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Running Head: AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

Driving Change in Consumer Attitudes:


Agenda Setting Theory and CSR Reporting in the Automotive Industry
Patrick Bedard
Hamilton College

2014
Patrick Bedard

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AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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Abstract
This study was designed to explore the possibility of agenda-setting effects in the realm
corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting. A review of literature in the field shows that the
traditional concept of agenda-setting, which originally explained the influence of the mass media
on public perceptions of political issues, has given way to a more comprehensive idea of agenda
setting, which acknowledges the existence of related effects for corporate news. In order to
investigate if this expansion of agenda-setting can be carried further into the realm of CSR
reporting in the automotive industry in particular, this study surveyed a sample of 89
participants, who were randomly exposed to CSR reports from Ford Motor Company and
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation or to a control variable. Regression analysis was then used to
determine the effect of CSR report exposure on consumer perception of corporate sustainability
and consumer purchase intent for six CSR issues: environmental issues, economic issues, human
rights issues, labor practices and decent working conditions issues, product responsibility issues,
and social issues. Demographic and automotive and environmental interest control variables
were also used to assess the existence of moderating factors on the agenda setting effect. This
study found evidence for the existence of both first and second level agenda setting effects for
both Ford and Mitsubishi CSR reports, although effects varied in strength between the two
companies.
Keywords: Agenda Setting, Corporate Social Responsibility

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Abstract ...

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List of Tables ..........

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Chapter One: Introduction ..

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Chapter Two: Literature Review

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The Evolution of Agenda Setting .......................................

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Empirical Support for Agenda Setting in the Corporate Sphere

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Agenda Setting and Corporate Social Responsibility .

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Automotive CSR Report Content .......

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Chapter Three: Methods .

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Purpose .......................

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Participants ..

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Procedure

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Measures .

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Chapter Four: Results .

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Chapter Five: Discussion

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Limitations ..

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Future Directions

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Chapter Six: Conclusions ...........

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References ...

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Appendix A .

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Appendix B .

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AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

iv.

LIST OF TABLES
Table One: Overall Sustainability Assessment Measure ........

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Table Two: Purchase Intent Measure: Economic Issues ............

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Table Three: Purchase Intent Measure: Environmental Issues ...

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Table Four: Purchase Intent Measure: Human Rights Issues..

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Table Five: Purchase Intent Measure: Labor Practices and Decent Working
Conditions Issues.

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Table Six: Purchase Intent Measure: Product Responsibility Issues...

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Table Seven: Purchase Intent Measure: Social Issues.

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Table Eight: Willingness to Pay Measure: Economic Issues .........

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Table Nine: Willingness to Pay Measure: Environmental Issues ...

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Table Ten: Willingness to Pay Measure: Human Rights Issues..

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Table Eleven: Willingness to Pay Measure: Labor Practices and Decent Working
Conditions Issues.

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Table Twelve: Willingness to Pay Measure: Product Responsibility Issues...

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Table Thirteen: Willingness to Pay Measure: Social Issues

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AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

Agenda Setting Theory and CSR Reporting in the Automotive Industry


After the demise of the hypodermic needle theory of media influence in the late twentyfirst century, agenda setting theory became a frequently used method for explaining the nuanced
influence of mass media on the public (Weaver, 2008). Originally developed to explain the
relationship between political coverage in the mass media and public opinion, agenda setting
theory was soon expanded to include media influences pertaining to a variety of other topics. In
the late 1990s and 2000s, scholars began to increasingly include corporate communications
within the set of topics acknowledged to have agenda setting effects (Carroll and McCombs,
2003 & MCcombs, 2005). Multiple studies have found that corporations can become the objects
referred to in the first level of agenda setting, which pertains to how often people think about
certain entities within the public agenda (Amujo et al., 2012; Davidson and Chazaud, 2009;
Gorpe and Yuksel, 2006; Kiousis et al., 2007; Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis, 2006). The second
level of agenda setting, which relates to positive or negative issue attributes, affects how we
actually think about the objects placed into the public agenda by the first level of agenda setting
(Weaver, 2008). As the scholarly community has already provided significant evidence for the
existence of traditional agenda setting within the realm of corporate communication in the mass
media (Akpabio, 2005; Carroll & McCombs, 2003; Curtin, 1999; McCombs, 2005), this research
will pursue agenda setting within a similar but less studied context the context of direct
corporate communication.
As society moves into the internet age, demassification has become more and more
prevalent and has had a significant impact on the relevance of agenda setting theory. Agenda
setting theory, whether pertaining to corporate or political news, traditionally relies on mass
media to communicate messages concerning objects and attributes to the public. Over the past

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

two decades, technological advancements in internet, social media, and mass media
communication have allowed public relations practitioners to engage in new forms of
communication which reach out directly to the public in order to influence the first level (object)
and second level (issue) attribute agenda. One of these forms of communication is the corporate
social responsibility (CSR) report, which paints a picture for the public of a companys social
footprint and sustainability efforts, both positive and negative. In theory, CSR reporting is a tool
for transparency and accountability to stakeholders, but as CSR reporting is a largely unregulated
field, these reports and their accompanying public relations materials have an enormous potential
to influence public perceptions of companies. It remains to be seen whether or not this influence
is strong enough to elicit agenda setting effects on those who are exposed to CSR related
materials.
Unlike product advertisements or traditional press releases, CSR reports, though publicly
available, are not intended for consumption by the public at large (Whan, 2004). Rather, CSR
reports are tailored towards parties with a preexisting interest in the companies producing them
investors, stakeholders, and socially conscious consumers. Despite this fact, a 2004 study found
that 54 percent of Americans had read, looked at, or heard about a CSR report (Whan, 2004). Of
those twenty percent of Americans who read a companys CSR report, 53 percent go on to buy
the companys products, 52 percent go on to speak positively about the company, and 49 percent
take on an improved impression of the company (Whan, 2004). While only a relatively small
portion of CSR report readers are comprised of the public at large most readers represent
interests ranging from investment to social activism CSR report readership has increased
tremendously in all demographics over the last 15 years, with many estimates putting growth at
well over 50 percent over the course of the last decade (Townsend et al., 2010). Given this

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

tremendous growth in CSR readership, which serves as an example of the demassification of


traditional media, it is no surprise that the number of companies producing reports have grown
by double-digit figures every year for the past decade, to a sum of nearly 6,000 companies in
2012 (GRI, 2012).
The tremendous growth in CSR reporting alone justifies further research in this field, but
the possible agenda setting implications of this new form of corporate communication provide an
even more pressing reason for researchers to better understand the impact of CSR reporting on
the public. While significant academic research already suggests that traditional agenda setting
applies in the corporate sphere (Akpabio, 2005; Carroll & McCombs, 2003; Curtin, 1999;
McCombs, 2005), this theory has yet to be applied specifically to the practice CSR reporting.
The following literature review contains examination of the evolution of agenda setting theory in
the corporate realm and demonstrates that corporations do have agenda setting power. This thesis
will determine whether or not the corporate agenda setting which exists in mass media also
applies to the growing field of CSR reporting.
In order to investigate the agenda setting effects of CSR reporting, this thesis will make
use of a previously conducted a content analysis of automotive industry CSR reports in order to
determine the objects and issue attributes of the automotive CSR agenda (Pouvreau and Sonier,
2012). The automotive industry was chosen as a field of focus for two primary reasons. First, the
automotive industry has a highly visible, broad-spectrum social responsibility impact in the areas
of greenhouse gas emissions, traditional pollutant emissions, resource depletion, consumer
safety, economic impact, and domestic employment. This broad spectrum is reflected in
automotive industry CSR reports, which encompass all possible CSR categories (Pouvreau and
Sonier, 2012). Second, at a bare minimum, the automotive industry has a noticeable impact on

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING


the lives of everyone with a drivers license, as well as quite a number of those who do not,
making it an easy industry for participants to conceptualize and identify with. All major
automakers produce CSR reports, and the industry is considered by some to be on the forefront
of the CSR reporting trend (Gartner, 2011; Pouvreau and Sonier, 2012), possibly because its
impact is so highly visible in regards to the global climate change crisis.
This studys primary tool for analysis will be a survey of two groups of participants: the
first group will be exposed to content from the six previously analyzed CSR reports while the
second group will act as a control group. The survey responses will then be examined and
correlated with the content analysis to determine if a greater agenda setting effect exists for the
CSR exposed group than for the control group.
Literature Review
The Evolution of Agenda Setting
Before agenda-setting can be reviewed within the context of corporate news, a clear
understanding of its origins and evolution is needed. Agenda-setting was first proposed by
McCombs and Shaw in 1972. Their study examined the effect of media coverage on the public
issues agenda for the 1968 presidential election campaign. Specifically, the two researchers
attempted to match what Chapel Hill voters said were key issues of the campaign with the
actual content of the mass media used by them during the campaign (McCombs and Shaw,
1972, p. 177). The study interviewed one hundred undecided voters on the issues they felt to be
most important to the 1968 presidential election, regardless of which issues the candidates were
actually focusing on. Concurrently, content analysis was performed for four local newspapers,
three national newspapers and magazines, and two major broadcast news stations. After
analyzing the results of their correlation, the researchers determined that the media appear to

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have exerted a considerable impact on voters' judgments of what they considered the major
issues of the campaign, (McCombs and Shaw, 1972, p. 180). Despite its limited scope and
sample size, McCombs and Shaws research laid down a compelling starting point for further
research on agenda setting to build upon. In the more than 40 years since McCombs and Shaw
first published on agenda setting in 1972, hundreds of follow up studies have been conducted to
expand the scope of agenda setting beyond its original political context (McCombs and Shaw,
1993; McCombs, 2005; Tan and Weaver, 2012). Although relatively little research has sought to
investigate the existence of agenda setting as it affects public opinions on corporations, those
studies which have been conducted are of robust, empirical design and make a compelling
argument for the expansion of agenda setting into the corporate sphere.
In order to properly understand the agenda setting theory and its applicability to the realm
of corporate communication, one must gain an understanding of the definitions relevant to
McCombs and Shaws theory. At its simplest, agenda setting theory states that issues, which are
also known as objects, will be more prevalent on the public agenda if they receive attention in
the mass media (Weaver, 2008). This is known as the first level of agenda setting. The second
level of agenda setting focuses on the specific attributes of objects in the media by stating the
medias decision to focus on certain positive or negative object attributes can influence how the
public perceives objects portrayed in the media (Weaver, 2008). In the context of agenda setting,
the public agenda is often referred to as the public issues agenda (Weaver, 2008).
In addition to being notable for their early work on agenda setting, McCombs and Shaw
have also made considerable contributions to the study of agenda setting theorys evolution.
Their works help to connect modern scholarly research on agenda setting in public relations and
corporate image with earlier research in the field which focused almost exclusively on agenda

