• How reputation went down with the ship: How students can apply the situational crisis communication theory

      DiTirro, Lindsey; DiTirro, Lindsey
      Topic/Problem Statement: It can be difficult for students to not only understand the different theories in the public relations field, but to understand the importance of using theory in real-life situations. It is also important that students are able to apply theory to real-world examples. Theory can be somewhat abstract and unrelatable for students. However, they will need to apply theory to practice in their jobs, so it is an important skill they learn in the classroom first. Context: For PRL 101, Introduction to Public Relations, it is important students are exposed to different public relations theories. These theories will be used in subsequent PR courses. A foundation in theory is important for success in PR. However, theory does not always seem like it can fit in real-life and that it is more a classroom skill. Creating activities that allow theory to seem approachable and applicable are necessary to connect students with the content. Approach: This case study assignment teaches students the Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) (Coombs, 2007) by applying the theory’s concepts to an actual public relations crisis, different situations Carnival Cruise Lines faced. The goal of this assignment is to have small groups present an opening statement for a mock news conference to demonstrate how they applied SCCT to create a post-crisis message. Because these are situations that already occurred, students are able to compare their responses with how Carnival actually responded. This activity provides an opportunity to learn theory, apply that theory to practice and develop important PR skills that can be used in a range of crisis situations.  Reflection/Discussion: Through this assignment students are able to learn about an influential PR theory and apply that theory. However, most importantly, students are able to learn that careful planning is needed to create and implement post-crisis communication. It is easy for students to judge Carnival for making these PR blunders. Yet, when the students are tasked to create their own responses, they begin to realize how many factors play a role into a crisis situation. This activity creates a fun, interactive classroom for students. This activity could be applied to many different situations and theories and would be easy to replicate in other PR classrooms and even other disciplines. Reference: Coombs, W. T. (2007). Protecting organization reputations during a crisis: The development and application of situational crisis communication theory. Corporate Reputation Review, 10, 163-176.