Abstract: The purpose of this study is to investigate how the public’s perception of an organization-public relationship and crisis response strategies affect the attribution of crisis responsibility. Using Coombs’ (2007) SCCT theory, this study will contribute insight into which crisis response strategies work for certain types of organization-public relationships. This thesis is the initial investigation of an attempt to determine how several factors, including crisis type, crisis history, relationship type, relationship history, and crisis response strategy, can affect the perception of a crisis.
A large, southeastern university was chosen as the organization under study, and its student population was the stakeholder group studied. A financial challenge was chosen as the crisis. Four different crisis response strategies were manipulated through news articles. The study measured the perception of the organization-public relationship, and after the participants were exposed to one of the four manipulation articles, their attribution of crisis responsibility to the organization was measured. Four hundred students were chosen for the study.
Data analysis showed that the reminding manipulation produced the lowest attribution scores overall, for participants with a negative relationship, and participants with a negative relationship. Three of the four crisis response manipulations produced significant differences in attribution scores for participants with a positive relationship with the university and participants with a negative relationship with the university. Correlations were also found between perception of organization-public relationship and attribution of crisis responsibility. No significant differences were found among the four crisis response strategies in terms of attribution scores or correlation between relationship scores and attribution scores.