Public Reactions to the Qantas Grounding Crisis
Despite a growing number of studies on crisis communication, there is very little research that examines corporate crises from a consumer perspective, particularly for crisis case studies within Australia. Using Yin’s (2002) framework for case study research methods, this research group conducted a qualitative content analysis of 1121 audience comments attached to three news articles on the 2011 Qantas grounding crisis.
Using Weiner’s Attribution Theory (1986, 1995) and the qualitative content analysis software; Leximancer, we used these comments to deconstruct audience perceptions of the Qantas crisis and isolate different emotional, attitudinal and behavioural responses.
Our first major finding indicated that the majority of audience members attributed the cause of the Qantas crisis to managerial decisions or union action. Working Conditions and Government policy was also found to be secondary factors to the crisis cause.
We also found these four causal factors to be strongly associated with audience’s responsibility judgments. The four key responsible stakeholder groups that emerged from our analysis were Alan Joyce (Qantas Management), Unions, Employees and the Labor Government. Another important focus of this study examined audience’s crisis emotions. Anger was found to be the predominant emotion that emerged from our analysis and was largely directed towards management and union stakeholders.
Sympathy also emerged as a secondary emotion but was largely directed towards employees and management. Our final research finding uncovered a number of behavioural intentions within the audience comments. While the majority of these behavioural intentions centre around avoidance and negative purchase intentions, a few increased investment intentions also emerged. Although our Leximancer analysis was restricted by a number of technical limitations, these research findings indicate that Weiner’s Attribution Theory can be successfully applied to a real life crisis case study.
Despite a growing number of studies on crisis communication, there is very little research that examines corporate crises from a consumer perspective, particularly for crisis case studies within Australia. Using Yin’s (2002) framework for case study research methods, this research group conducted a qualitative content analysis of 1121 audience comments attached to three news articles on the 2011 Qantas grounding crisis. Using Weiner’s Attribution Theory (1986, 1995) and the qualitative content analysis software; Leximancer, we used these omments to deconstruct audience perceptions of the Qantas crisis and isolate different emotional, attitudinal and behavioural responses. Our first major finding indicated that the majority of audience members attributed the cause of the Qantas crisis to managerial decisions or union action. Working Conditions and Government policy was also found to be secondary factors to the crisis cause. We also found these four causal factors to be strongly associated with audience’s responsibility judgments.
The four key responsible stakeholder groups that emerged from our analysis were Alan Joyce (Qantas Management), Unions, Employees and the Labor Government. Another important focus of this study examined audience’s crisis emotions. Anger was found to be the predominant emotion that emerged from our analysis and was largely directed towards management and union stakeholders. Sympathy also emerged as a secondary emotion but was largely directed towards employees and management. Our final research finding uncovered a number of behavioural intentions within the audience comments.
While the majority of these behavioural intentions centre around avoidance and negative purchase intentions, a few increased investment intentions also emerged. Although our Leximancer analysis was restricted by a number of technical limitations, these research findings indicate that Weiner’s Attribution Theory can be successfully applied to a real life crisis case study. Abstract Tamara Dorrington (s4177314) | Sarah Natasha Raziff (s4275762) | Jasmine Soriano (s4272997) | Kate Fitzpatrick (s4201686) | Roxanne Lim (s4256084) Supervisor: Lyn McDonald The University of Queensland, 2012
Tamara Dorrington (s4177314) | Sarah Natasha Raziff (s4275762) | Jasmine Soriano (s4272997) | Kate Fitzpatrick (s4201686) | Roxanne Lim (s4256084) Supervisor: Lyn McDonald The University of Queensland, 2012 Public Reactions to The Qantas Grounding Crisis, A Qualitative Content Analysis A corporate crisis often poses an unpredictable threat that can have resounding effects on an organization and its stakeholders (Coombs, 1999, 2010). These effects are largely dependent on how effectively the crisis is managed (Coombs, 2010) and upon stakeholder’s perceptions of the crisis cause (McDonald, Sparks & Glendon, 2010).
