«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
When Palazzo and Basu (2007) explored how stakeholders perceived the consumption values communicated by a brand and related life values, they pointed out that a mixture of discontent on either of the two variables leads to activism, rejection, and indifference among stakeholders. The authors posited that conflict is best avoided when consumption values and life values the organization communicates are viewed favorably by stakeholders while the organization grounds itself on an identity.
In Insch’s (2008) investigation of corporate Websites from New Zealand’s electricity and gas retailers, and the pro-social messages that were highlighted in the home page, the author noted that all but one of the 18 Websites offered a detailed reference to the natural environment.
The dominant theme within their pro-social messages was the intent to achieve greater energy efficiency. According to the author, 67% of the Websites communicated their goal to improve 363 energy efficiency through the use of enhanced technology and energy sources. Approximately 56% of the Websites highlighted minimizing negative environmental impacts through ‘clean’ or ‘green’ energy sources in combination with a position on ‘environmentally friendly’ energy sources under company development. The third most prevalent pro-social message identified among the Websites mentioned New Zealand’s obligation under the Kyoto Protocol and a mission to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Relevance and uses of Corporate Social Responsibility on corporate reputation Previous studies (Kim, Kim, & Cameron, 2009; Palazzo & Basu, 2007; De Blasio, 2007;
Cho & Hong, 2009) in crisis communication literature have found that CSR plays an important role in crisis management, particularly because it communicates an organization’s commitment to avoiding harm and improving societal standards. Kim et al. (2009) posited that “effects of CSR messages were contingent upon other crisis factors such as crisis types and crisis issues” (p.
13), noting that CSR-driven messages should be used accordingly and not as default. In facets of advertising and marketing, CSR is significant in that it communicates an organization’s intent to improve its corporate practices and impact on society overall.
Activist publics “Significantly, the impact of globalization has led to the increasing migration of the target of civic engagement from political systems (e.g. nation states) to large (especially multinational) corporations, with powerful civil society associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International, or WWF beginning to target globally discernible branded corporate entities. As the No Logo debate shows, the best brands often face the highest pressure” (Palazzo & Basu, 2007, p. 338). In the past few years, crisis communication research (Yarbrough, Cameron, Sallot, & McWilliams, 1998; Cameron et al.,
2001) has shown that one of the most difficult challenges an organization is faced with is appeasing activist publics. Palazzo and Basu (2007) describe activist groups as central to civic activism, such that “it often has its roots in a small but vocal minority who are able to influence public opinion through their salient acts” (p. 339). Anderson (1992) noted an increased expansion of activist groups over time: “In the 1980s, activists developed sophistication and expanded their influence; activism on a global scale became a trend” (p. 152). Whether the conflict is over a moral issue or past wrongdoing, activist publics are driven by their passion to challenge the organization openly, and to impede its operations.
Framing studies Media can shape public opinion through framing, which can inevitably support or challenge dominant ideology. Demonstrated in analysis either quantitatively or qualitatively, framing affords simplicity as it identifies symbolic patterns attributed to a subject or event.
Hume (2002) notes that “the press, through framing, plays a part in projecting cultural metaphors to a mass audience” (p. 38). In order to establish impact on audience perceptions, frames must be repetitious, creating a dominant message. Entman (1993) posits that the most impactful frames are those that possess the most cultural resonance, prominence, and repetition (frequency). As a means to identify dominant themes and patterns reported in media, many scholars have employed framing analyses to understand the issues under scrutiny at a specific moment in time within a given culture.
Studies in social science research have addressed the use of frames in the understanding of health issues, diplomatic relations, political movements, and war. For instance, Luther and 364 Zhou (2005) conducted a comparative content analysis of major daily Chinese and American newspaper coverage that focused on the SARS epidemic. Through framing analysis, the authors identified five major frames embedded within the both countries’ coverage and applied the presence-absence technique in their initial analysis of a sample of news stories, which led them to identify four major news frames and acknowledge a new frame. In Phalen and Algan’s (2001) study of the framing of the 1995 Fourth UN World Conference on Women in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the authors discovered that the newspapers were more concentrated on the geographical and ideological contexts between the United States and China than substantive women’s issues presented at the conference. In their content analysis, the authors identified recurring themes that helped explain the phenomenon at hand. Phalen and Algan (2001) contended “[t]he configuration of themes and agents made salient through horizontal and vertical repetition has the potential to reinforce certain interpretations of the conference” (p. 304). By documenting the location of the dominant frame in the news stories, the authors posited that the salience of one dominant frame shapes the public’s perception of the event, and transforms the very importance of the issues: “Given that people often read only the first few paragraphs of stories, this skew can have a significant effect on perceptions of the Women’s Conference” (Phalen & Algan, 2001, p. 305).
When Kensicki (2001) employed a framing analysis in her study of newspaper coverage of the Deaf President Now (DPN) political movement, she based her method design on the positive and negative framing of written and photographic content in three U.S. publications: The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Silent News. In her analysis, Kensicki (2001) found that the frames identified in the articles were majority positive in view of the movement.
