How the mass media influence perceptions of corporate reputation: exploring agenda-setting effects within business news coverage
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This dissertation investigates the broad assertion that agenda-setting theory can explain corporate reputation as a media effect. First, the study examined the impact of media visibility on name recognition of firms. The firm’s appearance in the news had a stronger effect on the firm’s standing among the public than either advertising expenditures or the news releases. Second, the study examined the impact of the favorability of news coverage on the public image of the firm, revealing that the two are correlated. Third, the study examined the impact of specific topics that co-occurred with the firm in the news on the topics that the public associate with the firm cognitively. The amount of media coverage devoted to an attribute was correlated with the attribute being one about which respondents said they were highly knowledgeable. There was a direct correspondence between the amount of media coverage devoted to executive performance and workplace environment and the use of these attributes by respondents for describing the firm’s reputation. In the case of social responsibility, the relationship was negative. The study also identified two other types of corporate associations within the news: the one-to-many and the many-to-one. The 'one-to-many' association was when news coverage concentrated on one particular attribute, yet respondents formed a number of other reputation associations about the firm. The 'many-to-one' effect was just the opposite. It occurred when there was a high degree of news coverage related to a number of reputation topics, yet the public’s description of the firm converged on another attribute. Fourth, the study examined the impact of how the favorability of these topics – discussed in the context of news about a specific firm – affected the public’s feelings about these aspects of the firm. This hypothesis was not supported. A final hypothesis concerned priming, which has been generally regarded as a consequence of the media’s agenda-setting. The study examined the degree to which the overall agenda of reputation topics emphasized in the news prime the public to structure definitions of corporate reputation in general. This hypothesis was not supported.