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

setting in the political news realm (Weaver, 2008). In their 1993 work, McCombs and Shaw note
that even in the earliest phases of agenda-setting research, scholars were stretching the bounds of
agenda-setting applicability into a number of new, albeit still political, domains (McCombs and
Shaw, 1993). Also critical to the expansion of agenda-setting into new research venues was the
expansion of agenda-setting effects beyond the first level of agenda-setting and into previously
mentioned second level. By acknowledging that the amount of time devoted to certain positive or
negative attributes of an issue affects how the public thinks about that issue, researchers opened
the door for the study of how self-interested parties, such as corporations, influence public
opinion via agenda-setting (McCombs and Shaw, 1993).
The applicability of agenda setting to the world of corporate news is best advocated from
a theoretical standpoint by McCombss 2005 summation of progress in agenda-setting theory,
which drew specific attention to agenda-setting in the field of corporate communication
(McCombs, 2005). It is important to note that from 1972 to 2003, a more than 31 year period
during which scholarship regarding agenda setting theory in the political realm flourished,
relatively few empirical studies of corporate agenda setting were conducted (McCombs, 2005).
Only after the turn of the new millennia did agenda setting theory begin to encompass the
corporate realm, and after this point in time, corporate agenda setting research progress became
relatively rapid. Regardless, McCombs notes that studies on corporate image management
conducted in the early 2000s are the first to confirm the existence of first and second level
agenda-setting effects for corporate news (McCombs, 2005, p. 553). While this research has
identified a small number of studies (Curtin, 1999; Esrock and Leichty, 1998) which suggested
the existence of agenda setting research in corporate communication slightly before the turn of
the century, none of these early studies are empirically robust. Even McCombs own 2004 study,

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

in which he found that both negative and positive media coverage of companies tended to
increase stock prices by multiple percentage points above the market average was lacking,
hindered by a small sample size and a weak attempt to establish causation. In his 2005 review of
agenda-setting, McCombs found an agenda setting effect for media coverage of NBA player and
coach interviews, with more media coverage leading to more fan attendance and viewership of
games (McCombs, 2005). This study once again failed to make strong attempts at establishing
causation, something that McCombs and Shaws landmark 1972 study did so well. Thus, while
McCombs makes an attempt at illustrating the evolution of agenda-setting to include the venue
of corporate news in his 2005 summation of agenda setting research, it is clear that there is room
for significantly more focus on agenda-setting research in corporate communication.
If McCombs is the father of agenda setting in general, Carroll deserves credit for
spearheading agenda setting research in the corporate community. In addition to completing his
doctoral dissertation on agenda setting, Carroll worked with McCombs to present a
comprehensive and convincing application of traditional agenda-setting effects to corporate news
(2003). It is of interest, then, that McCombs fails to mention even once this substantial progress
in corporate agenda setting research in his 2005 summation. It may simply be that McCombs
wished to consider the 2003 work, which examined corporate agenda setting from both a
theoretical and literature review perspective, separately from traditional agenda setting research,
or that McCombs felt that the corporate field of agenda setting was still too emergent to warrant
consideration in his 2005 summation. Regardless of his reasoning, Carroll and McCombss 2003
publication on agenda setting research set a new standard for corporate agenda setting and
applied the first comprehensive framework to this new field.

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

Carroll and McCombs (2003) focused their research on the agenda-setting effects of both
routine media coverage and major issues media coverage, the latter of which includes topics such
as scandals, recalls, and environmental disasters. Based on their research, Carroll and McCombs
were able to conclude that the central theoretical idea [of political communication agendasetting] fits equally well in the world of business communication (Carroll & McCombs, 2003,
p. 36). According in Carroll and McCombs, corporations themselves become the first level
agenda-setting objects, comparable to political candidates or public affairs issues in a classical
agenda setting context, while six corporate attributes set forth by the researchers financial
performance, product quality, employee treatment, community involvement, environmental
performance and organizational issues fulfill the second level issue attributes category of
agenda-setting (Carroll & McCombs, 2003). These six corporate attributes are important to note
because they serve as the building blocks for subsequent content analysis for other works on
corporate agenda setting (Pouvreau & Sonier, 2012). Unfortunately, despite the progress made
by Carroll and McCombss agenda setting research, the empirical basis for their findings was
still limited at best.
Empirical Support for Agenda Setting in the Corporate Sphere
Beyond the generalist agenda setting research of McCombs, Carroll, and Shaw, five
studies conducted in five different countries have empirically confirmed the existence of first and
second level agenda setting specifically for corporate communication. These studies, conducted
by Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis (2006), Gorpe and Yuksel (2006), Amujo et al. (2012), Davidson
and Chazaud (2009), and Kiousis et al. (2007), share a common empirical approach to agenda
setting research and provide concrete support for the previous assumptions made by Carroll and
McCombs (2003). Each of the these studies uses a slightly different form of empirical analysis to

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support the concept of agenda setting effects for the corporate world, and together they make up
an impressive meta-sample through which first and second level agenda setting effects were
consistently confirmed. The use of content analysis to determine the objects and attributes
prevalent in the media agenda and the use of survey tools to determine the objects and attributes
prevalent in the public agenda should be also be noted, as this is the same basic research design
employed by McCombs and Shaw in their original 1972 agenda setting study of presidential
elections, indicating a sense of continuity in agenda setting research.
First, Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis (2006) examined media data and panel survey data on
public perceptions of ten companies in the oil, banking, food retail, transportation, and
professional sectors. Approximately 280 Dutch households participated in the survey used by
these researchers, which was administered over three consecutive summers, making it a
particularly strong survey tool because of its longitudinal design. Newspaper and television
media coverage was also analyzed for this three year period, resulting in over 9,200 newspaper
articles and over 2,200 television news items, again providing an admirably large sample for
content analysis. After analyzing their results, the researchers found that the amount of news
about issues determined the salience of an issue and that the salience of an issue determined
corporate reputation (Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis, 2006, p. 554). The first part of this finding
should not come as a surprise, as the first level of agenda setting theory has suggested since its
inception that greater media coverage of an issue leads to greater salience for that issue. What
makes this finding so important is the fact that it also establishes the existence of a more
powerful second level agenda setting effect for corporate news. By demonstrating that
consumers form their actual opinions on corporations based on the issues the media associates
with those corporations, Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis show that the media has the ability to shape a

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corporations public image. Meijer and Kleinnijenhuiss (2006) finding that public opinion
regarding corporations is not immune to the agenda setting effects of the media is significant
because it was the result of one of the first studies to empirically support Carrol and McCombs
(2003) framework for corporate news agenda setting. Despite the dearth of empirical research on
this subset of agenda setting that preceded Meijer and Kleinnijenhuiss study, the years following
their 2006 study saw public relations scholars publish a number of works supporting their
discovery of second level agenda setting in corporate news.
In 2006, Gorpe and Yuksel found evidence for second level agenda setting effects
relating to public perceptions of 12 major Turkish corporations, thus building upon the body of
empirical evidence established by Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis. The researchers comprised their
studys sample with three companies from each of the four largest sectors covered in the Turkish
Capital Magazines 2006 list of most admired companies. The researchers also conducted a
media content analysis of more than 20,000 articles from 36 Turkish newspapers in order to
determine coverage ranks for all 12 companies within the four industries they represented. For
nine of the 12 companies analyzed, media coverage rankings correlated perfectly with Capital
Magazines most admired companies rankings. These findings strongly support the existence of
first level agenda-setting among Turkish corporations, and do so in a way somewhat different
from the method used by Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis (2006). A research design which combined
the methods used by both Gorpe and Yuksel (2006) and Meijer and Kleinnijenuis (2006) on the
same survey sample would be particularly robust.
While Gorpe and Yuksels (2006) work is notable for its robust sample sizes, the use of
Capital Magazines most admired companies rankings as the dependent variable in this studies
limits the amount of credence that can be given the researches assertion that second level agenda

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setting effects were found. The most admired companies ranking list, while reputable and
statistically sound (Gorpe & Yuksel, 2006), was not created for the purpose of assessing agenda
setting effects and thus serves as an imprecise instrument for measuring public perception of
companies. A 2012 study by Amujo et al. addressed this problem by constructing a tailor made
semi-structured interview to measure second level agenda setting effects among Nigerian
companies. Although these researchers interviewed a relatively small sample of only 30
participants, their in-depth interviews and subsequent content analysis mirrored Gorpe and
Yuksels (2006) results and established evidence for both first and second level agenda setting.
Amujo et al. (2012) even note in their concluding remarks that their interview-based study
validates earlier research designs which searched for agenda setting effects using a most admired
companies list as a dependent variable.
A similar study of corporate agenda setting in the French press by Davidson and Chazaud
(2009) uncovered support for a somewhat more nuanced version of first level agenda setting by
demonstrating that the public is more able to form opinions on and assign a reputation to
companies which receive a high level of media coverage. While the fact that this finding
confirms previous studies is notable, Davidson and Chazauds (2009) work is most important
because it raises questions about differing agenda setting effects for companies based industry
category, something which Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis (2006) and Gorpe and Yuksel failed to do
despite the fact that they too examined studies on an industry by industry basis.
Progress in empirical research supporting the existence of agenda setting in the corporate
news realm is not limited to research conducted overseas, as domestic evidence for agendasetting in corporate news can be found in the 2007 study by researchers Kiousis et al. These
researchers examined public opinion and financial performance for 28 U.S. companies, a sample

