“We Really Have to Hit Them Where It Hurts”: Analyzing Activists’ Corporate Campaigns
Keywords:Activist organizations, Anti-corporate activism, Issues management, Corporate campaign, Social movements
Despite a surge in activism efforts directed at corporations, extant research largely overlooks how activist organizations craft and implement their campaigns. To address this gap, this article applies issues management to examine the process used by activist organizations to pressure target corporations into altering practices and policies that they perceive to be problematic. Using a qualitative approach, this study draws from interviews with 21 activist practitioners, which are supplemented by organizational documents and news articles. This study introduces the Corporate Pressure Process Model, which depicts and describes the various phases of activists’ corporate campaigns, including how these groups determine what threat is most appropriate and select coordinating tactics. Based on the findings, this article also outlines implications for activist organizations and their target corporations.
Anderson, D. S. (1992). Identifying and responding to activist publics: A case study. Journal of Public Relations Research, 4(3), 151-165. doi:10.1207/s1532754xjprr0403_02
Brooks, R. (2009, March 11). We don’t have to destroy our forests to get soft toilet paper. The Vancouver Sun. p. A9.
Chia, J. (2016, March 28). Animal rights activists cause security scare by bursting into Easter Sunday Mass in packed midtown cathedral. Daily Mail UK. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3512084/Animal-rights-activists-disrupt-Easter-Sunday-Mass-sparking-fears-terrorism-packed-midtown-Manhattan-cathedral.html
Clarkson, M. B. E. (1995). A stakeholder framework for analyzing and evaluating corporate social performance. Academy of Management Review, 20, 92-117. doi:10.2307/258888
Coombs, W. T. (1992). The failure of the task force on food assistance: A case study of the role of legitimacy in issue management. Journal of Public Relations Research, 4(2), 101-122. doi:10.1207/s1532754xjprr0402_03
Coombs, W. T. (1998). The Internet as potential equalizer: New leverage for confronting social irresponsibility. Public Relations Review, 24, 289-303. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(99)80141-6
Coombs, W. T. (2002). Assessing online issue threats: Issue contagions and their effect on issue prioritization. Journal of Public Affairs, 2(4), 215-229. doi:10.1002/pa.115
Coombs, W. T. (2006). Code red in the boardroom: Crisis management as organizational DNA. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2014). It’s not just PR: Public relations in society (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Crable, R. E., & Vibbert, S. L. (1985). Managing issues and influencing public policy. Public Relations Review, 11, 3-16. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(82)80114-8
Cutlip, S. M., Center, A. H., & Broom, G. M, (2012). Effective public relations (11th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Deegan, D. (2001). Managing activism: A guide to dealing with activists and pressure groups. London: Kogan Page.
den Hond, F. & de Bakker, F. G. A. (2007). Ideologically motivated activism: How activist groups influence corporate social change activities. Academy of Management Review, 32, 901-924.
Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2000). The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In Y. S. Lincoln & N. K. Denzin, Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 1–28). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Dodd, M. D., & Supa, D. W. (2014). Conceptualizing and measuring “corporate social advocacy” communication: Examining the impact on the corporate financial performance. Public Relations Journal, 8(3), 1-23. Retrieved from http://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/past-editions/Vol8/No3/
Dodd, M. D., & Supa, D. (2015). Testing the viability of corporate social advocacy as a predictor of purchase intention. Communication Research Reports, 32(4), 287-293. doi:10.1080/08824096.2015.1089853
Friedman, M. (1999). Consumer boycotts: Effecting change through the marketplace and the media. New York, NY: Routledge.
Gies, E. (2014, September 8). Greenpeace and tissue giant Kimberly-Clark: From enemies to allies. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/08/greenpeace-kimberly-clark-kleenex-tissue-paper-canada-forests-ngo-corporate-collaboration
Grunig, J. E. (1989). Publics, audiences and market segments: Models of receivers of campaign messages. In C. T. Salmon (Ed.), Information campaigns: Managing the process of social change (pp. 197-226). Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.
Grunig, L. A. (1992). Activism: How it limits the effectiveness of organizations and how excellent public relations departments respond. In J. E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in public relations and communications management (pp. 503–530). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hart, S. L., & Sharma, S. (2004). Engaging fringe stakeholders for the competitive imagination. Academy of Management Executive, 18(1), 7-18. doi:10.5465/ame.2004.12691227
Heath, R. L. (1997). Strategic issues management: Organizations and public policy challenges. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Heath, R. L. (1998). New communication technologies: An issues management point of view. Public Relations Review, 24, 273-288. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(99)80140-4
Heath, R. L. (2002). Issues management: Its past, present, and future. Journal of Public Affairs, 2(4), 209-214. doi:10.1002/pa.114
Heath, R. L. (2005). Issues management. In R. L. Heath (Ed.), Encyclopedia of public relations (pp. 460-463). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Heath, R. L., & Palenchar, M. J. (2009). Strategic issues management: Organizations and public policy changes (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Heath, R. L., & Waymer, D. (2009). Activist public relations and the paradox of the positive: A case study of Frederick Douglass’ Fourth of July address. In R. L. Heath, E. L. Toth, & D. Waymer (Eds.), Rhetorical and critical approaches to public relations (pp. 195-215). New York, NY: Routledge.