To date there has been very little research on consumer reactions to corporate crises (McDonald, et al. 2010), especially for crises outside the United States (Lee, 2004). In order to understand the implications of this research project on crisis communication, one must first gain an understanding of the Qantas grounding crisis. As one of Australia’s leading domestic and international airline brands, Qantas has a well-established reputation for upholding “excellence in safety, operational reliability, engineering, maintenance and customer service” (Qantas, 2012, pp. 2).
On October 2011, the company faced one of the largest corporate crises in its 95 years of history, a crisis that had widespread negative impacts on its reputation. After months of failed negotiations between management and union representatives, around 4000 Qantas employees took part in an organized strike, demanding greater job security, better wages and fairer working conditions. Qantas management responded by grounding its entire domestic and international fleet, locking out staff involved in the action and stranding around 68,000 passengers worldwide (Sydney Morning Herald, 2011).
The Federal Government also became involved in the dispute, threatening to terminate strikes under the Fair Work Act if negotiations between union members and management proved unsuccessful (new. com. au, 2011) Our case study analysis adds to existing crisis research by analyzing 1121 audience comments attached to three news articles on the Qantas grounding crisis: 734 comments from the Sydney Morning Herald article (Live: FWA orders Qantas dispute terminated, 2011), 171 comments from the ABC article (Qantas grounds its entire fleet, 2011) and 216 comments from the news. om. au article (Qantas crisis: Who won and who’s to blame). Using Weiner’s Attribution Theory (1986, 1995) as a theoretical framework, we used the comments from these three articles to deconstructed audience perceptions of the Qantas crisis and isolate audience member’s different emotional, attitudinal and behavioral responses. While studies into crisis communication are a popular area of research, much of the existing research has used experimental designs to examine the effectiveness of different types of crisis accounts or apologia.
A case study analysis of audience reactions to the 2011 Qantas grounding crisis has many wider implications for crisis management strategies in future. First, by evaluating audience comments, this study provides an insight into stakeholder crisis reactions that may have greater generalizability than experimental studies. Second, knowledge of audience’s attribution processes will help future public relations managers to mitigate negative crisis outcomes and manage brand reputation more effectively. Literature Review
To date, there has been very little research on consumer reactions to corporate crises (McDonald, et al. , 2010) particularly for crisis cases outside the United States (Lee, 2004). The majority of existing literature has approached crisis communication from an organisational perspective, using experimental design to examine the relationship between different types of crisis accounts and consumer’s purchase intentions (Lee, 2004). Very little research has taken a content analysis approach, examining audience reactions to real life crises cases.
In bridging this gap, it is relevant to examine real life audience perceptions of crisis cause their association with different emotional, attitudinal and behavioral responses. According to Lee (2004), taking a consumer orientated approach should provide valuable insights into how individuals understand and react to organisational crises. Such knowledge would help public relations managers to mitigate negative crisis outcomes and manage brand reputation more effectively.
Theoretical Framework: Weiner’s Attribution Theory (1986, 1995) Our research was primarily guided by Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory (WAT), which examines the psychological process by which individuals understand and react to external events. While WAT was originally used as a theoretical framework for examining interpersonal relationships, it has been successfully applied to the context of company crises (McDonald et al. , 2010). Adapting Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory (WAT) audiences bserve and interpret events, such as the Qantas crisis, making attributions about its cause along two causal dimensions: Locus (whether the cause was internal or external to the company) and Controllability (whether the cause was controllable or uncontrollable). The interpretation of crisis cause under these two constructs leads to a responsibility judgement that, in turn, results in emotions, which then influences behaviors (McDonald et. al. , 2010).