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of companies more than twice as large as those used by Meijer and Kleinnijenuis (2006) and
Gorpe and Yuksel (2006). Public opinion was evaluated based on the Harris Interactive and
Reputation Institute Reputation Quotient, which examined 6 reputation attributes based on nearly
20,000 survey responses. Using three major financial news providers, the researchers analyzed
over 1,000 individual news articles and 1,200 PR releases to create a randomized sample of 121
PR releases and 106 news articles. Similar to findings in the aforementioned studies, Kiousis et
al. confirmed that the basic agenda-building proposition that increased object salience in public
relations content stimulates increased attention to objects in news coverage (Kiousis et al.,
2007, p. 156). Thus, despite the fact that all three of the aforementioned empirical studies were
conducted over only the last 10 years, there is consistent evidence to suggest the existence of
first and second level agenda setting in corporate communications. The fact that these five
studies are supported by data from five countries, 90 companies, more than 20,000 survey
respondents, and more than 34,000 news articles and television news segments provides ample
support for the concept of agenda setting within the corporate news realm.
The fifth corporate agenda-setting element proposed by Carroll and McCombs (2003)
the assertion that firms can influence their own coverage in news media is perhaps the most
important aspect of their five-part framework because it affords corporations a level of power in
controlling the first and second level public issues agenda. Unfortunately, this element of Carroll
and McCombss corporate agenda setting model is more difficult to prove than the mere
existence of corporate agenda setting alone, although evidence does exist to suggest that
corporate influence over the news is reality. Akpabio (2005) takes a much needed in-depth look
at this fifth element, and concludes that through the practice of supplying inputs, called
information subsidies, to news providers, corporations have tremendous inputs into media

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content (Akpabio, 2005, p. 173). According to Akpabios review of then current research, up to
50 percent of media content related to corporations results from information subsidies including
confirmation of stories, press releases, video news releases, press conferences, [and] media
visits (Akpabio, 2005, p. 173). According to the work of Curtin (1999), as media consumers
rely less and less on established media outlets and cost cutting inherently ensues, mass media
providers are forced to become more and more reliant on free sources of content, such as those
provided by public relations practitioners. Curtin investigated the influence of public relations
materials on story formulation by conducting a survey on a stratified sample of 189 managing
editors of wide-circulation daily and weekly periodicals. She found that over 75 percent of
managing editors used public relations materials to formulate stories half the time or
frequently, thereby supporting Akpabios (2005) related assertion (Curtin, 1999). Nearly 90
percent of managing editors also responded to Curtins inquiry by saying that they provided
special sections for public relations news in their publications either half the time, frequently,
or always (Curtin, 1999, p. 80). Furthermore, Curtin found that over half of the aforementioned
90 percent of editors felt that special sections interfered with their ability to report on news
(Curtin, 1999). The fact that traditional media was heavily dependent on public relations material
as far back as 1999 provides strong evidence for the ability of corporations to influence their
portrayal in the media today. By combining the research on corporate influence in the traditional
news media by Akpabio (2005) and Curtin (1999) with the research indicating the first and
second level agenda-setting effects of corporate issues, (Amujo et al., 2012; Carroll & McCombs
2003; Davidson & Chazaud 2009; Gorpe & Yuksel 2006; Kiousis et al., 2007; McCombs 2005;
Meijer & Kleinnijenhuis 2006), it is clear that agenda setting effects apply to corporate news in
the traditional mass media. If this research can uncover the existence of agenda setting effects

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similar to those identified in the aforementioned empirical agenda setting studies for publications
provided directly to consumers and stakeholders by corporations, it will demonstrate an even
greater net ability for corporations to influence public perceptions than traditional agenda setting
through mass media alone ever could.
Agenda Setting and Corporate Social Responsibility
Relatively little research has been conducted to specifically tie agenda setting to
corporate sustainability reporting, although one notable study on CSR reporting in China does
merit mentioning. The Chinese business sector is of particular interest to academics studying
CSR because of the significant criticism China regularly receives over its CSR practices and
because Chinas rapid industrial growth has given the country a high priority among the
international media (Tang, 2011). Tangs (2011) study on depictions of CSR reporting in the
Chinese media was centered on a content analysis of articles published in five of Chinas most
widely distributed newspapers. For the year of 2009 alone, Tang (2011) identified 814 articles
that specifically mentioned CSR, with each of the five newspapers he examined publishing an
average of three CSR related articles a week. Of those articles analyzed by Tang (2011), over 45
percent actively discussed CSR as a central focus of the article, while another 16 percent of
articles were actually publications on CSR by corporations themselves, masquerading as news.
Given the heavy content of CSR related items in Chinese newspapers and the fact that a large
portion of CSR pieces were actually written by corporations themselves, Tangs (2011) research
makes clear the need for a better understanding of the potential agenda setting effects of CSR
reports themselves.

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Automotive CSR Report Content


In order to avoid reinventing the wheel and to design this study in a manner that takes
advantage of the findings of previously conducted and peer reviewed content analyses of
automotive industry CSR reports, it is important to examine any previous studies which have
already conducted this type of analysis. Carroll and McCombss (2003) six part corporate
attribute categorization serves as a useful starting point here, and the work of Pouvreau and
Sonier (2012) to code automotive industry CSR reports serves as a particularly pertinent example
for subsequent research design. Pouvreau and Sonier (2012) examined CSR reports from three
major car makers, BMW Group, Ford Motor Company, and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, for
the years 2002, 2006, and 2010, in order to determine which issues (or issue attributes) were
most important to consumers. Pouvreau and Sonier (2012) identified environmental and
employee-related social concerns as being the greatest focus of the CSR reports they examined.
In addition to this overarching conclusion, Pouvreau and Sonier (2012) were able to establish an
actual CSR object and issue attribute agenda for the CSR reports they examined by breaking
down the CSR reports they examined into categories which mirror those proposed by Carroll and
McCombs (2003). The results of this content analysis are so specific that the nine CSR reports
they examined can be broken down into exact percentages for the categories economic impact,
environmental impact, human rights impact, labor practices and decent working conditions,
product responsibility, and societal impact. By using this content analysis to assess participant
response to the actual CSR reports examined by Pouvreau and Sonier (2012), this study will base
the first part of its research design (the content analysis) on inherently solid ground.
In addition to Pouvreau and Soniers (2012) comprehensive content analysis, a similar
work by Stienweg in 2010 also examines CSR reports on an automaker-by-automaker basis for

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10 of the worlds largest car companies. The research design of this study is somewhat less
useful than the content analysis conducted by Pouvreau and Soniers (2012) because it fails to
place enough focus on issue attributes from an agenda setting perspective. Still, Stienwegs
report is useful for conceptualizing CSR reporting in the automotive industry as a whole, and it
importantly demonstrates that the CSR efforts of BMW Group, Ford Motor Company, and
Mitsubishi are in line with the industry as a whole, thus making these companies a representative
sample for the general population. Taken in conjuncture, these two reports provide ample
evidence that Pouvreau and Soniers (2012) content analysis will serve as a strong foundation for
the administration of a survey to assess consumer responses to the CSR efforts of the three
aforementioned automotive companies.
While the literature clearly indicates that first and second levels of agenda setting apply
to messages concerning corporations in the news, and that corporations can affect these
messages, little evidence exists to suggest that CSR reports themselves have agenda setting
effects. CSR reporting is still a very new phenomenon and much of the research currently being
conducted on it exists in the field of business and applied communication as opposed to
theoretical communication, meaning that agenda setting theory is currently taking a back seat to
the real world financial implications of CSR reporting. Nonetheless, research in both the fields of
theoretical communication and applied communication is useful because it helps to create the
concept of a CSR domain, akin to the objects and issue attributes that classical agenda setting
is based on. Furthermore, those few studies which have attempted to bridge the gap between
agenda setting and CSR reporting have shown that CSR report consumers tend to be most
influenced by those CSR domains (or attributes, for the purposes of agenda setting) which they
find most salient (Sen & Bhattacharya, 2001). Conclusions like this one will be all the more

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

17

credible once researchers are able to develop a concrete empirical connection between agenda
setting and CSR reporting.
If agenda setting theory holds true for CSR reporting as the logical application of Carroll and
McCombss (2003) framework for corporate agenda setting suggests, then the second level of
agenda setting should allow corporations to influence which attributes CSR report consumers
will find most salient, thus maximizing their influence. Similarly, Martin and Rubio (2009)
found in their research that CSR reports can influence whether or not consumers find companies
attractive or identifiable, two aspects which very well may be influenced by both first and second
level agenda-setting. As such, while evidence directly tying agenda setting effects to CSR
reporting is still limited, indirect evidence does exist to support both the existence of agendasetting in corporate communication and agenda setting-like effects for CSR reporting. The
presence of suggestive and indirect evidence for the agenda setting effects of CSR reports
provides a compelling reason for further research in this field, but still allows for the results of a
study seeking to directly tie agenda setting effects to CSR reporting to make a hereunto unseen
contribution to the fields of both CSR and agenda setting research. Thus, the following research
hypotheses are advanced:
H1: Individuals exposed to a CSR report will assess the CSR efforts of the company in
question in a more positive manner than those who are not exposed to a CSR report.
H2: Individuals exposed to a CSR report will assess the issue attributes emphasized most
by the CSR report in a more positive light than they will assess those issue attributes
emphasized least by the CSR report.
H3: Individuals exposed to a CSR report will be more likely to let on performance on
sustainability issues affect their decision to purchase a vehicle.

