Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 133, Issue 3, pp 567–582 | Cite as

Managing Impressions in the Face of Rising Stakeholder Pressures: Examining Oil Companies’ Shifting Stances in the Climate Change Debate

  • Mignon D. van Halderen
  • Mamta Bhatt
  • Guido A. J. M. Berens
  • Tom J. Brown
  • Cees B. M. van Riel


In this paper, we examine how organizations’ impression management (IM) evolves in response to rising stakeholder pressures regarding organizations’ corporate responsibility initiatives. We conducted a comparative case study analysis over a period of 13 years (1997–2009) for two organizations—Exxon and BP—that took extreme (but different) initial stances on climate change. We found that as stakeholder pressures rose, their IM tactics unfolded in four phases: (i) advocating the initial stance, (ii) sensegiving to clarify the initial stance, (iii) image repairing, and (iv) adjusting the stance. Taken together, our analysis of IM over these four phases provides three key insights about the evolution of IM in the face of rising pressures. First, when faced with stakeholder pressures, it seems that organizations do not immediately resort to conforming but tend to give in gradually when pressures increase and start to come from relatively powerful stakeholders. Second, evolution of IM seems to be characterized by path dependence, i.e., even as organizations’ positions evolve, they continue to show their conviction in their initial positions and try to convey that their subsequent positions flow logically from the previous ones. Finally, IM involves navigation between symbolism and substance, and companies tend to strive toward harmonizing their symbolic and substantive actions as stakeholder pressure increases.


Comparative case study analysis Impression management Process model Qualitative Rising stakeholder pressures 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mignon D. van Halderen
    • 1
  • Mamta Bhatt
    • 1
  • Guido A. J. M. Berens
    • 1
  • Tom J. Brown
    • 2
  • Cees B. M. van Riel
    • 1
  1. 1.Rotterdam School of ManagementErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Spears School of BusinessOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

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