Weiner (1995) also suggests that mitigating circumstances or personal relevance may also impact the individual’s responsibility judgement or the strength of their emotional reaction. The relationship between the various components of Weiner’s (1986, 1995) theoretical framework is depicted in the flow chart below. Mitigating Circumstances Mitigating Circumstances In order to successfully apply Weiner’s (1986, 1195) Attribution Theory (WAT) to the context of the 2011 Qantas grounding crisis, we first examined the individual components of this theoretical framework.
A) Attributions of Cause (Locus and Controllability) As previously discussed, Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory (WAT) suggests that audiences evaluate an event and make attributions about its cause along two dimensions. The Locus dimension refers to the location of the crisis cause as being either internal or external to the organisation (Lee, 2004). Controllability refers to whether the crisis cause is within the control of the organisation or not (Lee, 2004). According to Lee (2004) a crisis cause that is within the boundaries of an organisation (internal locus) is also often perceived as controllable.
Likewise, a crisis cause that judged to be outside the organisation (external locus) is often viewed as uncontrollable (Lee, 2004). However Coombs (1995) and McDonald et. al. (2010) both hypothesised that crises could be internal and controllable (neglected maintenance), internal and uncontrollable (employee sabotage), external and controllable (failure to comply with government regulations) as well as external and uncontrollable (terrorism sabotage). The graph below represents the causal matrix summarized by McDonald et. al. (2010) | Internal| External|
Controllable| Neglected Maintenance| Failure to comply with government regulations | Uncontrollable| Employee Sabotage | Terrorism Sabotage| In the context of the Qantas crisis, this leads us to the following research questions: Research Question 1: What are the audience perceptions of the key contributing factors to the crisis cause? Research Question 2: Are these key factors internal and controllable or external and uncontrollable? According to Coombs (1995) the causal dimensions of Locus and Controllability have a direct impact upon an audience’s crisis response.
A study by Folkes (1984) found that locus and controllability had separate effects on customers’ responsibility judgments, emotions and behavioral intentions. Lee (2004) also suggested that, in a crisis context, events that were perceived to be internal and controllable were viewed more negatively by audience members than those that were considered external and uncontrollable (Lee, 2004). Although separating these two constructs was challenging in analyzing audience comments, the following research questions aided us in mapping out ideas for our Leximancer data analysis.
Research question 3: What crisis causes are associated with negative and positive crisis reactions? B) Responsibility Judgment The next step in Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory is the process by which individuals attribute responsibility. Social psychologists Fincham and Jaspars (1980) noted that, in an interpersonal context, individuals would often go beyond the attributions of causality to make judgments about who should be held accountable for an observed outcome.
Likewise, audiences will assign crisis responsibility after a causal attribution (Lee, 2004). The direction and degree of responsibility judgment will therefore depend upon the audience’s attributions of crisis cause (Lee, 2004). Coombs and Holladay (1996, 2002) and Jorgensen (1994, 1996) both used Weiner’s (1986, 1995) causal dimensions of locus and controllability as the foundation for their studies into crisis communication. All found perceptions of crisis cause to be a major determinant of responsibility judgments and subsequent stakeholder reactions.
Of particular relevance to our current study, Lee (2004) found crises that were perceived to be internal (locus) and controllable (controllability) were more likely to bring about responsibility judgments aimed at the company and its managers. On the other hand, audiences tended to attribute less blame to the company in situations where the crisis cause was viewed as external and uncontrollable, instead reacting with sympathy and support (Lee, 2004).
In analysing audience comments through the use of the Leximancer program, we aim to uncover public sentiment and reveal what major stakeholder groups or individuals are held responsible for the 2011 Qantas crisis. This leads us to the following research question: Research question 4: What stakeholder groups are perceived to be responsible for the crisis? C) Crisis Emotions According to Choi and Lin (2009) there is a strong need to explore a variety of crisis emotions, in particular the impact that crisis emotions have upon attitudes toward the company and upon subsequent behavioral intentions (McDonald et. l. , 2010). Several studies (e. g. Coombs ; Holladay; 1996, 2002, Jorgensen; 1994, 1996 and Lee; 2004) have used Weiner’s causal dimensions of locus and controllability, finding causal attributions to be a major determinant of stakeholder crisis emotions. McDonald et. al. (2010) found that crisis controllability was the single strongest predictor of anger, sympathy and negative attitude while Lee (2004) found that in cases where crises were viewed as uncontrollable, pity was elicited.