The author also ascertained four dominant frames from the content. By noting the frequency of these frames and identifying their most prevalent uses, she was able to associate the emergence of the frames in relation to the protest timeline. The author concluded that the overwhelming positive frames in the news coverage were evidence of media hegemony. In a similar study, Carpenter (2007) investigated the framing of the Iraq War. The author compared how elite and non-elite newspapers portrayed the war, and determined whether or not non-elite publications emulated elite publications in times of turmoil. She examined differences in the way they framed stories of the Iraq War, recorded the sources cited, and discussed predictors of how the newspapers disseminated information. Her analysis included two elite and four non-elite newspapers for a three-year time period during and after the U.S. War on Iraq in 2003. The author found that the use of frames and the inclusion of international, national, and local sources differed significantly. The origin of sources demonstrated that each publication type varied in how it portrayed the war to its readers. Finally, in Winfield and Friedman’s (2003) qualitative study of Election 2000, framing was approached from an ideological analysis. By analyzing six print articles and 45 broadcast transcripts from four major U.S. networks and three major newspapers, the authors identified a range of frames that were consistently used to portray the women.
My study examined the dynamics of conflict between activist publics and transnational organizations by focusing on the media framing of the “Go Green” conflict between BP and Greenpeace. This manuscript explored the impact of corporate reputation on organizational credibility, CSR, and conflict/crisis attribution as reported in U.S. print news media. This approach is important because newspapers serve as a catalyst for public debate on government policies (Sei-Hill et al., 2002). With the focus on frames and conflict attributes in the environmental crisis framework within print news media, this study posed the following research 365 questions: first, how do attributions in the conflict shape the way BP and Greenpeace were framed in the news stories? Second, how do the credibility frames in pro-social messages credited to BP compare to those of Greenpeace? Third, which conflict group was assigned overall causal attribution? And, fourth, what relationship emerges between the frames in the news stories?
Methods To examine these questions, I collected ten years of news stories from the Lexis-Nexis database. One crucial element to this investigation is the time period in which the news stories were published. Since BP first launched its “Go Green” campaign in 2000, news stories dating back to 1999 offer significant value in my analysis. Since rumors of the BP’s repositioning surfaced in late fall 1999, that time period was included in the search. Thus, a full-text search was conducted using the following keywords: “BP” and “Greenpeace” for newspapers published in the United States from October 3, 1999 to October 3, 2009. To be included in the content analysis, a story had to mention the conflict between members of Greenpeace and BP in either the headline or body text in the general news, international news, or business/financial section.
The initial search offered 125 news stories from local and national U.S. newspapers. American newspapers were the focal point for the sampling because the Western style of news reporting leads the rest of the world in the style of news coverage. Newspapers to be included in the final sample had to fit the criteria for large circulation size. Media news coverage of the conflict was gathered from: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution; The Boston Herald; Chicago Sun-Times;
Dallas Observer (Texas); The Denver Post; The Houston Chronicle; The New York Times; The Oregonian; The San Francisco Chronicle; San Jose Mercury News; Seattle Post-Intelligencer;
St. Louis Post-Dispatch; USA Today; The Wall Street Journal; The Washington Post; and The Washington Times. News articles were selected on the basis of relevance to the conflict. A final sample size of 40 news stories was pooled from the initial 60 that were yielded (refer to Table 1).
It should be noted that the top three newspapers included in the final sample that yielded the greatest amount of coverage on the conflict for the ten-year period were The New York Times (n = 14),The Washington Post (n = 9), and The Houston Chronicle (n = 7). Understanding the frames within such coverage is of importance not only because these newspapers offered the most coverage, but also because The New York Times and The Washington Post are elite newspapers that others model themselves after. Understanding the scope of their coverage affords a greater perspective of the way other newspapers frame the issue. The Houston Chronicle may have also offered more frequent reporting due to the proximity and location of BP’s national headquarters, which were located in Houston and Texas City, Texas.
Framing analysis The aim of this research design is to recognize dual aspects of cause attributions and key frames ascribed to each conflict group in reference to the environment. As posited by Neuman (1992), “[H]ow bits of information gleaned from the news fit into a person’s larger framework of understanding important topics of public debate” (p. 7). A framing analysis of the news stories in this study is an essential tool used to identify the dominant attributions within the conflict that is communicated to the masses. Kiousis (2006) also posited that it is important to determine whether the research is measuring “the perception of the message sources, perceptions of channels through which messages travel, and perceptions of messages themselves” (p. 349).
From a preliminary reading of articles, four sets of frames were identified. Two frames that related to attribution were added to the list of frames in order to expand on the full scope of the study. Listed according to priority, the following frames and attribution concepts served as a guide for my qualitative framing analysis: 1) credibility frame; 2) power frame; 3) causal attribution; 4) social responsibility attribution; 5) hero frame; and 6) villain frame.
Credibility. Credibility (low or high) extends to the implied trustworthiness of the conflict group.
For example, an article that stated “Last March, Lord John Browne, the group chief executive of the British oil giant BP, gave a speech at Stanford University” (Frey, 2002) implies BP is highly credible due to its association with a highly reputable university. An article that argued “When you talk to BP officials about that commitment, they trot out a host of examples to prove that it's not just public relations. BP owns a big solar energy company. It has significantly lowered its greenhouse-gas emissions. It has a thriving biofuels program. And it is investing $8 billion over 10 years in alternative energy, like solar and wind power (though it includes natural gas as an alternative energy, which strikes me as a stretch). Yet at its core, BP remains an oil company, and no matter how much it says it wants to create more environmentally sensitive sources of energy, its basic task is still to stick holes in the ground in search of hydrocarbons” (Nocera,
2006) suggests BP is of low credibility because its CSR message is only a façade to its true purpose.