What Drives a Tough Call: Determining the Importance of Contingency Factors and Individual Characteristics in Communication Executives’ Stance Decision-Making through a Conjoint Analysis

Abstract: To further the understanding of how communication executives make tough calls in times of organizational-public conflict, we use a conjoint analysis to identify key drivers for organizational stance decision-making. This is the first-ever conjoint analysis applied to advancing the contingency theory of strategic conflict management by examining the relative importance of key contingency factors as determined by practitioners with varied individual characteristics. This study investigates: 1) the relevant importance of and dynamics between three key contingency factors (i.e., external threats, organizational characteristics, and dominant coalition characteristics); 2) the influence of individual characteristics (e.g., gender, experience, and personal ethics) in stance decision-making process; and 3) how different types of organizational stances (i.e., general stance, action-based accommodation, and qualified-rhetoric-mixed accommodation) are determined by these contingency factors and individual characteristics in different conflict situations. Results generated among our communication executive participants include: individual characteristics (i.e., gender, ethics and social responsibility, whistleblowing tendencies, and over 20 years in the communications field) are influential for their strategic conflict management decision-making. Implications for refining the contingency theory and unearthing complex public relations decision-making processes via novel statistical techniques are discussed.

Strategic Decision-Making for Public Relations: Determining the Importance of Contingency Theory Factors Through a Conjoint Analysis

Abstract: This study uses a novel approach, the conjoint analysis, as a way to investigate the interactions between three factor groupings of the contingency theory variables that are relevant for public relations practitioners when they engage in strategic decision-making. This study’s approach offers unique perspectives and insights into the decision-making process—both furthering the contingency theory itself and offering unique understandings of the interactions between respondent variables (e.g., gender, experience, etc.) and the role those variables play in informing how practitioners develop an organization’s stance. It was found that the covariates, namely gender, ethics and social responsibility, whistleblowing, and over 20 years in the communications field are statistically influential for the decision-making process. These interactions are contingent on the three contingency theory factorial groups investigated in this study, external threats, organization characteristics, and dominant coalition characteristics. The implications for public relations decision-making, contingency theory, and statistical techniques are discussed.
Taylor Voges (Grady PhD Student), Yan Jin, Xianyan Chen, and Bryan Reber.