Theory to Practice

When the media views corporate green policies positively

The context

In today's corporate landscape, public perception of a company's environmental stance is heavily influenced by media portrayal. So when firms design their environmental policies,  they hope to gain favorable media coverage. It's not just about implementing green policies; it’s also about how these efforts are orchestrated. Striking the right balance between adhering to established norms and carrying out unique initiatives is the key to getting positive press.

The research

Leveraging our interdisciplinary background, we introduced a comprehensive framework aimed at unraveling the intricate dynamics of how signal combinations influence the media’s portrayal of a firm's environmental endeavors. Our study delineates two distinct signal categories: conformity and distinctiveness. In addition, credibility varies, with signals internally generated by companies being the least credible, and external third-party signals the most credible. 


The former grouping (conformity signals) includes donations, associations, and certifications. 
The latter (distinctiveness signals) includes transformative actions (i.e., changes in products, processes, and structures aimed at reducing a firm’s environmental footprint), inter-firm partnerships, and ratings. 

Through meticulous analysis of data from the electrical utilities sector from 2008 to 2013, encompassing over 11,000 articles discussing environmental initiatives, we unveiled three pivotal patterns that can lead to favorable media coverage: 


Congruent signalers, maintaining consistency in environmental behavior around highly credible signals. 


Balancing signalers, adeptly combining highly credible conformity signals with lower credibility distinctiveness signals (or vice versa). 


Muddling-through signalers, employing a mix of less credible signals from both categories, resulting in limited positive media attention. 


All other combinations seem to be either unconvincing or too confusing and inconsistent to attract admiration in the media. 

Conclusions and takeaways

The practical implications of these results are twofold. 


First, the presence of highly credible, third-party signals significantly shapes media perception regarding a firm's commitment to environmental stewardship. However, their mere existence does not guarantee favorable coverage. The linchpin is the congruence of messages conveyed by these signals. 


Second, inconsistencies or conflicting messages regarding conformity and distinctiveness may result in a lack of positive media attention. This means that firms must meticulously orchestrate their behavioral signals, striking a delicate balance between conforming to established norms and implementing distinctive actions while ensuring unwavering consistency. 


Anne Jacqueminet, Emanuele Bettinazzi, Kerstin Neumann, Peter Snoeren Media Coverage of Firms in the Presence of Multiple Signals: A Configurational Approach”, published online 21 February 2024 in the Academy of Management Journal, DOI.