A crisis by any other name?

It seems that crises are everywhere if you only take your news from headlines and key stories. Therefore it is no wonder that the perceptions of many can be shaped by what passes through their self-developed news and cognitive filters. More broadly, do the headlines and stories help develop what we think, both positively and negatively. The short answer is, it varies, as you may expect, although the nuances are interesting.

This article takes a small group of participants in the United States and compares their reactions to hearing about a tomato crisis and the Fresh Veg (company name) tomato crisis. The study group was relatively small, but gave valuable indicative data, suggesting that participants were more likely to lose confidence in a product when a crisis was framed or labelled with a company name, rather than its generic distinction. However, all is not lost, and framing effects did not transfer to perceptions about the company-at-large, it was found, which may be some comfort to public relations and communications professionals.

A brief but informative literature review helped set the scene. The research is short but well-designed to focus on the task. Whether there could have been greater diversity in the pool of research subjects is debatable, as this concentrated on college students and it could be instructive to see if perceptions were reflected by broader society or are indicative of their demographic.

If the findings are representative, it should give some comfort to companies to suggest that their company name will not be unduly affected should a problem occur with one of their products, whether actual or blown up by the media where every small issue can be blown up to a ‘crisis’ today. Crisis labelling, as the researchers called it, had a little negative effect on readers’ corporate perceptions and that in some situations it may sustain or strengthen matters.

Limitations were clearly stated, and the discussion section was exciting and engaging. I could see this research being a sound basis for additional, broader study and consideration going forward.

Appelman, A. and Asmara, M., 2018. A crisis by any other name? Examining the effects of journalistic “crisis labeling” on corporate perceptions. Newspaper Research Journal39(1), pp.83-92. doi:10.1177/0739532918761060

A post-publication review of this article that appears on Publons.