Communication Studies


Master of Arts (MA)


Angela Widgeon


Chick-fil-A, Crisis Management, Dan Cathy, Organizational Communication, Social Activism, Timothy Coombs


Communication | Communication Technology and New Media | Critical and Cultural Studies | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Mass Communication | Organizational Communication | Other Communication


A crisis can strike an organization at any moment and it is the responsibility of the organization to be prepared with a plan of action. This thesis will explore crisis management, using Timothy Coombs’ crisis management strategies, of Chick-fil-A and then COO Dan Cathy to see if those two parties implemented crisis strategies in a way that benefited the organization following Cathy’s statements in support of the biblical definition of family. Since many interpreted these comments as anti-gay sentiments from Chick-fil-A itself, crisis struck the organization Cathy represented. This thesis will also look at the idea of social activism in corporations, and the ability or lack of ability to support a cause on the opposite side of general public opinion. A qualitative content analysis was used to examine the responses from both Chick-fil-A and Cathy following Cathy’s controversial statements. As many corporations are choosing to vocalize opinions on divisive debates, it is important to analyze how an organization and individual respond when such an expression of opinions causes backlash. The responses were analyzed in terms of Coombs’ Situational Crisis Communication Theory, applied as a framework in the analysis. Chick-fil-A and Cathy both swayed from the recommended communication strategies. Cathy remained mostly silent during the five-month time period that was studied, while Chick-fil-A employed some, but not all, of the recommended strategies. Though perception changed among many stakeholders initially, a portion of the stakeholders rallied behind the company in the midst of the controversy, boosting company sales in the short term.