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

18

H4: Individuals exposed to a CSR report will be willing to pay more for a vehicle that
performs well on sustainability issues than for one that does not.
H5: Certain automotive consumer demographic factors, including income, age,
environmental consciousness, and automotive enthusiasm, will have moderating effects
on the agenda setting ability of automakers.
Method
Purpose
In order to test for the existence of a modified agenda setting effect in consumer exposure
to CSR reports, two sets of data must be obtained. First, the contents of CSR reports must be
empirically analyzed in order to create a CSR report issues agenda. Agenda setting theory states
that the issues agenda advocated by a certain medium, in this case a CSR report, will be reflected
by the attitudes of those members of the public who are exposed to that medium (Weaver, 2008).
The second level of agenda setting theory further indicates that public attitudes about issues
portrayed by a medium can be affected positively or negatively by the attributes of those issues
emphasized by that medium (McCombs and Shaw, 1993). Thus, before it can test for the
existence of first and second level agenda setting in a certain survey sample, this research must
determine what issues and attributes are present in the medium the survey sample is exposed to.
Content analysis is the most commonly used method for determining the issue and attribute
agenda in agenda setting research (Amujo et al., 2012; Davidson and Chazaud, 2009; Gorpe and
Yuksel, 2006; Kiousis et al., 2007; McCombs, 2005; McCombs and Shaw, 1972; McCombs and
Shaw, 1993; Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis, 2006), and this research will use a form of previously
conducted content analysis in order to create an issue and attribute agenda for CSR reports. After
a known issue and attribute agenda is determined for the CSR reports via content analysis, a

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

19

survey will be administered to and experimental group of participants, who are exposed to the
CSR reports, and a control group of participants, who are exposed to a non-CSR related video.
This research will attempt to show that agenda-setting theory applies to the practice of
CSR reporting by determining if those objects and attributes revealed by the content analysis to
be the focus of automotive industry CSR reports are reflected in the survey responses of
participants who are exposed to automotive industry CSR reports, as compared to the survey
responses of those who are not. Simply put, it is the hypothesis of this research that the
automotive industry is capable of influencing the object and issue attribute agendas of those
consumers who are exposed to its CSR reports. Furthermore, certain consumer demographic
factors, including levels of automotive and environmental interest, should serve as moderating
effects on the agenda setting power of CSR reports. Finally, the results of this research may be
generalizable to other industries with social-impact related traits similar to the automotive
industry, although further research will be needed to support this assertion.
Participants
Snowball sampling (Baxter & Babbie, 2004, p. 135) was used to obtain a sample
representing a variety of demographic backgrounds. Participants were originally solicited via
email, social media, and word of mouth. Ninety participants successfully completed the survey
used in this study.
The sample for this study heavily featured students from a small northeastern liberal arts
college; however, only 59 participants identified themselves as students (65.6%). Of those
participants who did not identify as students, 27 identified as employed (30%), and four
participants identified as unemployed, homemaker, or retired (4.4%). Participants ranged in age
from 18 to 57 (M = 26.5, SD = 11.7). The sample included 51 males and 39 females (56.7% and

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

20

43.3% respectively), indicating a relatively even gender distribution. Seventy-seven participants


identified themselves as White/Caucasian (85.6%), five participants identified themselves as
Asian (5.6%), four participants identified themselves as African American (4.4%), and two
participants identified themselves each as each as Hispanic and Native American (2.2%, 2.2%).
Participants hailed from 23 different states, with New York and Massachusetts encompassing the
majority of the participants, with 31 and 20 participants, (34.4% and 22.2% respectively).
Sixty-five participants were single or never married (72.2%), 14 participants were
married (15%), five participants lived with a partner (5.6%), and three participants were each
widowed or divorced (3.3%, 3.3%). Seventy participants did not have children (77.8%). Of those
20 participants who did have children (22.2%), the median number of children was two children.
Fifty-six participants completed some college (62.2%), 18 participants completed a fouryear college degree (20%), eight participants completed a masters degree (8.9%), five
participants completed high school or received a GED (5.6%), two participants completed a twoyear college degree (2.2%), and one participants completed a professional degree (1.1%).
Participant combined annual household incomes ranged from under $20,000 per year to over
$200,000 per year, with a mean annual household income range of $120,000 to $129,000. These
two demographic measures indicate that this surveys sample was both well-educated and fairly
affluent.
In terms of political beliefs, forty-four participants identified as liberal (48.9%), 19
participants identified as moderate (21.1%), 12 participants identified as conservative (13.3%),
nine participants identified as libertarian (10%), and three participants each identified as green or
other (3.3%, 3.3%).

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

21

Procedure
Content analysis. In order for a survey to effectively assess the agenda setting effect of
CSR reports, it must utilize object and issue attribute measures which correlate with the CSR
reports that the participants are exposed to. Within the field of agenda setting research, content
analysis is usually conducted for a certain single object or issue attribute that researchers are
examining, such as a company name or a corporate topic, with a large number of mass media
documents instead of for individual corporate publications. Researchers run keyword searches
for certain terms for up to thousands of individual newspaper articles, magazine articles, and
television news clips in order to determine which objects and issue attributes make up the public
agenda (Amujo et al., 2012; Davidson and Chazaud, 2009; Gorpe and Yuksel, 2006; Kiousis et
al., 2007; McCombs, 2005; McCombs and Shaw, 1972; McCombs and Shaw, 1993; Meijer and
Kleinnijenhuis, 2006). This researchs application of agenda setting to CSR reporting is unique
from the aforementioned studies because it focuses on an individual medium (a CSR report) to
which participants are exposed, as opposed to a large selection of media sources. In order to
determine an object and issue attribute agenda for a single medium, like a CSR report, a more
nuanced method of content analysis is required than that which is traditionally used because the
researchers must break the medium down by the various objects and issue attributes which
comprise it. Fortunately, some of the top researchers in the field of corporate agenda setting
research, Carroll and McCombs (2003), have built upon previous research (Fombrum, 1998;
Fombrun et al., 2000) in order to establish six standard agenda setting objects financial
performance, product quality, employee treatment, community involvement, environmental
performance and organizational issues which most commonly emerge in corporate media

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

22

content analysis. These six objects and their positive or negative issue attributes form the
framework for an in-depth content analysis of CSR reports.
Content analysis requires the use of a reliable codebook and multiple coders in order to
ensure that the data produced accurately reflects the contents of the documents analyzed
(Bryman and Bell, 2003); the coding step of this research is of paramount importance. Rather
than conduct an entirely original content analysis on CSR reports which would require the
creation and testing of a coding scheme this research takes advantage of a peer reviewed
codebook developed by Bouten et al. (2011) for analyzing corporate annual reports and reapplied
by Pouvreau & Sonier (2012) for the purpose of CSR report analysis. By taking advantage of
Pourveau and Soniers (2012) previously conducted content analysis of nine CSR reports (one
CSR report for three companies for each of three years), this research reduces the possibility of
low inter-coder or intra-coder reliability.
Because this research is subject to a limited sample size due to time and population
constraints, the use of all nine of the CSR reports analyzed by Pourveau and Soniers (2012)
would not have been feasible. Furthermore, while Pourveau and Soniers (2012) goal was to
demonstrate the evolution of CSR report content over time, this research is primarily concerned
with the ability of a CSR report to influence the public agenda. As such, only the most recent
CSR reports in Pourveau and Soniers (2012) study, which were from the year 2010, were used
as experimental conditions for this study. Of these three reports for the year 2010, only two
reports, by Ford Motor Company and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, were ultimately chosen for
this study. The reduction from three reports to two reports was done for practical reasons relating
to sample size conducting the survey with three experimental conditions instead of two would
have simply required a greater number of respondents than was feasible. The CSR report

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

23

produced by BMW Motor Group was excluded from this study primarily because its length (130
pages for BMW Motor Group compared to 11 pages for Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and an
interactive micro-site for Ford Motor Company) made it less feasible for survey respondents to
analyze in a short period of time. Ford Motor Company and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation were
also selected over BMW Motor Group because these two companies were deemed more
accessible to the average consumer, given their lower average vehicle pricing. Prior to the actual
analysis of survey results and undertaking of related statistical procedures, the objects making up
the CSR report issues agenda needed to be identified for the purpose of survey construction.
Based on Pourveau and Soniers (2012) detailed content analysis, the objects making up the CSR
report issues agenda were determined to be: economic issues, environmental issues, human rights
issues, labor practices and decent working conditions issues, product responsibility issues, and
social issues. These objects closely mirror the six issues identified by Carroll and McCombs
(2003) as making up corporate news issues agendas in general, and Pourveua and Sonier (2012)
do credit Carroll with influencing their content analysis coding scheme design. The distribution
of the six objects in the issues agenda of the Ford Motor Company and Mitsubishi Motors
Corporation CSR reports identified by Pourveau and Soniers (2012) content analysis can be
seen appendix A.
Survey. Experimental and control conditions. An experimental survey mechanism was
necessary to determine if the issues agenda established by Pourveau and Soniers (2012) content
analysis of CSR reports is reflected by members of the public exposed to those CSR reports. The
survey was administered under two experimental conditions, each of which was accompanied by
a control condition. All four possible conditions two experimental conditions and two
corresponding control conditions were randomized to occur at an equal rate; each of the four

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

24

conditions had a 25 percent chance of occurring. These four conditions serve as the independent
variables of interest for this study. The first experimental condition was exposure to the
aforementioned 2010 CSR microsite created by Ford Motor Company. Participants were asked
to interact with the site for three to five minutes before taking the accompanying survey. The
second experimental condition was exposure the aforementioned 2010 CSR report created by
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, which participants were asked to spend three to five minutes
browsing. Each of the two experimental groups was offset by a control group which was
exposure to a two to three minute promotional video produced by Ford Motor Company or
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. The two videos were deliberately selected to say as little about
the two automotive companies as possible, with a specific avoidance of CSR related material. It
was necessary to expose the two control groups to material relating to the two companies in
question in order to ensure that both the experimental and control groups were at a predisposition
to think about the automotive companies which they were about to be surveyed on. After
exposure to the CSR reports and control material, survey respondents were posed with a set of
survey questions.
Measures
Participants under all four survey conditions were each exposed to a set of six survey
measures, which serve as the dependent variables for this study. The survey measures were
identical across the four survey conditions. Five of the six measures participants were exposed to
made use of Likert-type scales. The first four Likert-type measures were each broken down into
six subtopics corresponding to the six objects previously identified by Pourveau and Soniers
(2012) content analysis. The final Likert-type measure was comprised of a single question to
assess overall sustainability performance. In addition to the Likert-type measures, an additional

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

25

measure using sliding percentage scales was employed to assess willingness to pay for
sustainability performance. Finally, a number of measures assessed automotive enthusiasm and
environmental activism, two possible moderating factors on the dependent variables of interest.
Overall sustainability assessment. A measure was created in order to determine
participants overall sustainability assessment of the automotive company they were presented
with. This measure was comprised of a single Likert-type measure regarding a companys
sustainability efforts. The Likert-type sub-measures used a one to five scale, with one
representing strongly agree and five representing strongly disagree. The Cronbachs alpha was
.811 for this measure, indicating an acceptable level of reliability.
Social responsibility assessment. A measure was created in order to determine how
positively participants regarded the social responsibility efforts of the company that they were
exposed to. This measure was comprised of two Likert-type sub-measures for each of the six
issue attributes present in the CSR report participants were exposed to. The Likert-type submeasures used a one to five scale, with one representing strongly agree and five representing
strongly disagree. The second sub-measure posed its question as a negative statement and its
answer was recoded into an affirmative statement in order to correspond with the other measures
used in this study, which were affirmative measures. Participants answers to these two submeasures were combined into an average for each of the six CSR issue attributes to create a
composite score for social responsibility assessment. The Cronbachs alpha was .725 for the first
of the two sub-measures and .865 for the second of the two sub-measures, indicating an adequate
level of reliability.
Purchase intent assessment. A measure was created in order to determine if exposure to
a CSR report could affect a participants decision to purchase a vehicle based on perceived

