Messaging in the Predictive Interviewing Model: An Image Repair Theory Case Study

Messaging in the Predictive Interviewing Model: An Image Repair Theory Case Study

“If the spaghetti hits the fan, we’re really in trouble.” – General Buck Turgidson

George C. Scott’s unforgettable character, Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s classic Dr. Strangelove
(1964) reminded moviegoers of the trouble that comes when spaghetti hits a fan. Crisis communication
managers always worry about those moments because true to the imagery evoked by Tugidson’s metaphor,
crisis situations are messy, can’t be ignored and take a lot of effort to clean up.

Until now, messaging for crisis communication events has been inherently ad hoc, situation dependent
and highly customized to circumstance. This paper shows, however, how two recently developed
communication models – the Predictive Interviewing Model (PIM) and the Image Repair Theory Typology
– can be combined to dramatically reduce the communication uncertainty associated with crisis events. The Predictive Interviewing Model details the questions reporters are most likely to use to attack the reputation of an organization. The Image Repair Theory typology specifies response options in five categories. Combined, the models provide communicators anticipatory power as crisis events take shape. This is especially important in an era when media outlets typically provide quoted sources less than 10 seconds to respond; a brief study exploring the average length of source quotes is included.

To more fully demonstrate Image Repair Theory’s versatility, an analysis is conducted of an early 2016
crisis communication case involving the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a nonprofit set up to assist
wounded veterans in their recovery. Through a CBS News three-part investigative series, WWP was accused of malfeasance, excessive salaries for executives, misuse of donor funds and improprieties associated with its obligatory tax filings. The analysis reveals that WWP missed a number of opportunities to protect its brand. Rather than defend itself vigorously, the organization delivered messages indirectly admitting to the accusations. For that reason, the brand defense effort is judged as ineffective.