Henderson, A. (2005). Activism in “paradise”: Identity management in a public relations campaign against genetic engineering. Journal of Public Relations Research, 17(2), 117-137. doi:10.1207/s1532754xjprr1702_4
Jackson, P. (1982). Tactics of confrontation. In J. S. Nagelschmidt (Ed.), The public affairs handbook (pp. 211–220). New York, NY: American Management Association.
Jaques, T. (2006). Activist “rules” and the convergence with issue management. Journal of Communication Management, 10(4), 407-420. doi:10.1108/13632540610714836
Jaques, T. (2009). Issue management as a post-crisis discipline: Identifying and responding to issue impacts beyond the crisis. Journal of Public Affairs, 9(1), 35-44. doi:10.1002/pa.310
Jaques, T. (2013). Ensnared in a gay health controversy: A comparative study in responding to issue activism. Journal of Public Affairs, 13(1), 53-60. doi:10.1002/pa.1442
John, S., & Thomson, S. (2003). New activism and the corporate response. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jones, B. L., & Chase, W. H. (1979). Managing public policy issues. Public Relations Review, 5, 3-23. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(80)80020-8
Karagianni, K. S., & Cornelissen, J. (2006). Anti-corporate movements and public relations. Public Relations Review, 32, 168-170. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2006.02.009
Kent, M. L., & Taylor, M. (2002). Toward a dialogic theory of public relations. Public Relations Review, 28, 21-37. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(02)00108-X
King, B. G. (2008). A political mediation model of corporate response to social movement activism. Administrative Science Quarterly, 53, 395-421. doi:10.2189/asqu.53.3.395
King, B., & McDonnell, M. (2012). Good firms, good targets: The relationship between corporate social responsibility, reputation, and activist targeting. In K. Tsutsui & A. Lim (Eds.), Corporate social responsibility in a globalizing world (pp. 430-444). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Knight, G., & Greenberg, J. (2002). Promotionalism and subpolitics: Nike and its labor critics. Management Communication Quarterly, 15, 541-570. doi:10.1177/0893318902154002
Linaweaver, S., & Bate, B. (2009, November 19). Manage your environmental crisis before it happens. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/2009/11/18/environment-crisis-management-leadership-citizenship-greenpeace.html
Lindlof, T. R., & Taylor, B. C. (2002). Qualitative communication research methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Luders, J. (2006). The economics of movement success: Business responses to civil rights mobilization. American Journal of Sociology, 111, 963-998. doi:10.1086/498632
Madden, S., Janoske, M., Winkerl, R. B., & Harpole, Z. (2018). Who loves consent? Social media and the culture jamming of Victoria’s Secret. Public Relations Inquiry, 7(2), 171-186. doi:10.1177/2046147X18764216
Manheim, J. B. (2001). The death of a thousand cuts: Corporate campaigns and the attack on the corporation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
McDonnell, M., & King, B. (2013). Keeping up appearances: Reputational threat and impression management after social movement boycotts. Administrative Science Quarterly, 58, 387-419. doi:10.1177/0001839213500032
Mitchell, R. K., Agle, B. R., & Wood, D. J. (1997). Toward a theory of stakeholder identification and salience: Defining the principle of who and what really counts. Academy of Management Review, 22, 853-886. doi:10.2307/259247
Moms Demand Action (2014, September 1). New ad highlights alarming contrast in Kroger’s policies permitting open carry of loaded firearms, but prohibiting skateboards, food, shirtless shoppers. Retrieved from http://momsdemandaction.org/in-the-news/new-ads-highlight-alarming-contrast-krogers-policies-permitting-open-carry-loaded-firearms-prohibiting-skateboards-food-shirtless-shoppers/
Neate, R. (2017, January 22). Gays Against Guns: Can the LGBTQ community curb the power of the gun lobby? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/22/gays-against-guns-can-the-lgbt-community-curb-the-power-of-the-nra
O’Connor, C. (2014, September 4). Bloomberg gun safety group spends six figures on Kroger ad blitz. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/09/04/bloomberg-gun-safety-group-spends-six-figures-on-kroger-ad-blitz/#7ab367642da8
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluative methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Pilcher, J., & Hunt, A. (2014, March 7). Greenpeace—global force with deep pockets. Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved from https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2014/03/07/greenpeace-global-force-deep-pockets/6157165/
Quach, H. (2016, March 11). Fight against SeaWorld continues for PETA. Times of San Diego. Retrieved from https://timesofsandiego.com/business/2016/03/11/fight-against-seaworld-continues-peta/
Safdar, K. (2017, April 5). How Target botched its response to the North Carolina bathroom law. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-target-botched-its-response-to-the-north-carolina-bathroom-law-1491404107
Smith, D., & Elliott, D. (2007). Exploring the barriers to learning from crisis: Organizational learning and crisis. Management Learning, 38, 619-538. doi:10.1177/1350507607083205
