises

A Word on Partnerships and Listening

What Information Do Stakeholders Need Following a Crisis?

Is Certain Communication Always the Best Approach?

Avoid Overreassuring Your Stakeholders

Tell Your Stakeholders How to Protect Themselves

Reducing and Intensifying Uncertainty Before, During, and After Organizational Crises

Social Media and Effective Crisis Communication

The Power of Positive Action


Chapter 4. Applying the Lessons to Produce Effective Crisis Communication
Example 4.1. The Largest Environmental Crisis in United States History: BP and the United States Coast Guard Respond

Example 4.2. A Plant Fire at Malden Mills

Example 4.3. Long-Term Complexities in the Tainted Odwalla Apple Juice Crisis

Example 4.4. What’s in a Name?: Beef Products Incorporated Face “Pink Slime”

Example 4.5. Rural Renewal After a Tornado in Greensburg, Kansas

Example 4.6. A Costly YouTube Hoax for Domino’s Pizza

Chapter 5. Lessons on Managing Crisis Uncertainty Effectively
Defining Uncertainty

Unexpected Crises and Uncertainty

Nonroutine Crisis Events and Uncertainty

Threat Perception and Uncertainty

Short Response Time and Uncertainty

The Impact of Crisis-Induced Uncertainty on Stakeholders

Managing Communication Ambiguity Ethically During Crisis

Consistent Questions of Ambiguity

Training, Simulations, and Uncertainty

Belief Structures and Uncertainty


Chapter 6. Applying the Lessons for Managing Crisis Uncertainty Effectively
Example 6.1. Tennessee Valley Authority and the Kingston Ash Slide

Example 6.2. L’Aquila: A Case of Miscommunication

Example 6.3. General Motors and Mary Barra

Example 6.4. King Car’s Response to the 2008 Melamine Crisis

Example 6.5. Flint, Michigan, Water Contamination

Example 6.6. Fukushima Daiichi: Uncertainty Created by Three Interrelated Crisis Events

Chapter 7. Lessons on Effective Crisis Leadership
The Importance of Effective Leadership

Why Visibility Following a Crisis Is Important

Developing Networks of Support

Being Available, Open, and Honest

The Impact of Leadership on Renewal Following a Crisis

Ineffective Leadership During a Crisis

What Makes an Effective Crisis Leader?

Leadership Virtues

Managing Uncertainty, Responding, Resolving, and Learning From Crisis


Chapter 8. Applying the Lessons for Developing Effective Crisis Leadership
Example 8.1. The Sweeping Impact of a Contaminated Food Ingredient: Peanut Corporation of America

Example 8.2. A Fire at Cole Hardwood

Example 8.3. The Largest Food-Borne Illness Outbreak in History: Schwan’s Sales Enterprises

Example 8.4. Freedom Industries and the West Virginia Drinking Water Contamination

Example 8.5. United Airlines: Failed Crisis Leadership

Example 8.6. SeaWorld’s Orca: A Symbol of Tragedy

Chapter 9. Learning Through Failure
Failing to Learn From Failure

Learning Through Failure

Vicarious Learning

Organizational Memory



Chapter 10. Risk Communication
Distinguishing Between Risk and Crisis

Identifying Risk


Analyzing Multiple Audiences

Convergence Theory and Risk Communication

Responsible Risk Communication


Chapter 11. Responding to the Ethical Demands of Crisis

Corporations as Moral Agents


Values and Crisis

Responsibility and Accountability

Access to Information

Humanism and Care

The Role of Values in a Crisis Response


Chapter 12. Facilitating Renewal Through Effective Crisis Communication
Considering the Opportunities Associated With Crisis

Theoretical Components of the Discourse of Renewal

Summary of the Discourse of Renewal

The Discourse of Renewal and Crisis Planning


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



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

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