Developing internal crisis communication: New practices for communication professionals

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Abstract

Purpose - The article has two major purposes. The first purpose is to examine the roles and practices of communication professionals in relation to internal aspects of crisis communication. The second purpose is to suggest new roles and practices for communication professionals that will enable a strategic approach to internal crisis communication. This article is based on empirical material from a larger three-year research project that focuses on internal crisis communication at a university hospital (UH) in Sweden.

Design/methodology/approach - This article is based on empirical material from a larger, three-year research project, which focuses on internal crisis communication at a University Hospital (UH). For the purpose of this article we have mainly analyzed transcripts of 24 semi-structured interviews that lasted 1–1,5 hours each. We have chosen to interview both communication professionals and other key persons/crisis managers in order to have the role and practices communication professionals elucidated not only from the perspective of communication professionals themselves.

Findings - A conclusion from the case study is that communication professionals have a rather limited role in internal crisis communication. Their role is primarily focused on information distribution through the intranet, even though they are also involved in strategic, managerial work during the acute stage of the crisis. The communication professionals are first and foremost called for once the crisis has already occurred, which can be seen as a "communication on demand" approach, which limits a strategic orientation. In this paper some new roles and practices for communication professionals are suggested, which involve a strategic approach and cover all the stages of crisis.

Research limitations/implications - Future research needs to go deeper into the practices and processes of these roles.

Practical implications - Important prerequisites for fulfilling a strategic role as a communication professional are: (1) membership of the board, (2) diversified communication roles, (3) a developed managerial role, (4) closer to core operations, and (5) legitimacy.

Originality/value - The absence of a strategic crisis management thinking and discourse in organizations delimits communication professionals to a technical role rather than a managerial and strategic role. Taking internal crisis communication seriously and adopting a broader view of crises will raise new demands on communication professionals, which go beyond the operational and tactical roles in the acute phase of a crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-146
JournalCorporate Communications
Volume19
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Communication Studies

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