Obtained by the Past. How Reputational Histories Matter for Agencies’ Reputation and their Management Hereof when Exposed to Negative Media Coverage

Public Administration
Heidi Houlberg Salomonsen
Aarhus Universitet
Heidi Houlberg Salomonsen
Aarhus Universitet
Koen Verhoest
Universiteit Antwerpen
Stefan Boye
Aarhus Universitet

Bureaucratic reputation research has demonstrated that agencies perform reputation sensitive behavior when subject to reputational threats. Agency responses to negative media coverage have been explained as the result of agencies’ calculations of the relative strength of the reputation being subject to threat and the content of the threat vis-à-vis its core task (Maor et al 2013; Gilad et al 2015). This paper furthers our understanding of the factors explaining when agencies’ reputation become subject for reputational threats and the type of agencies responses to threats.
An agency’s reputation is formed because of audiences’ perception of an agency over time (Coombs & Holladay 2001). As such, agencies build a relational history with its multiple audiences, formed by past judgements of an agency’s reputation. Such ‘reputational histories’ matters as they serve as a ‘Velcro’ increasing the likelihood of exposure to future reputational threats (Coombs & Holladay 2001). The media represent a vital audience not least due to its role as an informal accountability forum (Jacobs and Schillemans 2016), as well as the relationship between an organization’s ‘media reputation’ and the opinion held by other audiences (Caroll and McCombs 2003).
The paper identifies the Velcro effect for agencies ‘media reputation’, as negative media coverage in the past increases the likelihood of agencies being exposed to negative media coverage in subsequent media coverage, in general and to specific dimensions of its reputation. Further, such negative coverage in the relational history is related to particular types of agency responses, indicating that the felt accountability towards the media triggers different types of responses depending on the agency’s past ‘media reputation’.
Empirically the paper is based upon the coding of the media coverage of 20 agencies in Denmark and Belgium respectively in one quality newspaper for a period of 10 years, including almost 12000 articles.
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