How to Manage Organizational Reputation when Under Attack: Learnings from the Child and Adult Protection Authorities

What does the reputation management of a public authority look like under extreme conditions? The present article studies the Swiss Child and Adult Protection Authorities (CAPA), which experienced a major reputational crisis after a mother killed her two children in 2015 and accused the CAPA of bearing responsibility.


A SSAS-Yearbook Paper by Johanna Künzler, Bettina Stauffer and Fritz Sager

We use the CAPA as one of the most contested public organizations in Switzerland to study reputation management when a public authority is under severe attack and draw learnings for public organizations in similar situations in the future.

Applying the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) in a content analysis to newspaper articles from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, we examine narratives uttered by CAPA representatives. Furthermore, by comparing the CAPA’s communication with a similar case in the Romandie, we draw general lessons for public organizations that want to improve their reputation management and crisis communication.

The results show how in German-speaking Switzerland, negative media reports increased sharply and caused lasting damage to the CAPA’s reputation. By contrast, the scandal in French-speaking Switzerland did not lead to a full-blown crisis.

Our findings underscore the need for public organizations to speak up when under attack, to build up the respective communication skills and resources and to employ positive narratives with shiny hero characters rather than negative narratives emphasizing villains.

Link to Journal-Website.