This blog is based on the original article in the Public Relations Journal. The Public Relations Journal is a peer-reviewed academic journal presented by the Public Relations Society of America and the Institute for Public Relations.
Due to COVID-19, public relations leaders have never been more aware of the need to pivot quickly in crisis communications. Dynamic capabilities is a construct used in strategic management research to help organizations navigate volatile situations. Public relations scholarship has yet to examine this construct. This study examines the connection between the strategic management theory of dynamic capabilities (specifically three factors: sensing, seizing, and transformation) and crisis communication using the framework provided by Kump et al. (2019). While crisis communication is a well-established research area within public relations, this is the first time that research has integrated the strategic management theory of dynamic capabilities.
This study used an online qualitative survey to collect responses from 22 professional communicators engaging in crisis communication. The professionals were from the following industries: aerospace, retail, healthcare, e-commerce, telecommunications, social media management, higher education, entertainment, nonprofit, agencies, food public relations, insurance, and professional services. The professionals were asked to identify their perceived connection between crisis communications and the three dynamic capabilities factors of sensing, seizing, and transformation. The information was coded and then the themes that emerged were used to establish a connection between dynamic capabilities and public relation crisis communication.
Eight key themes emerged which linked dynamic capabilities and crisis communication:
6) Human dignity in communication
7) Action orientation
Participants shared that the role of sensing is both critical to organizational success in order to navigate crises but also to recognize opportunities. Second, there is a high ethical responsibility for public relations professionals to not exploit opportunities or communication in the midst of organizational change. Third, participants shared that the factors of dynamic capabilities can provide a way to bolster trust and maintain positive relationships in situations where many brands may be poised to lose loyalty with stakeholders.
Implications for the Practice
In light of COVID-19, there is no doubt that public relations professionals are not only strategic communicators for organizations but also counselors that will help an organization understand the communication environment when facing crises and change. This study showcases unique ways that the construct of dynamic capabilities applies specifically to the communication professionals within organizations, as opposed to reducing this theory to only strategic management. Breaking these eight themes into the three dimensions of the dynamic capability construct proposed by Kump et al. (2019), professionals may be better poised to develop, monitor, engage, and act on communication throughout a crisis situation.
It would be helpful to continue building on this study with further exploration of the eight themes identified. A quantitative study of the eight dimensions is recommended to develop a specific scale for dynamic capabilities within organizational communication.
Kump, B., Engelmann, A., Kessler, A., & Schweiger, C. (2019). Toward a dynamic capabilities scale: Measuring organizational sensing, seizing, and transforming capacities. Industrial and Corporate Change, 28(5), 1149–1172. https://doi.org/10.1093/icc/dty054
KiYong Kim, M.A., APR, is an Instructor of Public Relations at Biola University.