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

26

sustainability performance. This measure was comprised of a Likert-type measure for each of
the six issue attributes present in the CSR report participants were exposed to. The Likert-type
sub-measures used a one to five scale, with one representing strongly agree and five representing
strongly disagree. The Cronbachs alpha was .804 for this measure, indicating an adequate level
of reliability.
Spending assessment one. A measure was created in order to determine if exposure to a
CSR report could lead a participant to consider paying more for a vehicle based on sustainability
performance. This measure was comprised of a Likert-type measure for each of the six issue
attributes present in the CSR report participants were exposed to. The Likert-type sub-measures
used a one to five scale, with one representing strongly agree and five representing strongly
disagree. The Cronbachs alpha was .899 for this measure, indicating a high level of reliability.
Spending assessment two. This measure was created to determine the actual amount
more (if any) participants would be willing to pay for a vehicle that performs well on
sustainability issues. For this measure, participants selected the percentage more they would be
willing to pay for a vehicle that performs well on each of six CSR issues presented in the CSR
report by using a sliding scale tool. The Cronbachs alpha was .870 for this measure, indicating a
high level of reliability.
Environmentalism. This measure was created to determine a participants level of
environmentalism. This measure was comprised two sub-measures which were averaged
together to form a composite measure. Each sub-measure used a Likert-type measure with a one
to five scale, with one representing strongly agree and five representing strongly disagree. The
first sub-measure asked the participant to rate their level of agreement with a statement
concerning environmental consciousness, while the second sub-measure asked the participant to

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

27

rate their level of agreement with a statement concerning environmental activism. The
Cronbachs alpha was .659 for this measure, indicating an inadequate level of reliability.
Potential explanations for the low reliability will be discussed in the limitations section.
Automotive enthusiasm. This measure was created to determine a participants level of
automotive enthusiasm. This measure was comprised of six sub-measures which were averaged
to create a composite measure of automotive enthusiasm. The first sub-measure used a Likerttype measure with a one to five scale, with one representing strongly agree and five representing
strongly disagree, which asked the participant to rate their level of agreement with a statement
concerning automotive enthusiasm. The next five sub-measures asked participants questions
regarding automotive magazines, automotive television shows, automotive racing, and
automotive event attendance. Cronbachs alpha could not be determined for this measure
because of the ordinal nature of the data it used.
Results
The first hypothesis predicted that the participants exposed to a CSR report (i.e.,
experimental group) would evaluate the sustainability efforts the company they were questioned
on more positively than participants exposed to a video unrelated to CSR (i.e., control group). A
linear regression was run with the overall sustainability assessment measure as the dependent
variable in order to test this prediction. The results of the regression partially supported this
hypothesis (R2 = .27, F = 1.28 (20, 89), p > .05) (see Table 1, Appendix A). Participants
exposed to Mitsubishis CSR report rated their agreement with the statement presented in the
sustainability assessment measure an average of .99 points closer to strongly agree on the Likerttype scale, compared to participants in the control group ( = -.99, t = -2.87, p < .005).
Participants exposed to Fords CSR report did not rate their agreement with the statement

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

28

presented in the sustainability assessment measure any differently from the control group to a
degree of statistical significance ( = -.52, t = -1.92, p > .05). These effects were moderated very
slightly, but nonetheless statistically significantly, by the amount of money the participant
planned to spend on their next vehicle ( = -.21, t = -2.62, p < .011), thus supporting the fifth
hypothesis regarding the existence of moderating demographic factors.
The second hypothesis predicted that individuals exposed to a CSR report would
assess the issue attributes emphasized by the CSR report in a more positive light than they would
assess those issue attributes not emphasized by the CSR report. Participant assessment was
determined by an independent samples t-test which was run for the six sub-measures which made
up the social responsibility assessment measure. The results of the three t-tests run revealed a
significant difference between the CSR exposed group and the control group for each of the three
sub-measures tested (environmental issues: M = 2.79, SD = .784, t = -2.13 (20, 69), p < .036;
social issues: M = 2.83, SD = .806, t = -2.27 (20, 69), p < .026; human rights issues: M = 3.09,
SD = .857, t = -2.72 (20, 69), p < .008). The means for each of these three sub-measures indicate
that respondents exposed to a CSR report rated automakers sustainability efforts most highly for
environmental issues, followed by social issues, followed by human rights issues, thus
replicating the order in which the issues arose in Pouvreau and Soniers content analysis (2012)
and supporting the second hypothesis. It is important to note that a lower mean indicates a
greater level of agreement because of the Likert-type scale used, where one refers to strongly
agree and five refers to strongly disagree. Respondents not exposed to a CSR report also
replicated the order in which issues arose in Pouvreau and Soniers content analysis (2012),
albeit to a lesser degree (environmental issues: M = 3.14, SD = .735; social issues: M = 3.23, SD
= .820; human rights issues: M = 3.52, SD = .640).

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

29

The third hypothesis predicted that exposure to a CSR report would lead participants to
be more likely to let performance on sustainability issues affect their decision to purchase a
vehicle. This hypothesis was tested by running a linear regression on each of the six purchase
intent assessment sub-measures. The results of this regression did not support the hypothesis for
any of the six purchase intent assessment sub-measures. The regression on the economic issues
sub-measure (R2 = .22, F = .953 (20, 89), p > .05) yielded non-significant results for participants
exposed to both Ford ( = -.15, t = -.48, p > .05) and Mitsubishi ( = .65, t = 1.65, p >.05) CSR
reports (see Table 2, Appendix A). The regression on the environmental issues sub-measure (R2
= .28, F = 1.371 (20, 89), p > .05) yielded non-significant results for both participants exposed to
Ford ( = -.12, t = -.45, p > .05) and Mitsubishi ( = .07, t = .20, p > .05) CSR reports (see Table
3, Appendix A). The regression on the human rights issues sub-measure (R2 = .31, F = 1.511
(20, 89), p > .05) yielded non-significant results for both participants exposed to Ford ( = -.37, t
= -1.17, p > .05) and Mitsubishi ( = .34, t = .85, p > .05) CSR reports (see Table 4, Appendix
A). The regression on the labor practices and working conditions issues sub-measure (R2 = .29, F
= 1.51 (20, 89), p > .05) yielded non-significant results for participants exposed to both Ford (
= -.26, t = -.88, p > .05) and Mitsubishi ( = -.10, t = -.28, p > .05) CSR reports (see Table 5,
Appendix A). The regression on the product responsibility issues sub-measure (R2 = .26, F =
1.205 (20, 89), p > .05) yielded non-significant results for participants exposed to both Ford ( =
.11, t = .41, p > .05) and Mitsubishi ( = .11, t = .31, p > .05) CSR reports (see Table 6,
Appendix A). The regression on the social issues sub-measure (R2 = .20, F = .885 (20, 89), p >
.05) yielded non-significant results for both participants exposed to Ford ( = -.47, t = -1.45, p >
.05) and Mitsubishi ( = .25, t = .62, p > .05) CSR reports (see Table 7, Appendix A). Given
these consistently non-significant results, the third hypothesis must be rejected.

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

30

The fourth hypothesis predicted that individuals exposed to a CSR report would be more
willing to pay more for a vehicle that performs well on sustainability issues than for one that
does not, compared to participants not exposed to a CSR report. This hypothesis was tested by
running a linear regression on each of the six spending assessment one sub-measures. For five
out of six sub-measures, exposure to a Ford CSR report increased participants willingness to
pay for sustainability performance. Exposure to CSR reports did not decrease participants
willingness to pay for sustainability performance in any of the conditions. Overall, this
hypothesis is supported for participants exposed to Fords CSR report, but not for participants
exposed to Mitsubishis CSR report.
The regression on the economic issues sub-measure (R2 = .39, F = 2.247 (20, 89), p <
.05) yielded significant results for participants exposed to a Ford CSR report ( = -.58, t = -2.07,
p < .043), but not for participants exposed to a Mitsubishi CSR report ( = .37, t = 1.04, p >
0.05) (see Table 8, Appendix A). This indicates that participants exposed to Fords CSR report
rated their agreement with the statement presented in the spending assessment one economic
issues sub-measure an average of .58 points closer to strongly agree on the Likert-type scale,
compared to participants in the control group. There were three moderating factors present in this
regression which support the fifth hypothesis. Unsurprisingly, the amount a participant was
willing to spend on their next vehicle increased a participants valuation of economic issues
sustainability performance ( = -.02, t = -2.27, p < .026). Two moderating factors that were more
difficult to explain were whether or not the participant owned a luxury vehicle ( = 1.15, t =
2.94, p < .005) and whether or not the participant was white ( = -.74, t = -2.13, p < .037).
The regression on the environmental issues sub-measure (R2 = .51, F = 3.542 (20, 89), p
< .05) yielded significant results for participants exposed to a Ford CSR report ( = -.71, t = -

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

31

2.72, p < .008), but not participants exposed to a Mitsubishi CSR report ( = .01, t = .02, p > .05)
(see Table 9, Appendix A). This indicates that participants exposed to Fords CSR report rated
their agreement with the statement presented in the spending assessment one economic issues
sub-measure an average of .71 points closer to strongly agree on the Likert-type scale, compared
to participants in the control group. There were three moderating factors present in this
regression which support the fifth hypothesis. First, participants who identified as liberal
displayed a willingness to spend more for environmental issues sustainability performance ( = .84, t = -2.55, p < .013) compared to participants who did not identify as liberal. Another
moderating factor on willingness to spend more for environmental sustainability issues
performance was age: younger participants were more willing to pay for environmental issues
performance ( = .05, t = 2.40, p < .020). This makes intuitive sense given the common
stereotype of greater environmental awareness among younger people. Once again, the less
explainable moderating factor of whether or not the participant was white was also significant (
= -.82, t = -2.50, p < .015).
The regression on the human rights issues sub-measure (R2 = .417, F = 3.542 (20,
89), p < .05) yielded significant results for participants exposed to a Ford CSR report ( = -.69, t
= -2.29, p < .025), but not participants exposed to a Mitsubishi CSR report ( = -.007, t = -.02, p
> 0.05) (see Table 10, Appendix A). This indicates that participants exposed to Fords CSR
report rated their agreement with the statement presented in the spending assessment one
economic issues sub-measure an average of .69 points closer to strongly agree on the Likert-type
scale, compared to participants in the control group. There were three moderating factors present
in this regression which support the fifth hypothesis. First, participants who identified as liberal
displayed a willingness to spend more for human rights issues sustainability performance ( = -

