Engaging with untruthful company crisis communication: The understanding of decoupling in the face of crisis

Orlando E. Contreras-Pacheco, Cyrlene Claasen, Fernando J. Garrigós-Simón


Purpose: This work analyzes how decoupling is used by offending companies in response to environmental crisis incidents in the Latin American context. Ethical implications and its links to legitimacy are considered.

Design/methodology/approach: The research relies on a multi-case study approach, where four major environmental incidents involving four natural resource companies in Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina are analyzed. By examining public sources, the crisis communication processes performed by these companies are studied in order to allow for the linking of theory and practice.

Findings: Results obtained suggest that, in an attempt to defend their legitimacy, companies deliberately conveyed untruthful messages and decoupled their communication in crisis from reality, resulting in ethical concerns for the practice of both crisis management and crisis communication.

Research limitations/implications: By emphasizing the link between legitimacy and communication in crisis scenarios, the study illustrates how decoupling (i.e., untruthful communication practices) can be performed as a crisis management strategy. However, due the constraints of case studies, it is acknowledged that the paper has limitations for generalization.

Originality/value: This work identifies four different decoupling-based crisis communication strategies performed by companies, and the way these are accompanied with secondary strategies. Furthermore, by focusing on Latin America, the study reflects the potential impact that the geographical context may have on the company’s crisis communication strategy and ultimately its legitimacy.


Legitimacy, decoupling, crisis communication, environmental incidents, Latin America

Full Text:


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3926/ic.1775

Licencia de Creative Commons 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Intangible Capital, 2004-2021

Online ISSN: 1697-9818; Print ISSN: 2014-3214; DL: B-33375-2004

Publisher: OmniaScience