Image restoration theory

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Introduced by William Benoit, image restoration theory outlines strategies that can be employed to restore image in an event where reputation has been damaged. Image restoration theory can be applied as an approach for understanding personal or organizational crisis situations.

Benoit outlines this theory in Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies.[1]

Basic concepts of image restoration theory[edit]

Two components must be present in a given attack to the image of an individual or organization:

  1. The accused is held responsible for an action, and
  2. the act is considered offensive.

Image restoration theory is grounded in two fundamental assumptions.

  1. Communication is a goal directed activity. Communicators may have multiple goals that are not collectively compatible, but people try to achieve goals that are most important to them at the time, with reasonable cost.
  2. Maintaining a favorable reputation is a key goal of communication. Because face, image, or reputation is valued as important, individuals or organizations are motivated to take action when it is compromised.

Perception is fundamental to image restoration, as the accused actor will not engage in a defensive strategy unless the perception exists that he is at fault. The actor who committed the wrongful act must decide on the strategy of best course based on their specific situation. Factors such as credibility, audience perceptions, and the degree of offensiveness of the act must be taken into account.

Theoretical framework[edit]

The theory of image restoration builds upon theories of apologia and accounts. Apologia is a formal defense or justification of an individual’s opinion, position, or actions,[2] and an account is a statement made by an individual or organization to explain unanticipated or transgressive events.

Benoit claims that these treatments of image restoration focus on identifying options rather than prescribing solutions. He grounds image restoration theory on a comprehensive literature review of apologia and accounts theories.

Specific influences of image restoration theory include Rosenfield’s (1968) theory of analog, Ware and Linkugel's (1973) theory of apologia;[3] Kenneth Burke's (1970) theory of goals and purification; Ryan's (1982) kategoria and apologia; Scott and Lyman's (1968) analysis of accounts; Goffman’s (1967) remedial moves; Schonbach's (1980) updated analysis of Scott and Lyman’s (1968) theory; and Schlenker’s (1980) analysis of impression management and accounts.

Typology of image restoration strategies[edit]

Strategy Explanation
Denial The accused may simply deny that the act occurred, or shift the blame to the 'real' culprit
Evading responsibility When unable to deny performing the act in question, the accused may attempt to evade responsibility. This strategy has four components.

Provocation: the actor may claim that the act was committed in response to another wrongful act.
Defeasibility: the actor pleads a lack of knowledge or control about important factors related to the offensive act
Make an excuse based on accidents: the actor may make an excuse for factors beyond their control
Suggest the action was justified based on good intentions: the actor asks not to be held fully responsible based on their good, rather than evil motives in committing the act.

Reducing offensiveness The accused may attempt to reduce the degree of negative feeling experienced by the audience. This strategy has six components.

Bolstering: used to mitigate the negative effects by strengthening the audience’s positive idea of the accused. They may remind the audience of previous good acts or good reputation.
Minimization: attempts convince the audience that the act in question is less serious as it appears.
Differentiation: the act is distinguished from other more offensive acts to lessen the audience’s negative feelings by comparison.
Transcendence: the act is placed in a broad context to place it in a different, less offensive frame of reference.
Attacking accuser: the actor attacks their accusers, to question the credibility of the source of the accusations
Compensation: the actor offers to redress the victims of their action to offset negative feelings towards them.

Corrective action The accused claims that they will correct the problem. This can involve restoring the situation to its prior state, or promising to make changes to prevent its reoccurrence.
Mortification The accused admits responsibility and asks for forgiveness.

Case studies[edit]

Case studies by Benoit[edit]

Based on several case studies by Benoit and his colleagues, Coombs (2006)[4] cited a number of prescriptive recommendations for the use of crisis strategies (Benoit, 1995;[5] Brinson & Benoit, 1996,[6] 1999[7]). 1) The dominant recommendation is for an organization to immediately admit fault/accept responsibility, 2) Corrective actions should be taken and an organization need to publicize those actions, 3) Bolstering, which is directly related to the charge, is the most effective strategy, and 4) If the organization was innocent, Denial is an effective strategy. “Image restoration theory is the dominant line of research generating these recommendations. The most common recommendations suggest using the mortification and corrective action crisis response when an organization is guilty.” (Coombs, 2006, p. 191)[8]

Here representative case studies by Benoit and his colleagues are introduced.