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

32

.78, t = -2.06, p < .043) compared to participants who did not identify as liberal. This makes
logical sense considering the close association between liberalism and social justice in the
current political spectrum. Another logical moderating factor on willingness to spend more for
human rights sustainability issues performance was automotive enthusiasm: automotive
enthusiasts were less willing to pay for human rights issues performance ( = 1.45, t = 2.00, p <
.049), perhaps because they prioritized the performance of the automobile itself over less
relevant issues like human rights issues sustainability performance. Participants with high scores
on the environmentalism measures were less willing to pay more for human rights issues
sustainability performance ( = .32, t = 2.07, p < .042); however, little credence can be given to
this measure because of its low level or reliability (the Cronbachs alpha was .659 for this
measure).
The regression on the labor practices and working conditions issues sub-measure (R2 =
.36, F = 2.464 (20, 89), p < .05) yielded significant results for participants exposed to a Ford
CSR report ( = -.86, t = -2.70, p < .009), but not participants exposed to a Mitsubishi CSR
report ( = -.21, t = -.52, p > .05) (see Table 11, Appendix A). This indicates that participants
exposed to Fords CSR report rated their agreement with the statement presented in the spending
assessment one labor practices and working conditions issues sub-measure an average of .86
points closer to strongly agree on the Likert-type scale, compared to participants in the control
group. There were two moderating factors present in this regression which support the fifth
hypothesis. First, participants with children were more likely to express a willingness to pay
more for labor practices and working conditions issues sustainability performance for each child
they had ( = -.43, t = -2.41, p < .019). This could possibly be explained by the notion that
participants with children could identify more with the issue of child labor, and want to buy a

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

33

vehicle from a company that takes active steps to combat child labor. Another moderating factor
that is not easily explainable is whether or not the participant drove a hybrid, diesel, or electric
car ( = -.35, t = -2.32, p < .023).
The regression on the product responsibility issues sub-measure (R2 = .37, F = 1.926, (20,
89), p < .05) yielded significant results for participants exposed to a Mitsubishi CSR report ( = .76, t = -2.03, p < .046), but not participants exposed to a Ford CSR report ( = -.51, t = -1.73, p
> .05) (see Table 12, Appendix A). This indicates that participants exposed to Mitsubishis CSR
report rated their agreement with the statement presented in the spending assessment one product
responsibility issues sub-measure an average of .76 points closer to strongly agree on the Likerttype scale, compared to participants in the control group. This is particularly interesting because
it defies the trend of participants only responding to Fords CSR report for the sustainability
assessment one measure. This difference is not easily explainable, as Mitsubishi actually devotes
less of its CSR report to issues pertaining to product responsibility than does Ford. There were
three moderating factors present in this regression; however, none are easily explainable. First,
automotive enthusiasts were less willing to pay for product responsibility issues performance (
= 1.75, t = 2.48, p < .016), but sports car owners were more willing to pay for product
responsibility performance ( = -.80, t = -2.04, p < .045). There is no readily apparent
explanation for why sports car owners and automotive enthusiasts, two intuitively similar groups,
would differ so greatly on this issue. Once again, a statistically significant moderating factor
exists for whether or not the participant was white ( = -.80, t = -2.18, p < .033).
The regression on the social issues sub-measure (R2 = .34, F = 2.063 (20, 89), p < .05)
yielded significant results for participants exposed to a Ford CSR report ( = -.74, t = -2.34, p <
.009), but not participants exposed to a Mitsubishi CSR report ( = -.31, t = -.78, p > .05) (see

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

34

Table 13, Appendix A). This indicates that participants exposed to Fords CSR report rated their
agreement with the statement presented in the spending assessment one social issues submeasure an average of .74 points closer to strongly agree on the Likert-type scale, compared to
participants in the control group. There were three moderating factors present in this regression
which support the fifth hypothesis. First, participants with children were more likely to express a
willingness to pay more for social issues sustainability performance for each child they had ( =
-.43, t = -2.43, p < .018). This could possibly be explained by the notion that participants with
children see a greater need for spending on social issues (in the case of CSR, social issue
spending is often heavily tailored towards educational initiatives) (GRI, 2012). Participants who
identified as liberal displayed a willingness to spend more for human rights issues sustainability
performance ( = -.85, t = -2.16, p < .034) compared to participants who did not identify as
liberal, possibility because of the close ties between modern liberalism and social activism and
social spending. Finally, automotive enthusiasts were less willing to pay for social issues
performance ( = 1.57, t = 2.08, p < .041), perhaps because they prioritized the performance of
the automobile itself over less relevant issues like social issues sustainability performance.
Discussion
While agenda setting theory has evolved to see relatively widespread acceptance in the
field of corporate communications since the turn of the 21st century, very little research has been
done on the possible agenda setting effects of CSR reporting (Amujo et al., 2012; Davidson and
Chazaud, 2009; Gorpe and Yuksel, 2006; Kiousis et al., 2007; Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis, 2006).
CSR reporting is a quickly growing field of corporate public relations that focuses on a broad
spectrum of social responsibility issues, ranging from environmental impact to product
responsibility (GRI, 2012). Because CSR reports are in effect unregulated disclosure statements,

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

35

they have a significant potential to affect consumer perceptions of corporations (GRI, 2012).
Given that agenda setting theory, which asserts that media exposure has the power to affect what
issues individuals think about and how individuals assess those issues, is one of the primary
media effects theories in the discipline of communication, it is important to determine the
potential of CSR reports to affect consumer attitudes via agenda setting (Weaver, 2008). This
researched sought to answer this question on the effect of CSR report exposure on individual
perceptions of corporations by exposing a group of participants to CSR reports and then
assessing their perceptions related to the companies and issues discussed in those reports.
Overall, this research found significant support for the existence of agenda setting effects for
CSR report exposure.
This research found that exposure to both Fords and Mitsubishis CSR reports increased
the positive nature of a participants evaluation of a company from a sustainability perspective.
Exposure to Mitsubishis CSR report had a greater positive effect on participants assessments of
a companys CSR performance, perhaps because the Mitsubishi report was significantly shorter
and more straightforward than its Ford alternative and stated its disclosures in simple laymens
terms as opposed to in industry jargon. The difference in effect size is further explained the
differing nature (interactive micro-site versus traditional PDF) and sustainability content of the
two reports (Pouvreau and Sonier, 2012); however, it is surprising that Mitsubishi performed so
well in this assessment for overall company evaluation, but failed to perform well in the specific
sustainability assessments regarding willingness to pay for sustainability features. This may be
because Mitsubishi has significantly less brand recognition in the U.S. than does Ford, which
may translate into a reduced willingness to pay for Mitsubishi products in general (Pouvreau and
Sonier, 2012).

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

36

No matter how favorably participants assessed the two companies sustainability efforts,
these companies greatest interest is in translating those positive public assessments into both
new customers and an increased willingness to spend among current and new customers.
Unfortunately for automakers bottom lines, this research failed to confirm that individuals
exposed to a CSR report would be more likely to purchase a vehicle that performs well on
sustainability issues than that to purchase a vehicle that does not. In the case of both automakers,
none of the six sub-measures for the effect of CSR report exposure on likelihood to purchase a
vehicle from a Ford or Mitsubishi were found to be significant. Despite this finding, those
individuals already considering purchasing a Ford vehicle were willing to pay more for a Ford
that performed well on social responsibility issues, but the same could not be said for those
individuals already considering purchasing a Mitsubishi. As stated before, this may be due to
differing consumer perceptions on the value prospect of Ford and Mitsubishi vehicles - potential
car buyers appreciate the Ford brand enough to pay a premium to help it achieve sustainability,
but may do not have the same level of appreciation for Mitsubishi. Multiple demographic and
consumer factors, ranging from environmental and automotive enthusiasm to race and family
makeup, were found to modify these aforementioned agenda setting effects.
These findings on the purchasing intent and willingness to spend raise a number of
interesting questions. First, why does the data support a CSR exposed consumers willingness to
pay more for a vehicle based on sustainability performance, but not a CSR exposed consumers
willingness to buy a vehicle in the first place? There is a clear disconnect between a participants
assessment of a companys performance on CSR issues and a participants willingness to buy a
vehicle from that company. This could be due to the fact that the decision to initially purchase a
vehicle involves many more considerations than just social responsibility performance and may

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

37

include issues such as brand image, vehicle reliability, and vehicle performance, whereas
willingness to pay for sustainability performance involves only one consideration, price
Consumers may not yet value sustainability performance enough to let it affect the car company
they plan on buying from, but they do care enough about sustainability performance to pay a bit
more for a car from the company that they planned on buying a car from in the first place. From
an agenda setting perspective, this finding should not be surprising, as second level agenda
setting effects could cause an individual to think more about certain issues, like sustainability,
when purchasing a car, but they are not powerful enough to entirely determine what kind of car
an individual would actually purchase.
In addition to finding evidence for second level agenda setting effects for CSR report
exposure, this study further found that individuals exposed to a CSR report would assess the
issue attributes emphasized most by a CSR report in a more positive light than they would assess
those issue attributes emphasized least by the CSR report. This nuanced finding goes directly to
support first level agenda setting, which asserts that the level of attention an issue receives in the
media can affect the level of attention it is given by media consumers. Specifically, the issues
examined by this study were assessed in terms of positivity in the order in which they were
emphasized in the CSR reports themselves. Of the three attributes examined by the independent
samples t-test, all three were assessed by participants in terms of positivity in the same order in
which they appeared in the CSR reports themselves. Interestingly, the control group also
assessed the three tested CSR issues in terms of positivity in the same order in which they
appeared in the CSR reports, despite the fact that it was not exposed to those reports. This
indicates that there may already be a preexisting agenda setting effect for consumer perceptions
of how automakers address CSR issues, but that CSR report exposure amplifies this effect by