In McDonald’s (2010) study, internal crises were found to correspond with fear and surprise while external crises were more likely to result in a sympathetic emotion response (McDonald et al. , 2010). These findings validate the concept within Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory that causal attribution precedes responsibility judgment, which in turn affects crisis emotions. This leads us to the following research question for our Qantas crisis analysis: Research question 5: What audience emotions have emerged? D) Behavioral Intentions
While responsibility judgment affects emotions, emotions, in turn, impact upon behavioral intentions (Weiner, 1995). Several studies have investigated the relationship between crisis emotion (anger, fear, sadness, joy, surprise) and consumer’s behavioral intentions. A review of previous literature by McDonald et at. (2010) found that anger influences punitiveness (Jorgensen, 1996), negative purchase intentions (Coombs ; Holladay, 2007), negative word of mouth (Coombs ; Holladay, 2007) and indirectly lowers investment intentions (Jorgensen, 1996).
Sadness lead to a higher reliance on emotional support while fear was associated with venting intentions or avoidance (Jin, 2009). Coombs and Holladay (2007) also found that dissatisfied customers were more likely to voice negative sentiments about a product or service than happy customers. This leads us to our final research question regarding the application of Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory to audience’s Qantas crisis response: Research Question 6: What audience behavioral intentions have emerged?
Based upon the review of existing literature, the current case study examined how Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory can be applied to a current crisis case in Australia using actual stakeholder comments. In particular, we expect to uncover associations between Weiner’s (1986, 1995) causal constructs (locus and controllability), judgments of responsibility, emotions and behavioral intentions within the context of audience comments. Methodology According to Yin (1994), case studies involve a methodical way of looking at an instance or event within its real-life context.
It is a process of collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results in order to gain a sharpened understanding of why a particular event occurred, and what might be relevant to future research in the area (Yin, 1994). This research project involved the development of a case study analysis that followed a reputation crisis faced by the Australian national airline, Qantas, in October of 2011. By conducting a content analysis of 1121 audience comments, this group was able to deconstruct the crisis narrative and examine audience’s attribution process during the 2011 Qantas crisis.
Yin defined the research design as a sequence that links data to the study’s research questions and findings. In order to address our research questions, this group adopted a variation of Yin’s (1994) case study design, collecting appropriate evidence, analysing the data and reporting on the findings. Step one of Yin’s (1994) case study research methods involved the collection of data for content analysis. Yin (1994) noted that data collection could rely on many sources of evidence, one of which includes documentation such as media articles.
Following Yin’s (1994) data collection guidelines, this group collected 1121 reader comments attached to three news articles on the Qantas crisis, including 734 comments from the Sydney Morning Herald online (Live: FWA orders Qantas dispute terminated), 171 comments from the ABC website (Qantas grounds its entire fleet) and 216 comments from news. com. au (Qantas crisis: Who won and who’s to blame). We then inputted the 1121 audience comments into an excel spreadsheet, organising them on the basis of media source and comment characteristics.
The second step in Yin’s cases study research methods is data analysis. This involves examining and categorizing evidence that is relevant to the study (Yin, 1994). To achieve this, we conducted a content analysis, aided by the concept association software; Leximancer. According to Hsieh and Shannon (2005) a qualitative content analysis is one of numerous research methods used to analyse text data. Qualitative content analyses go beyond a simple word association and instead involves an in depth classification of language into an efficient number of categories with similar meanings (Weber, 1990).
