CFP: Theory Advancing Practice: The Contingency Theory in the Strategic Management of Crises, Conflicts and Complex Public Relations Issues

Deadline: November 30, 2020

Special issue editors:

Augustine Pang, PhD
Singapore Management University

Yan Jin, PhD
University of Georgia

Crises and conflicts have become more complex, impacting nations, organizations and individuals in unprecedented ways. Look no farther than how organizations (operationalized as governments, corporate, NGOs, NPOs) respond – or forced to respond, as an organization, an industry, or an multi-agency issue response entity, when confronted with threats to business, public health and safety, and national/international security. Organizational responses, at each level, must be equally dynamic, cognizant of the dynamics of internal structures and external vulnerabilities, that could affect their position, approach and management of communication outcomes that reflect organizational purpose and values as manifested in the process of making strategic decisions on short-term and long-term responses.

Over the past three decades, the Contingency Theory of Strategic Conflict Management (the Contingency Theory hereafter) has emerged as an empirically tested perspective in how public relations, crises, and conflicts can be managed. It defines public relations as strategic management of competition and conflict in the best interests of one’s organization, and when possible, also in the best interests of key publics (Wilcox, Cameron, & Reber, 2015). This has been applied to how nations, organizations and publics manage and negotiate conflicts. Coombs (2010) has described the Contingency Theory as a “grand theory of public relations”. A “grand theory” is one which “seeks to explain how public relations as a whole operates”. Grand theories seek to explain an entire discipline and “can be adapted to specific areas of the discipline” (Coombs, 2010, p. 41). Today, it is one of the most applied theories applied in crisis communication research (An & Cheng, 2010).

The premise of the theory is this: If two-way communication is not always possible, organizational response to a public relations issue or problem must be examined more dynamically. The Contingency Theory argues this to be examined via stance movements, which has, at one end of the continuum, advocacy, and at the other end, accommodation. The theory offers a matrix of 87 factors, arranged thematically, that the organization could draw on to determine their stance. Between advocacy, which means arguing for one’s own case, and accommodation, which means making trade-offs with a public, is a wide range of operational stances that influenced strategic communication strategies.

The Contingency Theory began essentially as a public relations theory in the 1990s, but has since been adapted and applied to crisis situations. Frandsen and Johansen (2017) argued that “it was not until the mid-2000s that Cameron’s contingency theory of accommodation became a genuine theory of crisis communication. It was in particular Augustine Pang and Yan Jin who contributed to this development” (p. 116). Heath and Coombs (2006) argued that theories are developed from best practices. Liu and Viens (2020) reflected the arguments among scholars for research to advance practice. Pang, Jin and Cameron (2010) argued that the Contingency Theory was developed to reflect the reality of practice. “Even as the insights of the theory are now used to inform practice, the theory actually operates in a continual cycle of how practice informs theory and how theory transforms practice. As the field evolves, so does the theory” (p. 28).

This special issue examines how the Contingency Theory has transformed and informed public relations and strategic communication practice. We invite submissions, be it conceptual or empirical, of all methodological approaches, to topics (interdiscplinary perspectives are especially encouraged), but are not limited to,

  • Further elaboration, expansion, and explication of the Contingency Theory and trajectory of future research
  • How the theory has informed and/or transformed practice
  • Application of theory to crises, conflicts, public relations issues, or public diplomacy
  • Linkages and interaction of the contingency factors in resolving conflicts, managing crises, or dealing with complex public relations issues
  • Identifying new contingency factors
  • Innovative approach of evaluating the relative importance among existing contingency factors in influencing public relations decision making
  • Measurement advancement in refining the operationalization of stance and stance movements
  • The application and advancement of the Contingency Theory in the social media landscape
  • Crisis/conflict leadership and strategic communication decision making in complex situations
  • Understanding the role of publics in the contingency framework: The role of cognitive appraisal, emotions, and coping
  • Ethical factors or considerations associated with strategic communication with key publics with conflicting values and/or different expectations from the organization


All manuscript submissions should be no more than 25 pages or 6,000 words (excluding references and tables, figures or appendices), double-spacing, 1-inch margin, 12-point font, Times New Roman.. Please follow the most recent APA style guideline for in-text citations and references. All submissions will be double-blind reviewed, following the guideline of Public Relations Review.


  • Deadline for full paper submission to the Public Relations Review submission portal: November 30, 2020
  • Notification of review results, including invitations for revision and resubmission (R&R): February 28, 2021
  • Deadline for R&R submission: April 1, 2021
  • Publication: Scheduled for third or fourth quarter of 2021

For questions about this special issue, please email one or both of the guest editors:

Augustine Pang

Yan Jin

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