Smith, M. F. (2005). Activism. In R. L. Heath (Ed.), Encyclopedia of public relations (pp. 5-9). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Smith, M. F., & Ferguson, D. P. (2001). Activism. In R. L. Heath (Ed.), Handbook of public relations (pp. 291-200). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Smith, M. F., & Ferguson, D. P. (2010). Activism 2.0. In R. L. Heath (Ed.), The Sage handbook of public relations (2nd ed., pp. 395-408). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Smith, M. F., & Ferguson, D. P. (2018). Organizing for advocacy: Activist organizational rhetoric. In O. Ihlen & R. L. Heath (Ed.), The handbook of organizational rhetoric and communication (pp. 439-451). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Sommerfeldt, E. J. (2013). Online power resource management: Activist resource mobilization, communication strategy, and organizational structure. Journal of Public Relations Research, 25(4), 347-367. doi:10.1080/1062726X.2013.806871
Stake, R. E. (2010). Qualitative research: Studying how things work. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Stokes, A. Q., & Atkins-Sayre, W. (2018). PETA, rhetorical fracture, and the power of digital activism. Public Relations Inquiry, 7(2), 149-170. doi:10.1177/2046147X18770216
Stokes, A. Q., & Rubin, D. (2010). Activism and the limits of symmetry: The public relations battle between Colorado GASP and Philip Morris. Journal of Public Relations Research, 22(1), 26-48. doi:10.1080/10627260903150268
Taylor, M., Kent, M. L., & White, W. J. (2001). How activist organizations are using the Internet to build relationships. Public Relations Review, 27, 263–284. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(01)00086-8
Taylor, M., Vasquez, G. M., & Doorley, J. (2003). Merck and AIDS activists: Engagement as a framework for extending issues management. Public Relations Review, 29, 257-270. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(03)00046-8
Veil, S. R., Reno, J., Freihaut, R., & Oldham, J. (2015). Online activists vs. Kraft foods: A case of social media hijacking. Public Relations Review, 41, 103-108. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2014.11.017
Waldron, T. L., Navis, C., & Fisher, G. (2013). Explaining differences in firms’ response to activism. Academy of Management Review, 38, 397-417. doi:10.5465/amr.2011.0466
Wang, T., Wezel, F. C., & Forgues, B. (2016). Protecting market identity: When and how do organizations respond to consumers’ devaluations? Academy of Management Journal, 59, 135-162. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0205
Weber Shandwick (2018, July 25). CEO activism in 2018: Half of Americans say CEO activism influences government. Retrieved from https://www.webershandwick.com/news/ceo-activism-in-2018-half-of-americans-say-ceo-activism-influences-government/
Woods, C. L. (2018). “Are your tanks filled with orca tears?”: Crisis frames and message convergence in SeaWorld’s tanked Twitter campaign. Corporate Reputation Review, 21(1), 9-21. doi:10.1057/s41299-017-0039-y
By submitting to the Journal of Public Interest Communications, the author(s) agree to the terms of the Author Agreement. All authors retain copyrights associated with their article contributions and agree to make such contributions available under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY NC) 4.0 upon publication.
This agreement takes effect upon acceptance of the Submission for publication in JPIC.
- I hereby grant to the University of Florida (“the University”) the non-exclusive right to retain, reproduce and distribute the Submission in whole or in part, in print and electronic format and in any medium. This agreement does not represent a transfer of copyright to the University.
- The University may make and keep multiple copies of the work for purposes of security, backup, preservation and access; and may migrate the work to any medium or format for the purpose of preservation and access.
- I represent and warrant to the University that the work is my original work and that I have the authority as sole author or I have the authority on behalf of my co-authors to grant the rights contained in this agreement. I also represent that the work does not, to the best of my knowledge, infringe or violate any rights of others.
- I further represent and warrant that I have obtained all necessary rights to permit the University to reproduce and distribute the work, including any third-party material. Alternatively, I represent that my use of any third-party material is allowed because the material is not in copyright or I have performed a fair use analysis and reasonably believe my use is permitted. Any content owned by a third party is clearly identified and acknowledged within the work.
- I grant these same rights to the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida. Additionally, I grant the right to both the University and Smathers Libraries to enter into agreements with third-party entities and the rights necessary to host, print, index and abstract the Submission.
Open Access and Self-Archiving
JPIC follows an open-access publishing model, meaning that all articles will be publicly accessible on the Internet immediately upon publication. I understand that I may share the submitted manuscript (preprint) of the Submission on the Internet at any point before or after publication, with a citation and link to the final version of record to be added as soon as the issue is available. I may disseminate the final peer-reviewed version at any point after publication.
Creative Commons License
JPIC applies a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY NC) 4.0 to encourage sharing and reuse of content and to maximize the impact of published research. By publishing in JPIC, I agree that the terms of this license will be applied to the Submission. Smathers Libraries (email@example.com) may be able to offer additional information.
By granting this license, I acknowledge that I have read and agreed to the terms of this agreement.