Leximancer is a software program designed to perform this conceptual analyses of text data in a largely independent manner (Smith, 2003). It is able to analyse large volumes of comments and to statistically assess the association between words, identifying emergent themes in the body of text. The basis for Leximancer’s qualitative data analysis is a concept association matrix that is built from frequency data (Rooney, 2005). The result is a visual map and insight dashboard that identifies the relational characteristics of key concepts (Middleton, Liesch & Steen, 2011).
However this raw Leximancer data requires further human analysis. By further analysing these Leximancer results we were able to analyse audience reactions to the Qantas grounding crisis under the construct of Weiner’s (1986, 1995) attribution theory. The final phase of Yin’s cases study research methods involves reporting the results and checking their validity. According to Yin (1994) content analyses involve a danger of committing what has been called the narrative fallacy.
This fallacy consists of a propensity to simplify data through a preference for compact stories over complex data sets (Yin, 1994). In case study research, the way to avoid the narrative fallacy is no different from any other error: the usual consistent checks for validity and reliability in how data is collected, analyzed and presented. Therefore it was important to conduct a thorough check of the Leximancer results, correlating Leximancer findings with contextual examples within the article comments and providing exemplar samples of audience statements. Research Results
Leximancer is able to generate two types of sentiment analysis reports: a visual concept map showing a detailed assembly of prominent concepts, and an insight dashboard which provides quantitative rankings of concepts and their associated terms (Middleton, et al, 2011). The insight dashboard generates information about the data set by analysing the frequency, strength and prominence of reoccurring terms within the text. It then organises these terms into ‘categories’, which are groups of recurring sentiments, and ‘concepts’, which are ideas that bear a strong contextual link to these categories (Middleton, et al, 2011).
Leximancer also automatically identifies ‘compound concepts’, which are two terms that are mentioned adjacent to one another within the context of a larger category (Middleton, et al, 2011). Leximancer analyses the data set using a default thesaurus which it uses to identify terms as ‘positive evidence’ towards a certain sentiment or category. The user can also adjust the focus of the output results by controlling a number of manual settings within the program. By adjusting these settings, results in answer to our research questions were analysed.
Research Question 1 asked “what are the audience perceptions of the key contributing factors to the crisis cause? ” In order to answer this research question, a preliminary Leximancer analysis, examining key causal factors, was conducted. The concept map in figure 1 was generated by inputting all 1121 audience comments into the Leximancer program and adjusting the thesaurus settings to recognise related terms (such as ‘Alan Joyce’ and ‘AJ’). The resulting concept map clearly illustrates the key causal categories and maps their association with surrounding terms.
The main causal concepts that emerge from figure 1 are ‘union action’, ‘managerial decisions’, ‘working conditions’ and ‘industrial action’. These four terms appear as prominent categories from which smaller, related concepts stem. Figure 1: Leximancer concept map The concept map in figure 1 forms the foundation for the subsequent graphs 2 and 3, where these key concepts are examined in more depth using related data from the insight dashboard. Examining these four main causal categories and their related terms, we can begin to deconstruct the narrative surrounding the Qantas crisis.
In particular, we can begin to analyse audience member’s attribution process in terms of Weiner’s theoretical framework. Figure 2 (below) is a pie chart, isolating the four main causal categories and their associated terms. The terms surrounding each main category represent the associated concepts that appeared with relative frequency and strength under each main causal category. Terms such as ‘pathetic’, ‘appalled’ and ‘abominable’ were linked strongly with Managerial Decisions, while Union Action was associated with concepts such as ‘bloody minded’, ‘bashing’ and ‘dominated’.
Industrial Action was positioned within the context of government policy with related terms such as ‘Gillard’, ‘Fair Work Act’ and ‘Labor’. Finally, ‘Working Conditions’ can be seen positioned alongside key terms like ‘employees’, ‘pay’ and ‘unreasonable’ Figure 2: Four key crisis factors and related terms Figure 3 shows a further breakdown of each of the four main causal categories. Each pie chart was generated using the quantitative data in the insight dashboard, which outlines the strength, frequency and prominence of the four key categories and their related terms.
