Speaker: Kerstin Neumann, Universität Innsbruck
Prior research on the tenor of media coverage has significantly advanced our understanding of how firms react to negative evaluations of the media. Less is known about how firms attract positive or negative media coverage in the first place. Since media build their perception holistically on a combination of multiple elements, we suggest that media coverage is influenced by a nexus of signals about a firm’s behavior. In this paper, we investigate what complex combinations of signals lead to positive or negative media coverage and focus our analyses on the context of firms’ environmental sustainability. Our results, based on the fsQCA methodology, confirm the holistic view as none of the signals in isolation is either necessary or sufficient for positive or media coverage. We find that the media tend to respond positively to signals that consistently point to a high level of norm-conformity and negatively to low conformity. However, we also find that the media can be critical despite of high conformity, suggesting that the signals’ strength and the level of (in)congruence among them play a key role for the tenor of media coverage. In addition, the data reveal that there might exist an “optimal” level of signaling, as the overly complex use of different signals increases the risk of negative coverage. This paper contributes to our understanding of media coverage in the light of interdependent, simultaneous firm-level signals. It also proposes that the media may play the role of a controlling instance more effectively than previous work suggested.