Repairing Toyota: Image, Public Relations, and Crisis Communication

Title: Repairing Toyota: Image, Public Relations, and Crisis Communication
Authors: Brennan, Marisa
Date: 2014
Abstract: Toyota faced a massive international recall crisis in 2009 that threatened to destroy its image in relation to the quality and safety of its vehicles. The majority of Toyota’s recalls were issued in the United States, where Toyota was heavily scrutinized in media coverage. This exploratory study examines media and public relations content to examine how the media framed the crisis, and how Toyota framed image repair efforts during the crisis. It explores the foundations of image and communication, drawing upon William James and Jürgen Habermas, in addition to the theoretical underpinnings of impression management and framing analysis (e.g., Goffman, 1959; 1974), source selection (e.g. Hall et al., 1978), and image repair and crisis communication (e.g., Benoit, 1997; Coombs, 2007). Qualitative framing analysis is employed to code and analyze data sourced from three American newspapers, as well as Toyota U.S.A.’s press releases during the crisis period. The framing analysis revealed the fundamental role of customers and industry experts in defining a crisis when an organization’s credibility is diminished in the media, as well as the strong presence of culturally embedded themes in media framing. Toyota’s recovery was strongly linked to its actions to communicate transparently, remedy the situation, and demonstrate cultural sensitivity to its American customers. Drawing upon the findings, this study provides general recommendations for corporate crisis communication at the various stages of issue management, the crisis, and post-crisis.
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