The first of the four pie graphs explores the category of ‘Managerial Decisions’. Here we can see that the two major concepts associated with the managerial decisions category are MGMT (an acronym for management) and Alan Joyce. ‘Brand’, ‘restructures’ and ‘failures’ are secondary concepts that also appeared in association with Managerial Decisions. The second pie graph depicts the breakdown of concepts associated with the category of Industrial Action. Here, industrial action is positioned closely with concepts such as ‘Gillard’, ‘Fair Work Australia’ and ‘Federal Government’.
Therefore it is evident that this causal category refers to the impact of government policy on the Qantas crisis. In the working conditions pie graph, the strong association between terms such as ‘employees’, ‘afford’ and ‘earn’ with terms such as ‘pay rise, ‘wages, and ‘salary’ indicate that one of the causes of this crisis involved current pay schemes and unfair working conditions. Finally, ‘Union action’ is also identified as a main contributing factor to the crisis cause. This pie graph explores this category by highlighting some of its key associated terms.
In particular, one can see the clear association between ‘unions’, ‘demands’ and ‘striking’. In the context of the Qantas crisis, union groups made a number of demands regarding current working conditions and this was responsible for a large majority of subsequent employee strikes. Figure 3: graphs exploring the compound categories of managerial decisions, working conditions, Industrial action, and union action Research Question 2 was concerned with the application of Weiner’s (1986, 1995) causal dimensions of Locus and Controllability.
It asked whether the key causal factors in the Qantas crisis (identified in figures 1 – 3) could be classified as internal and controllable or external and uncontrollable. As previously discussed in our literature review, past studies on crisis communication have shown that crises can be either be internal and controllable (neglected maintenance), internal and uncontrollable (employee sabotage), external and controllable (failure to comply with government regulations) or external and uncontrollable (terrorist sabotage). If we adapt our understanding of McDonald et al. 2010) we can apply the following attribution matrix to the current Qantas case study. Figure 4: Qantas’ attribution matrix . Research question 3 asks “what crisis causes can be associated with negative and positive crisis reactions? ” Figure 5 addresses this research question by using Leximancer insights to compare the appearance of favourable and unfavourable terms within the context of audience comments. To justify the results, Leximancer’s insight dashboard provides examples of each sentiment with comments directly from the data set.
The graph below shows that audience comments carry both favourable and unfavourable connotations towards the concepts of management, industrial action, and employees. The balance of favourable and unfavourable terms for all four causal concepts (managerial decisions, union action, working conditions and industrial action) is consistent with our preliminary sample of audience comments. Figure 5: unfavourable vs favourable terms Figure 6 addresses research question 4 (What stakeholder groups are perceived to be responsible for the crisis? by using a Leximancer visual concept map depicting the major stakeholder groups identified in the audience comments. The main stakeholder groups that are identified in this visual concept map are: * Alan Joyce * Employees * Unions * Government * Qantas customers * Australians in general Figure 6: Responsible Stakeholder clusters Based on the information obtained in figure 4, we can take a step further and categorise these major stakeholder groups as either internal or external to the company. As the CEO and head of the Qantas company, Alan Joyce is identified as largely responsible for managerial decisions.
