THE REBRANDING OF BLACKWATER:
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF A NAME CHANGE AFTER CRISIS
A Directed Research Project
THE FACULTY OF THE PUBLIC COMMUNICATION GRADUATE PROGRAM
SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION
In Candidacy for the Degree of
Master of Arts
Brittany L. Noble
This study explored the effectiveness of multiple name changes as an effective rebranding and
reputation management strategy following crisis situations. A content analysis focused on printed
articles in The New York Times on Blackwater U.S.A. from the time it was founded in 1997 to
2012 while incorporating attribution theory and situational crisis communication theory (SCCT).
Blackwater U.S.A. faced its first crisis in 2004 when four of its employees were ambushed and
killed by Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq. It faced its second crisis in 2007 when employees
were accused of killing or injuring 34 unarmed civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad, Iraq,
without justification or provocation (State Department Public Affairs Office, 2010). The
company renamed itself Xe Services in 2009 and Academi in 2011.
Blackwater U.S.A. received little coverage in The New York Times after its founding. Coverage
increased after the first crisis and the company was covered intermittently until the second crisis.
The second crisis sparked the largest increase in coverage in the company’s history, after which
it remained steadily in The New York Times.
This study found that Blackwater U.S.A. was unable to escape the negative image it received
following the second crisis. Every New York Times article studied mentioned Blackwater,
despite its name changes. Academi received no coverage and therefore no scrutiny or public
criticism. Blackwater and Xe Services continued to be mentioned. Due to not receiving coverage,
Academi was able to be more “boring,” a goal it strived for as it looked to survive in a new time
in its history...