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

38

both reinforcing the order in which automakers address the issues and increasing the amount
participants think the automaker is addressing each issue. Thus, while this study provides
evidence to support the existence of first level agenda setting effects for CSR report exposure, it
also suggests that the increase in corporate sustainability related news and the related agenda
setting effects documented by Amujo et al. (2012), Davidson and Chazaud (2009), Gorpe and
Yuksel (2006), Kiousis et al. (2007), McCombs (2005), and Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis (2006)
since the turn of the millennium may already be at work in the CSR issues agenda expressed by
this studys participants.
Limitations.
There are two significant potential limitations to this research that must be addressed. The
first of these challenges regards the nature of agenda setting theory. Agenda setting theory
traditionally applies to mass media (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; McCombs & Shaw, 1993), and its
application to scenarios of direct communication is limited, at best (Esrock & Leichty, 1998).
CSR reports, unlike press releases and public relations circulations, are stand-alone publications
that require significant effort to consumer. As such, the majority of CSR reports are read by an
organizations non-consumer stakeholders, meaning that while CSR reports do have the potential
to shape the publics perception of a company via agenda setting, they generally do so through
an intermediate mass media medium (Townsend et al., 2010). Thus, the technique employed by
this research of direct exposure of participants to CSR reports for the purposes of agenda setting
is unique and may draw criticism for its uncommon approach which stretches the definition of
agenda setting. Despite this fact, the internet has made the mass distribution of CSR materials
much easier than in the past, and it may prove beneficial for companies to take advantage of this
opportunity, especially given the agenda setting implications of CSR materials.

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

39

The challenge of causation also arises in this research design, because one cannot infer
that exposure to CSR reporting is necessarily the reason a participants opinions on issue
attributes correspond with a CSR reports content. Causation is a necessary factor for the
existence of agenda setting to be supported. Fortunately, the collection of relevant demographic
and modifying factor data and the use of regression analysis help to solve this problem by ruling
out possible confounding factors in the correlation between CSR report exposure and consumer
attitude. When a correlation between CSR report exposure and consumer attitude exists holding
all other demographic factors equal, as is the case in a regression, then causation becomes far
more likely.
Future Directions
While this study found evidence for the existence of first and second level agenda setting
effects for automotive industry CSR reports, significant room for future research into this
specific field of study still remains. The inconsistencies between Mitsubishi CSR report exposure
and Ford CSR report exposure indicate a need to explore how agenda setting effects differ
between automotive companies. Are some automotive companies simply more suited for agenda
setting effects, or is CSR report construction a more important determinant of agenda setting
theory applicability? This question could be answered by conducting a similar regression
analysis for the CSR reports of multiple automotive companies, and those companies found to
induce significant agenda setting effects could be analyzed for similar attributes. Multiple CSR
reports of different companies could also be subjected to a thematic or content analysis to
determine if CSR report construction is in fact the bigger determinant of agenda setting effects.
The answers to these questions could have an effect on how companies approach CSR
report construction. If future research indicates that some company profiles are simply ill suited

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

40

for agenda setting effects through CSR reports, then those companies may simply decide that
investing significant resources in the creation of a CSR report is not a sound decision. This
research need not be limited to automotive companies either the financial services sector has
one of the highest participation rates in CSR reporting, despite its tangential relationship to
sustainability issues (GRI, 2012). Is CSR reporting helping that industry to sell products or win
over investors, or are agenda setting effects weaker because of the loser connection between
sustainability and financial services.
Furthermore, very few studies have examined the effects of CSR report exposure on
consumer perceptions from communication theory perspectives (Pouvreau and Sonier, 2012).
Room remains for future research to determine if another communication theory is better suited
to explain the effect of CSR reporting on consumer perceptions. In the new age of direct-toconsumer marketing, mass media theories like agenda setting may be less suited to explain
consumer reactions to marketing and public relations pieces like CSR reports. Because CSR
reporting is such a recent and fast growing industry, the potential for new communication related
findings in the study of CSR reporting is significant (CSR, 2012). The internet and relative
dominance of the GRI standard in the CSR reporting industry has made CSR reports easy to
locate, download, and categorize, opening the door for further quantitative report studies to make
use of abundant and readily available data.
Conclusion
Agenda setting theory, which asserts that the media can influence the issues and issue
attributes individuals think about, has long been used to explain the ability of the mass media to
subtly influence the public issues agenda, but limited attention has been given to the agenda
setting effects of public relations media (McCombs and Shaw, 1993; McCombs, 2005). While

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

41

this dearth of corporate communication agenda setting research has been addressed somewhat
since the turn of the 21st century (Carroll and McCombs, 2003), communication researchers are
still in the early stages of studying the agenda setting effects of certain recently emergent forms
of corporate communication, including CSR reports. A review of literature in the field confirms
that the traditional concept of agenda setting has given way to a more comprehensive idea of
agenda setting, which acknowledges the existence of related effects for corporate news. This
study sought to discover if agenda-setting can be carried further into the realm of corporate
communication to include the specific medium of CSR reports. Specifically, this research sought
to investigate CSR reporting in the automotive industry by surveying a sample of 89 participants.
The automotive industry was chosen as a sector because of its broad and recognizable social
responsibility related impact and because most consumers have experience with automobile
ownership. Participants were randomly exposed to either CSR reports from Ford Motor
Company and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation or to a control variable. Regression analysis was
then used to determine the effect of CSR report exposure on consumer perceptions of corporate
sustainability and consumer purchase intent for six CSR issues: environmental issues, economic
issues, human rights issues, labor practices and decent work issues, product responsibility issues,
and social issues.
This study found evidence for the existence of both first level (issue) and second level
(issue attribute) agenda setting effects for both Ford and Mitsubishi CSR reports. Effects varied
in strength between the two companies, with Mitsubishi being subject to more consumer
perception effects and Ford being subject to more purchase intent effects. Twenty control
variables were also used to assess the existence of moderating factors on the agenda setting, and
multiple control variables were found to modify the agenda setting effect of CSR reports. Future

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

42

research in this field should further examine why agenda setting effects vary from CSR report to
CSR report and investigate if agenda setting effects exist for CSR reports produced in other
corporate sectors.

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

43

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46

Appendix A
Table 1
Overall Sustainability Assessment Measure
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.225
-.405
.138
-.190

-1.919
-2.871
.510
-1.522

.059
.005
.611
.132

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.125
.101
.058
-.017
-.044
-.169
-.002
.204
.208
-.140

-1.024
.630
.302
-.149
-.203
-.928
-.016
1.553
1.688
-1.113

.310
.531
.764
.882
.839
.357
.987
.125
.096
.270

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

.091
-.323
-.106
-.160
-.042
-.149

.636
-2.622
-.912
-.920
-.278
-.925

.527
.011
.365
.361
.782
.358

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

47

Appendix A
Table 2
Purchase Intent Measure: Economic Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.059
.236
-.055
-.095

-.482
1.615
-.198
-.740

.631
.111
.844
.462

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.020
.200
.250
-.027
.077
-.140
.123
.119
.204
-.114

-.156
1.199
1.257
-.219
.345
-.741
.993
.872
1.600
-.878

.876
.235
.213
.827
.731
.461
.324
.386
.114
.383

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.228
-.106
-.001
-.104
-.041
-.134

-1.543
-.828
-.010
-.579
-.263
-.804

.128
.411
.992
.564
.794
.424

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

48

Appendix A
Table 3
Purchase Intent Measure: Environmental Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.052
.027
.154
-.073

-.448
.196
.578
-.595

.656
.845
.565
.554

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.074
.034
.004
-.145
-.105
-.121
.219
.208
-.062
-.045

-.615
.215
.019
-1.254
-.493
-.672
1.860
1.602
-.510
-.364

.541
.830
.985
.214
.624
.504
.067
.114
.612
.717

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.080
-.106
.024
-.329
.040
-.052

-.566
-.871
.207
-1.910
.267
-.326

.573
.387
.836
.060
.790
.746

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

49

Appendix A
Table 4
Purchase Intent Measure: Human Rights Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.134
.117
-.133
-.052

-1.169
.848
-.508
-.430

.247
.399
.613
.669

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.089
.202
-.158
-.038
-.137
.003
.285
.072
.024
-.033

-.743
1.286
-.844
-.330
-.654
.017
2.453
.559
.200
-.272

.460
.203
.402
.743
.516
.986
.017
.578
.842
.787

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.287
.031
.038
-.183
.038
-.018

-2.053
.259
.333
-1.081
.254
-.114

.044
.796
.740
.283
.800
.909

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

50

Appendix A
Table 5
Purchase Intent Measure: Labor Practices and Working Conditions Issues
Variable
B

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.102
-.038
-.274
-.057

-.879
-.275
-1.028
-.465

.382
.784
.307
.643

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

.138
.262
-.126
-.015
.087
-.158
.243
.242
-.144
-.046

1.142
1.644
-.660
-.129
.410
-.874
2.064
1.865
-1.184
-.370

.257
.105
.512
.898
.683
.385
.043
.066
.240
.713

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.167
.054
-.004
-.112
.081
-.009

-1.180
.444
-.033
-.651
.540
-.058

.242
.659
.973
.517
.591
.954

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

51

Appendix A
Table 6
Purchase Intent Measure: Product Responsibility
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

.049
.045
-.134
-.074

.411
.314
-.494
-.592

.682
.754
.623
.556

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.242
.097
.099
-.013
-.188
.255
.046
.160
-.144
-.141

-1.971
.600
.513
-.110
-.868
1.390
.382
1.209
-1.160
-1.111

.053
.551
.609
.912
.388
.169
.704
.231
.250
.271

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.103
-.048
-.005
-.284
-.162
-.105

-.715
-.383
-.046
-1.622
-1.054
-.648

.477
.703
.963
.109
.296
.519

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

52

Appendix A
Table 7
Purchase Intent Measure: Social Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.181
.090
-.070
.028

-1.482
.615
-.249
.217

.143
.541
.804
.829

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.099
.053
-.043
-.035
.041
-.094
-.014
.115
-.051
-.221