Baggage handlers, ground staff and cabin crew are grouped under the stakeholder heading of employees, while the Australian Licenced Engineers Union (ALAEA), the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Australian and International Pilots Union (AIPA) are grouped under the stakeholder heading of unions. Finally, the government is also identified as a responsible stakeholder group, with many audience comments citing the role of Julia Gillard, the Labour government and the Fair Work Act in failing to mitigate the industrial dispute. Figure 7: Responsibility Judgement
Figure 8 is a visual representation of the crisis emotion that have emerged from our anlaysis of audience comments. This graph is based on the information taken from Leximancer’s insight dashboard about the strength, prominence and frequency of various sentiments. Anger was the predominant emotion that emerged from the data set and was directed toward all stakeholders, particularly ‘unions’ and ‘management’. While ‘sympathy’ emerged as another primary meotion, it was used to express empathy towards workers’ plights while ‘Sorry’ was used in relation to customers, employees, and industrial action. Support’ was also a prodominant sentiment that emerged and was expressed toward all parties in relatively equal degrees. Figure 8: Audience emotions Due to the informal nature of comments and the variation in sentence structure, it was challenging to isolate behavioural intentions from the data set using the Leximancer software. However, a preliminary manual analysis uncovered a number of trends in consumer’s behavioural intentions. Major findings indicated that of the 4% of comments that implied a behavioural intention, most were negative, while a small number showed positive purchase or investment intentions.
Figure 9 shows a cross selection of comments extracted from the data in response to research question 6. This conceptual depiction summarises the main behavioural intentions that emerged from the Qantas crisis. Figure 9: Behavioural intentions Figure 10 is based on a manual analysis of comments over all three news sites, and shows the frequency of behavioural intentions that have emerged from the data set. The category ‘miscellaneous intentions’ refers to behaviours such as buying shares, venting action, or switching carriers.
Figure 10: Behavioural intentions frequency Discussion This case study analysis uncovered a number of key findings that are relevant to crisis communication research. First, our research found that audiences perceived the key contributing factor to the Qantas crisis to be ‘union action’, ‘managerial decisions’, ‘working conditions’ and ‘industrial action’ with the majority of comments attributing the crisis to managerial decisions and union action.
When analysing these key causal factors under Weiner’s dimensions of Locus and Controllability, managerial decisions can be interpreted as both internal and controllable to the company while ‘Union Action’ can be seen as both external and uncontrollable. If we analyse ‘working conditions’ in the context of its related terms, we can understand that this cause is about employees’ observations of their working conditions and the resulting strikes.
In particular, this casual factor is about employees being unhappy with current circumstances and demanding better working conditions from Qantas management. While employees are internal to the company, their objections to their working conditions and the ensuing strikes can be understood as relatively uncontrollable. Finally, ‘industrial action’ in seen within the context of government policy and work place regulation. While the government is external to Qantas, the company’s compliance with government regulations is certainly within management’s control.
Therefore we classify this causal concept as both external and controllable. These findings build upon previous research by Coombs (1995) and McDonald et. al. (2010) – that Locus and Controllability can have separate effects on audience’s attribution process and that crises may not only be internal/controllable and external/uncontrollable but also internal /uncontrollable and external /controllable. The second major finding of this research project linked causal attributions to audience’s responsibility judgements.
When audiences identified the major causal factor as ‘managerial decisions’ they also tended to attribute blame to Qantas management, in particular to Qantas CEO; Alan Joyce. The resulting emotions that emerged from this attribution were anger towards Qantas management and support for unions and employees. This sentiment is exemplified in the audience comment “As a QF F of 20+ years … I wish to register my total support for the staff and crew at QF over their current legitimate and understandable attempts to prevent Management from destroying the airline which I hold so dear. This customer is sick and tired of being exploited by senior management and the board. …” (ABC. net. au, 2011). These findings are similar to those of Lee’s (2004) who stated that crises that were perceived to be internal (locus) and controllable (controllability) would bring about responsibility judgements aimed towards the company and its managers. Another key trend in the data identified ‘union action’ as the main cause of the crisis. These audience members tended to attribute blame to unions and employees involved in striking action.
When union action, which we identified as external and uncontrollable, was attributed as the primary cause of the crisis, audience members tended to respond with anger towards unions and employees and sympathy towards the company and its managers. One example of this is conveyed in the audience’s comment: “Well done Alan Joyce. Striking is the lowest form of human behaviour in my opinion…. I hope all these lazy striking staff lose their jobs and are replaced by hardworking people, … who unlike Qantas employees appreciate their jobs, rather than expect that they are their god given right” (ABC. et. au, 2011). The third major finding in our case study uncovered a number of audience crisis emotions. While we anticipated finding negative audience emotions such as anger and helplessness, we also uncovered a number of positive emotions that expressed support and sympathy towards all stakeholder groups. One such comment that expressed empathy towards the Qantas brand was sourced from the Sydney Morning Herald (2011), “Qantas made the right decision and any company which has a strong union presence should do the same if their future is threatened by them.
