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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Sources: article counts come from keyword-based searches of online news archives. Ad data is from Nielsen, while financial data is taken from the Yahoo! Finance website.

349 Table 2: company level data, 2006-2007

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Notes: for each company we report the total number of press releases being issued during the time period (column 2), the total number of articles being published on our sample of newspapers (column 3), the ratio between articles and press releases (column 4), the mean relative frequency of articles over the total (column 5), the relative frequency of articles conditional on a press release being issued the day before (column 6), the relative frequency of articles in the lack of a press release the previous day (column 7), the percentage change in the relative frequency of articles in press-release vs. non-press-release days (column 8). Finally in column 9 we report the estimated company-specific fixed effect, as obtained from a regression with the relative frequency of articles mentioning company c on newspaper n, controlling for newspaper fixed effects, previous month's ads, a press-release dummy, the absolute return on the stock market the day before, and the interactions of those latter variables with monthly ads expenditure. See the text for additional details.

351 Table 3: newspaper level data, 2006-2007

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Notes: for each newspaper we report the total number of articles mentioning our sample of companies (column 2), the total number of articles being published during the time period (column 3), the mean relative frequency of articles mentioning those companies over the total (column 4), the relative frequency of articles mentioning a company, conditional on a press release being issued the day before (column 5), the relative frequency of articles in the lack of a press release the previous day (column 6), the percentage change in the relative frequency of articles in press-release vs. non-press-release days (column 7). Finally in column 8 we report the estimated newspaper-specific fixed effect, as obtained from a regression with the relative frequency of articles mentioning company c on newspaper n as dependent variable, controlling for company fixed effects, previous month's ads, a press-release dummy, the absolute return on the stock market the day before, and the interactions of those latter variables with monthly ads expenditure. See the text for additional details.


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fixed effects are included in each specification. Monthly ad expenditure refers to the previous month. Standard errors are clustered at the (company x newspaper) level, and the corresponding t-statistics are reported in brackets below each coefficient. Significant at 1%; ** significant at 5%; *** significant at 1%. In column [6] we separately consider positive and negative returns, properly interacted with the ad expenditure variable, and report the p-values of the tests for equal slopes and for equal interaction terms.


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newspaper x company fixed no no yes yes no no yes yes no no yes yes effects Notes: the table displays the output of regressions with the relative frequency of articles on newspaper n mentioning company c as dependent variable. Company and newspaper fixed effects are included in columns [1]-[2], [5]-[6] and [9]-[10]. In columns [3]-[4], [7]-[8] and [11]company x newspaper) fixed effects are included as well. In columns [1]-[4] we add trading volume as a regressor, together with its interaction with past month's ads expenditure. In columns [5]-[8] we control for the contemporaneous level of ads, while in columns [9]-[12] we control for the sum of ads expenditure during the past three months. Standard errors are clustered at the (company x newspaper) level, and the corresponding t-statistics are reported in brackets below each coefficient. Significant at 1%; ** significant at 5%; *** significant at 1%. See previous tables for notes regarding specific variables.

359 Perception is truth: How elite U.S. newspapers framed the “Go Green” conflict between Beyond Petroleum (BP) and Greenpeace

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Pro-social messages about the environment have increased significantly within the past decade. Support of environmental pro-social messages is evident with the thousands of people who gather annually to celebrate Earth Day in an effort to bring awareness to their local and national governments on policies to curb pollution and increase energy efficiency. As environmental consciousness continues to rise in society, new efforts on changing individual and organizational behavior will surface. Within the past year, delegates at the United Nationsaffiliated Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change consented on a declaration that was presented at the Conference of Parties at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009. The declaration states, “Mother Earth is no longer in a period of climate change, but in climate crisis” (Pemberton, 2009).

Attempts to “Go Green” have not only made their way to the doors of public policy makers; they have influenced a wave of organizations’ corporate social responsibility message on both the public and private sectors within the marketplace. The “Go Green” campaign has evoked visible changes in major industries altogether. For instance, in the aerospace industry, the pro-social message to “Go Green” is not solely a marketing idea, but rather a necessity for survival in a world of rapidly depleting natural resources and increased fuel prices. Yu (2008) reported that within the past few years, U.S. airlines have explored the practicalities of turbine power and have already initiated actions to save energy: “From low-flush toilets and hybrid taxis to solar panels and recycled coffee grounds, some of the largest airports are aggressively implementing green measures to save on energy costs and to generate favorable impressions among travelers,” (para. 5). Moreover, government regulations have helped push for initiatives to seek alternative energy, develop improved technology, and use environmentally friendly material.

Conversely, with the rise in pro-social messages on corporate social responsibility to “Go Green”, members of society have grown cynical of corporate decrees, deducing such messages as simple PR or marketing schemes. BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, has received major criticisms for its pro-social messages on protecting the environment. Activist publics, particularly environmental groups like Greenpeace International, have boycotted, rallied, and initiated major endeavors to challenge the organization’s stance. For some activist publics, BP’s pro-social messages (i.e., “Go Green”) are conflicting due the product which sits at the core of the organization’s success—oil. The primary argument remains: both the nature and history of the [oil] business are accountable for environmental degradation (“Activists protest at BP”, 2001).

Public relations and mass communication research shows that conflicts and crises are both detrimental and beneficial to an organization. If improperly managed, an organization will lose public favor, which usually results in a longer recovery period (Coombs, 2000). When activist public are involved, each organizational message is critical to the preservation and promotion of the brand identity. When news media report on a conflict, their interpretation of conflict groups and placement of accountability shapes audiences’ perceptions.

