This summary is provided by the IPR Street Team based on the original journal article in the Journal of Public Interest Communications by Chelsea Woods
Activist campaigns have risen in popularity to expose wrongdoings committed due to corporate activities, and to communicate demands for change that are in line with modern values and social movements. This study analyzed how activist organizations use communication tactics to pressure corporations into changing practices and policies that are considered unethical or harmful.
Telephone interviews lasting from 21 to 78 minutes were conducted with 21 individuals representing activist organizations, with follow-up questions sent via email. The issues the activist organizations targeted included topics such as the environment, human rights, and fair trade. During the interview, participants were asked questions based on issues management and corporate campaign literature to gain insight on key tactics used to target corporations. Overall, 60 campaigns targeting 48 corporations were analyzed to identify patterns, themes, and categories. The information was then coded and separated by themes to create a proposed corporate pressure process model.
The tactics used in campaigns to pressure corporations vary in style based on what the target corporation values most. The presented corporate pressure process model identifies two key drivers behind corporate priorities:
1. Public-driven targets, which are concerned with threats to corporate reputation.
2. The second is profit-driven targets, which are threatened by formal legal sanctions.
Overall, corporations are quick to respond if the tactics used generate a significant amount of consumer attention. It is beneficial for the corporation to negotiate with activist organizations early on in the process to avoid creating a longer, potentially more damaging hit to corporate reputation. The study also finds that corporate activism is a step above corporate social responsibility for public-driven targets, although it brings along its own set of challenges and opportunities.
Corporations are expected by consumers to contribute to the wellbeing of society and to take a public stance on important ethical issues. It is valuable for communicators on both sides to know how to navigate these problems to reach a solution that is beneficial both for business and for society. As consumers demand higher ethical standards from corporations, new public relations opportunities and threats are developed. Understanding the tactics used by activist organizations and effectively dealing with them provides the chance to communicate the moral strengths of a corporation while identifying the areas where reputational damage needs to be mitigated. On the other side, knowing what tactics garner a response and change in behavior from target corporations allows activist organizations to employ proper communication campaigns when demanding change.
Any future research conducted on this topic can take into account the perspective of the corporations being targeted. Insight on how corporations respond and engage with activist organizations from the corporation’s point of view would offer a more holistic view of the process and would identify the different approaches corporations take when responding to pressure from activist organizations.
Woods, C. (2019). “We Really Have to Hit Them Where It Hurts”: Analyzing Activists’ Corporate Campaigns. Journal for Public Interest Communications, 3(1), 117-140. doi:https://doi.org/10.32473/jpic.v3.i1.p117
Location of Article
The full study is available to download for free, here: https://journals.flvc.org/jpic/article/view/106691
Valerie Gonzalez is a marketing student at New Jersey City University. She is the founding co-president of the NJCU chapter of PRSSA. Follow her on LinkedIn.