The Australian dollar is strong and to remain competitive globally, hard decision must be made. ” This leads us to our final major research finding. As could be expected, positive audience emotions were found to be associated with favourable behavioural intentions while negative emotions were found to predict negative purchase intentions. While 81% of behavioural intentions centred on avoidance, complaint and negative purchase intentions, another 14% of the behavioural intentions indicated that the audience intended to continue flying with Qantas, signifying the audience’s loyalty to the brand.
An example of such positive behavioural intentions is evident in the following audience comment from new. com. au: “I have always flown Qantas and always will, and to those who say they will never fly them again, you know you will let all those FF perks go to waste?? Good on you Mr Joyce. ” (News. com. au, 2011, pp. 8). Although the technical limitations of Leximancer restricted our study, our research project successfully applied Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory to audiences’ attribution process in a real life crisis case.
These research findings provide valuable insights into how individuals understand and react to organizational crises in the real world. Knowledge of this type will assist public relations managers in creating effective reputation management strategies in the future. Limitations Although our case study can be considered largely effective, we did encounter several limitations that impeded the progress of our research. Most of the limitations we encountered involved the technical capabilities of Leximancer.
Of particular relevance to our content analysis was Leximancer’s inability to comprehend tone and colloquialisms. This meant that a comment that Leximancer identified as positive might actually be a sarcastic remark meant as a negative. We also found that the informal nature of comments was problematic, since there were multiple ways of expressing a particular sentiment. The data set too was limited by the individual news site’s comment system. The anonymity of contributors made it hard to clearly identify an audience member’s level of involvement, unless it was explicitly mentioned in the comment.
The anonymity may have led to audience responses phrased more assertively and argumentatively than they would have been if they were named. The news sites also censor the time frame of the comments. By identifying the time stamp attached to each comment, future studies could examine how audience crises responses changed over the crises lifecycle. This would be particularly important as it would reflect the dynamic nature of audience’s crisis response (McDonald et. al, 2009) – particularly in this study where the online commentary between the audiences is a highly interactive exchange.
Conclusion Based on Yin’s (1994) case study research methods and the theoretical framework of Weiner’s (1986, 1995) Attribution Theory, this research project found that managerial decisions and union action were the two key contributing factors to the 2011 Qantas grounding crisis. We also identified the main responsible stakeholder groups to be Alan Joyce (Qantas management), employees, unions and the government. Our findings have shown that the primary crisis emotion that emerged was anger, and that this was targeted primarily towards the management and unions.
This was followed by sympathy, which empathized with the worker’s plights, and sorrow which was used in relation to Qantas customers. However, contrary to expectations, “support” also emerged as a dominant emotion and was expressed towards all stakeholder parties involved in the crisis. These findings suggest that, despite the negative sentiment that has emerged from the grounding crisis, there is still an existing group of passengers who remain loyal to the Qantas brand. Qantas should also take a lesson from these findings in order to better safeguard the interests of their stakeholders in future.
This may include being mindful of employee moral and considering the plight of the passengers before taking such drastic measures in the future. Acknowledgments Supervisor: Lyn McDonald Course Coordinator: Aparna Hebbani References ABC News. (2011, October 29). Qantas grounds entire fleet. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www. abc. net. au/news/2011-10-29/qantas-locking-out-staff/3608250 Ackoff, R. L. (1981). Creating the corporate future. New York: John Wiley & Sons Colgan, Paul. (2011, October 31). Qantas Crisis: Who won and who’s to blame? News. com. au. Retrieved from