Strategic Crisis Communication in a Societal Context

Amanda Boesen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the theoretical field within crisis communication to analyze potential gaps in the theory according to societal developments. Over the past twenty years, the amount of corporate crises has increased due to societal expectations to companies. The theory of strategic crisis communication allows companies to respond in a legitimate way to its stakeholders during a crisis situation. However, the theories are not updated with an understandings of how the societal expectations have changed, and what exactly is expected from the companies today. The theoretical foundation for corporate crisis communication strategies, which is used to make highly critical decisions within a company, is not up to date and hence the use of it can result in ineffective crisis communication. This thesis therefore contributes with an understanding of how the combination of crisis communication theory and institutional theory can contribute to the theoretical field within crisis communication to developing the theoretical field to focus more on societal understanding. The method used in the thesis is the critical discourse analysis by Norman Fairclough (2010). The model is used to discover gaps in the theoretical field within crisis communication and hence to analyze how institutional theory can contribute to fill out these gaps. The critical discourse analysis is used as a frame in the thesis to understand the theory in a societal context and hence allow me to discuss and compare the theories according to the different levels in the critical discourse analysis model. Within the thesis, I have chosen to use theories from Benoit (1997), Coombs (2007; 2012), and Johansen and Frandsen (2015) to gain an overall understanding of the theoretical field within crisis communication. Thereafter, I have used institutional theory from Kjær (2006), Suchman (1995), and DiMaggio and Powell (1991) to analyze institutional pressure, legitimacy, and institutional isomorphism in connection with expectations from companies stakeholders. The findings from this thesis are that institutional theory can contribute to the overall theoretical field within crisis communication with a theoretical understanding of the societal expectations from the stakeholders to the company, and how these expectations affect the crisis communication efforts and hence the development of the crisis situation.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages90