Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Communication and Information

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Dr. Shari Veil

Abstract

Increasingly, corporations receive pressure from activist organizations to alter activities that these individuals find problematic and irresponsible. Despite this escalation, research on activism from a public relations perspective progressed slowly; much of this literature privileges the perspective of corporations and rarely examines the process from the activist perspective. To address this gap, this dissertation examined how activist organizations use issues management and communication strategies to incite corporations to change their practices and policies while simultaneously building relationships with pertinent audiences. This study incorporated data collected from qualitative interviews with activist practitioners representing a variety of activist organizations, along with organizational texts and news articles. These data provided an understanding of how activist organizations campaign against corporations using a variety of strategies and tactics in an effort to pressure corporations into changing their behavior.

Because this dissertation focused on how activist organizations generate and promote issues to gain the attention of their targets, issues management served as the theoretical framework. Guided by this theory and existing issues management models, this dissertation demonstrates how activist groups identify and establish legitimacy for their issue(s). As issues management is traditionally studied from a corporate perspective, the findings show that the process differs slightly for activist organizations and introduces the Issue Advancement Model to demonstrate how activists employ issues management. Additionally, this dissertation explored how activist groups develop relationships with their targets, supporters, communities, and other relevant publics, noting the nuances involved in each of these dynamics. Specifically, this dissertation supports claims that the dialogue approach is more appropriate for understanding and analyzing the corporation-activist relationship than other public relations models, but also notes that some activist organizations may not seek resolution. In addition to these theoretical findings, this dissertation also offers practical implications, introducing the Corporate Campaign Model, which depicts how activist organizations challenge firms while also offering suggestions for corporations targeted by these groups.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.210

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