Category Subjects Summary of crisis Strategies Practices Authors (year)
Individual Queen Elizabeth The sudden tragic death of Princess Diana Denial, Bolstering, Defeasibility, Transcendence Unprecedented speech of the Queen Benoit & Brinson (1999)[9]
Hugh Grant Being arrested in Hollywood for lewd behavior with a prostitute Mortification, Bolstering, Attacking accuser, Denial Appeared on "The Tonight Show," "Larry King Live," "The Today Shaw," "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee," and "The Late Show” Benoit (1997)[10]
Tonya Harding The involvement in the attack on her teammate and rival, Nancy Kerrigan Bolstering, Denial, Attacking accuser Interview in the program Eye-to-Eye with Connie Chung Benoit & Hanczor (1994)[11]
Organizational AT&T The long distance breakdown in 1991. Followed by governmental investigation Mortification, Corrective action, Bolstering Misguided attempt to blame lower level workers

Robert Allen (Chairman) published a full-page newspaper advertisement

Benoit & Brinson (1994)[12]
USAir The crash of an aircraft in Pittsburgh in 1994 Bolstering, Denial, Corrective Action Media coverage Benoit & Czerwinski (1997)[13]
Dow Corning The safety issue of its silicone breast implants Denial, Evading responsibility, (Promising) Corrective action Simply denied and making a conflict with FDA Brinson & Benoit (1996)[14]
Texaco The racism issue in a secret tape of an executive meeting referred to African Americans as “black jelly beans” Bolstering, Corrective action, Mortification, Shifting the blame (to a subgroup of employees characterized as “bad apples”). Peter Bijur (chair) disseminated six messages Brinson & Benoit (1999)[15]

Limitation of Image repair theory – Coombs[edit]

Even though image restoration theory represented the use of mortification (accepting responsibility) and corrective action, there might be alternative recommendation. For instance, his studies using situational crisis communication theory found no support for always using mortification and corrective action. Also, the mortification and corrective action strategies had no greater effect than a simple bolstering strategy in a criminal violation crisis such as racial discrimination (Coombs, 2006[16]).

Additionally, in terms of the limitation of case studies in image restoration theory, Coombs (2006)[17] argued that closer scrutiny with insights should be taken before offering strategies to crisis managers as facts. In order to gaining additional insights into the use of crisis responses, he pointed out many similar crises should be examined for patterns of strategy use and effect and “a large number of cases could be coded and subjected to loglinear analysis in order to identify patterns.” (Coombs, 2006, p. 191-192)[18]

The Cola Wars[edit]

Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s longstanding competition[19] reached its peak when Coke and Pepsi placed advertisements in Nation’s Restaurant News with unmistakable attacks from both sides.

Benoit analyses advertisements from both companies from 1990-1992 to address the persuasive strategies of Coke and Pepsi to determine recommendations for image restoration following an attack. He advises that companies should avoid making false claims, provide adequate support for claims, and develop themes throughout a campaign, and avoid arguments that might backfire.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Benoit, William.outlines (1995). Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. New York: State University of New York Press.
  2. ^ Fearn-Banks, Kathleen. (2009). Crisis Communications: A Casebook Approach. Mahweh: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  3. ^ http://changingminds.org/techniques/conversation/excusing/apologia.htm#war
  4. ^ Coombs, W. T. (2006). Crisis Management: A communicative approach. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazleton (Eds.), Public Relations Theory II (171-197). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  5. ^ Benoit, W. L. (1995). Accounts, excuses, and apologies: A theory of image restoration. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  6. ^ Brinson, S. L., & Benoit, W.L. (1996). Dow Corning’s image repair strategies in the breast implant crisis. Communication Quarterly, 44(1), 29-41.
  7. ^ Brinson, S. L., & Benoit, W. L. (1999). The tarnished star: Restoring Texaco’s damaged public image. Management Communication Quarterly, 12, 483-510.
  8. ^ Coombs, W. T. (2006). Crisis Management: A communicative approach. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazleton (Eds.), Public Relations Theory II (171-197). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  9. ^ Benoit, W. L., & Brinson, S. L. (1999). Queen Elizabeth’s image repair discourse: Insensitive royal or compassionate queen? Public Relations Review, 25(2), 145-156.
  10. ^ Benoit, W. L. (1997). Hugh Grant’s image restoration discourse: An actor apologizes. Communication Quarterly, 45(3), 251-267.
  11. ^ Benoit, W. L., & Hanczor, R. S. (1994). The Tonya Harding Controversy: An analysis of image restoration strategies. Communication Quarterly, 42(4), 416-433.
  12. ^ Benoit, W. L., & Brinson, S. L. (1994). AT&T: “Apologies are not enough.” Communication Quarterly, 42(1), 75-88.
  13. ^ Benoit, W. L., & Czerwinski, A. (1997). A critical analysis of USAir’s image repair discourse. Business Communication Quarterly, 60(3), 38-57.
  14. ^ Brinson, S. L., & Benoit, W.L. (1996). Dow Corning’s image repair strategies in the breast implant crisis. Communication Quarterly, 44(1), 29-41.
  15. ^ Brinson, S. L., & Benoit, W. L. (1999). The tarnished star: Restoring Texaco’s damaged public image. Management Communication Quarterly, 12, 483-510.
  16. ^ Coombs, W. T. (2006). Crisis Management: A communicative approach. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazleton (Eds.), Public Relations Theory II (171-197). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  17. ^ Coombs, W. T. (2006). Crisis Management: A communicative approach. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazleton (Eds.), Public Relations Theory II (171-197). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  18. ^ Coombs, W. T. (2006). Crisis Management: A communicative approach. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazleton (Eds.), Public Relations Theory II (171-197). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  19. ^ Cola Wars