This empirical case study is guided by the Attribution theory as its core theoretical framework, and employs a framing analysis. The role of news media is of particular significance in this line of research because of the way they frame a conflict and crisis. Conflicting parties are attributed with positive and negative connotations that have led to the defined hero and villain roles. Media also attribute responsibility to the conflict, which influences the public’s point of 361 view. Due to hyper-exposure, “critical journalists, consumer groups or NGOs may feel particularly compelled to test the validity of the corporate CSR claims” (Morsing, Schultz, & Nielsen, 2008, p. 97). Thus, if media audiences perceive an organization responsible for a crisis, its corporate reputation will ultimately suffer, and popular belief shaped.

Background After the acquiring Amoco in 1998, British Petroleum’s Chief Executive Officer, Sir Lloyd Brown, initiated a new vision for his oil and energy company that competitors considered a conflicting message. At a time when scientific evidence of global warming was lacking and carbon regulations were not enforced, Sir Brown decided to rebrand the company with a corporate social responsibility message no other oil or energy company ever dared to do—to “Go Green”. “Out went the old British Petroleum shield that had been a familiar image in Britain for more than 70 years, and in came a green, yellow and white sunburst that seemed to suggest a warm and fuzzy feeling about the earth. BP press officers were careful not to explain exactly what ‘Beyond Petroleum’ meant, but the slogan, coupled with the cheerful sunburst, sent the message that the company was looking past oil and gas toward a benign, eco-friendly future of solar and renewable energy” (Frey, 2002). The tag line, logo, abbreviated brand name, and corporate social responsibility (henceforth CSR) message evolved into something that environmentalists could celebrate, or so it was thought.

Since British Petroleum repositioned itself, the conflict with environmental group Greenpeace International has grown two-fold. From boycotts to protests, Greenpeace relentlessly challenges BP’s stance and standards. On April 11, 2009, BP’s centenary celebration was canceled when rumors that BP activists were organizing a major rally to voice charges against the company. BP received another wave of mainstream news coverage when activists protested against them during the 2009 G20 summit in London. For ten years, BP’s efforts and messages have been challenged by Greenpeace, making it one of the most recognizable conflicts in within the “Go Green” movement.

Theoretical Framework The current study primarily draws on the Attribution theory, derived from public relations research, for its theoretical framework. A framing analysis was used to inform the Attribution theory in this investigation. Entman (1993) defines framing as an active process of drawing out dominant themes from content. Dickerson (2001) explains, “repetition of certain words and phrases across the life of a story shapes meaning by telling readers what the important story elements are and how to think about them” (p. 168). Reese (2001) points out that framing is one way in which we try to make sense of the world: “framing refers to the way events and issues are organized and made sense of, especially by media, media professionals, and their audiences” (p. 7). Studies in social science research have shown that prevalent frames in news content shape public opinion, and construct reality. Entman (2007) claims that framing is “the process of culling a few elements of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that highlights connections among them to promote a particular interpretation” (p.164). The study of framing as a media effect is based on the belief that framing has a psychological effect on individuals’ perceived reality. Pan and Kosicki (1993) argue that “framing is viewed as placing information 362 in a unique context so that certain elements of the issue get a greater allocation of an individual’s cognitive resources” (p. 57). Framing influences the way an individual understands an issue or makes sense of a news event from the portrayals of media producers, such that “[f]rames are seen as patterns of interpretation through which people classify information in order to handle it efficiently” (Scheufele, 2004, p. 402). Therefore, public opinion is immediately transformed when media attribute responsibility in a conflict.

The Attribution theory explains that once a crisis has unfolded, the publics involved will immediately assess crisis responsibility because people have a need to search for causes of an event. “Attribution theory posits that people look for the causes of events, especially unexpected and negative outcomes” (Coombs, 2007, p. 136). Over the past few years, scholars have examined the relevance of the Attribution theory to assumed corporate responsibility in crisis communication literature. Coombs (1998) examined how three elements of a crisis situation can affect perceptions of crisis responsibility: crisis attributions, organizational performance, and severity of the crisis. The author argued that “as perceptions of crisis responsibility strengthen, the threat of image damage should strengthen” (p. 180). He found that personal control attribution was positively related to crisis responsibility and negatively related to organizational image, and added that organizations with a history of crises (i.e., negative performance history) intensified the perception of crisis responsibility. Similarly, Lee (2004) explored causal attribution, organizational crisis responses, and crisis severity in relation to consumers’ cognitive, perceptual, and affective reactions to an organizational crisis. The author argued that both causal attribution and crisis response type affected the audiences’ judgment of organizational responsibility for the crisis, their overall impression of the organization, level of sympathy toward the organization, and trust in the organization.

Literature Review Conflicts with pro-social messages Pro-social messages are any nonviolent, social message designed to be helpful or beneficial to the whole of society, and are deemed preferable by society’s majority (Rushton, 1982). When an organization publicly announces its pro-social message, it attests to its corporate social responsibility. For message recipients, such pro-social messages are an extension of an organization’s personal promise. “Since brand support has been linked to the credible corporate promise of enriching the lives of consumers and other stakeholders, its perceived violation stands to reveal the falsehood of that promise” (Palazzo & Basu, 2007, p. 339).

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