-.776
.318
-.215
-.287
.181
-.492
-.109
.837
-.399
-1.686

.441
.751
.830
.775
.857
.625
.914
.405
.691
.096

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.277
.050
-.166
-.141
-.034
.112

-1.856
.386
-1.369
-.775
-.214
.665

.068
.701
.175
.441
.832
.508

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

53

Appendix A
Table 8
Willingness to Pay Measure: Economic Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.221
.134
.040
-.185

-2.066
1.041
.163
-1.628

.043
.302
.871
.108

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.237
.286
.195
.029
.265
-.170
.093
.215
.329
-.191

-2.129
1.953
1.111
.270
1.352
-1.021
.862
1.800
2.936
-1.673

.037
.055
.270
.788
.181
.311
.392
.076
.005
.099

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.151
-.255
.025
-.176
-.074
-.250

-1.162
-2.273
.233
-1.111
-.531
-1.708

.249
.026
.816
.270
.597
.092

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

54

Appendix A
Table 9
Willingness to Pay Measure: Environmental Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.262
.002
.529
-.103

-2.715
.015
2.390
-1.005

.008
.988
.020
.319

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.251
.011
.007
-.101
-.126
-.310
.175
.193
.117
-.114

-2.498
.082
.043
-1.056
-.711
-2.067
1.790
1.792
1.160
-1.108

.015
.935
.966
.295
.479
.042
.078
.078
.250
.272

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

.082
-.107
.097
-.365
.146
-.195

.700
-1.060
1.014
-2.551
1.171
-1.476

.486
.293
.314
.013
.246
.144

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

55

Appendix A
Table 10
Willingness to Pay Measure: Human Rights Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.240
-.002
.281
-.079

-2.294
-.018
1.166
-.707

.025
.986
.248
.482

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.184
.100
-.037
.026
-.008
-.250
.220
.235
.263
-.059

-1.685
.696
-.218
.246
-.040
-1.536
2.068
2.000
2.386
-.527

.097
.489
.828
.806
.968
.129
.042
.049
.020
.600

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.198
-.125
-.065
-.320
.080
-.204

-1.547
-1.141
-.627
-2.057
.588
-1.418

.126
.258
.533
.043
.559
.161

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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Appendix A
Table 11
Willingness to Pay Measure: Labor Practices and Working Conditions Issues
Variable
B
t

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.297
-.069
.202
-.098

-2.704
-.523
.798
-.838

.009
.603
.427
.405

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.069
.079
-.062
-.046
.090
-.412
.163
.173
.225
-.049

-.605
.522
-.346
-.424
.447
-2.409
1.460
1.408
1.946
-.420

.547
.604
.731
.673
.656
.019
.149
.164
.056
.676

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.312
.026
-.172
-.203
.142
-.147

-2.324
.223
-1.582
-1.245
.998
-.975

.023
.824
.118
.217
.322
.333

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

57

Appendix A
Table 12
Willingness to Pay Measure: Product Responsibilities Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.187
-.265
.028
.000

-1.725
-2.031
.112
-.001

.089
.046
.911
.999

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.246
.303
-.004
.115
-.089
.015
.025
.301
-.011
-.237

-2.180
2.039
-.020
1.059
-.448
.087
.226
2.478
-.100
-2.039

.033
.045
.984
.293
.656
.931
.822
.016
.921
.045

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

.137
-.085
-.121
-.227
-.018
-.222

1.039
-.749
-1.132
-1.413
-.126
-1.492

.303
.456
.261
.162
.900
.140

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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Appendix A
Table 13
Willingness to Pay Measure: Social Issues
Variable

Sig. (p)

Exposed to Ford CSR report


Exposed to Mitsubishi CSR Report
Age in years
Male

-.261
-.104
.229
-.054

-2.343
-.778
.895
-.452

.022
.439
.374
.653

White
Four Year Degree
Student
Annual combined household income (thousands)
Married
Number of children
Environmental enthusiasm
Automotive enthusiasm
Luxury car
Sports car

-.091
.142
-.108
.028
-.010
-.422
.114
.260
.067
-.024

-.786
.928
-.593
.249
-.050
-2.430
1.006
2.080
.574
-.200

.435
.357
.555
.804
.960
.018
.318
.041
.568
.842

Hybrid/ diesel/ electric


Planned cost of next vehicle at (thousands)
Total time they plan to own current car (years)
Politically Liberal
Politically Conservative
Politically Moderate

-.186
-.097
.005
-.357
.096
-.118

-1.369
-.832
.049
-2.157
.661
-.771

.175
.408
.961
.034
.511
.443

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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Appendix B
Annotated Bibliography
Akpabio, E. (2005). Towards a public relations agenda setting theory. Journal of Social
Science, 11 (3), p. 173-176.
Akpabio was useful for establishing that mass media providers are heavily reliant on
input from the very subjects of their article when it comes to issues of corporate social
responsibility. This helps to establish the real impact that public relations can have on media
consumers and connects the concepts of agenda setting and public relations in a more concrete
way than was done in past research. The source is highly literature-review based and should be
considered as somewhat of a meta-source, although it is not so quantitative as to be considered
meta-analysis.
Amujo, O., Otubanjo, O., & Laninhun, A. (2013). Media news effects on the formation of
stakeholders' opinions about the reputation of business organizations in Nigeria. Global
Media Journal: Mediterranean Edition, 8(1), 28-47.
This is one of the few intensive-interview based studies to draw a connection between
agenda setting and business reputation. It is useful because it provides a far deeper look at the
inner working of media effects on media consumers than survey studies generally do; however,
its sample size of only thirty limits the statistical power of its findings. This article is yet another
example of the fact that much modern day media effects research involving corporate
communication takes place abroad.

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60

Appendix B
Carroll, C.E. & McCombs M. (2003). Agenda-setting effects of business news on the publics
images and opinions about major corporations. Corporate Reputation Review, 6 (1), p.
36-46.
The work of McCombs is usually more tailored to political agenda setting theory than the
fields more recent corporate applications, but in working with Carroll in this 2003 study,
McCombs is able to reach agenda setting conclusions directly tying corporate image and public
opinion to agenda setting. This work is one of the earliest works to specifically apply agenda
setting to corporations, and it is more theoretical and less experimental than many later works on
the same topic. Carroll and McCombs work is particularly relevant for this research because it
both directly acknowledges that the central theory of political agenda setting is applicable to the
corporate world and because it transfers relevant terminology to the world of corporate agenda
setting. Carroll and McCombs create six agenda setting objects for the corporate world, all of
which can be applied to the survey instrument of this research.
Curtin, P.A. (1999). Reevaluating public relations information subsidies: Market-driven
journalism and agenda-building theory and practice. Journal of Public Relations
Research, 11 (1), p. 53-90.
Curtins work is unique compared to many other researchers in the field of agenda setting
because she works to expose the ability of corporations to craft their own media coverage. This
serves as a sort of justification for this research project because corporations have the power to
heavily influence the media according to Curtin, there is a strong need to examine the influence
of this media coverage on the public. Curtins purpose here is cyclical she shows that

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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Appendix B
corporations can greatly influence the media regarding their own coverage, and Meijer &
Kleinnijenhuis (2006), Gorpe and Yuksel (2006) and Kiousis et al. (2007) show that corporate
portrayals in the media can influence the public. Taken together, these research show that
corporations are already exerting an agenda setting effect on the consumer. In the age of the
internet where corporations can bypass the media and speak directly to the consumer, this
research should be able to determine if directly communicating with the public has a greater
effect than through a traditional agenda setting medium.
Davidson, R., & Chazaud, N. (2009). Media agenda setting and corporate reputation in France.
Conference Papers -- International Communication Association.
While this study only examined first level agenda setting an unusual fact given that
second level agenda setting seems to be a more popular subject in research published since the
late 1990s it is useful because it looks at companies on an industry by industry basis. This
research helped to plant the seed for my consideration of future research to compare the agenda
setting effects of CSR research across companies.
Esrock, S.L. & Leichty, G.B. (1998). Social responsibility and corporate web pages: Selfpresentation or agenda-setting?. Public Relations Review, 23 (4), p. 305-321.
This research helps to tie agenda setting to CSR reporting by demonstrating that the
internet has allowed companies to push marketing and public relations materials directly to
consumers through their websites and email, as opposed to traditional mass media methods like
television and newspaper advertising. Because of its age, the actual facts and figures in this
research pertaining to email proliferous and website availability are quite outdated; however, it is

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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Appendix B
nonetheless a useful article because it demonstrates the evolution of direct to consumer
communication by corporations. It would be interesting to see the content analysis portion of this
research replicated on modern day websites for Fortune 500 companies.
Gartner, Szilvia (2011). Approach change: A responsible automotive industry. Regional and
Business Studies, 3 (1), p. 729-737.
This is a fine source for assessing the general state of CSR reporting in the automotive
industry. It looks at a broad group of automakers and highlights industry CSR trends, areas of
excellence, and areas for improvement. This source was instrumental to my choosing the
automotive industry of my industry of focus because it painted the automotive industry as a
frontrunner in the field of CSR reporting based on my assessment of automotive industry CSR
reports, this articles assessment is accurate.
Gorpe, S. & Yuksel, E. (2006). Media content and corporate reputation survey 2006 in
Turkey: A first level agenda-setting study. Eskisher: Anadolu University Publications.
Gorpe and Yuksels research shows that a correlation exists between positive media
coverage of a companys CSR efforts and positive perception of that company in the public eye.
Gorpe and Yuksels work is slightly different from the practices employed by this research
because their focus is purely on media coverage, while this research is focused on direct public
relations efforts by companies via CSR reports. Nonetheless, their research supports the
existence of agenda setting for corporate news and includes a content analysis of vast magnitude
over 20,000 articles from 36 newspapers were examined. For nine out of the 12 companies
they examined, Gorpe and Yuksel found a near perfect correlation between public perception

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

63

Appendix B
rank and media coverage rank. This research will use a smaller sample of only two companies as
opposed to Gorpe and Yuksels 12, but the fact that participant perceptions will be examined
directly instead of through a proxy survey further differentiates this research from Gorpe and
Yuksels in a positive way. Gorpe and Yuksels research also focused specifically on Turkish
CSR.
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) (2012). Annual report 2011/12. The Global Reporting
Initiative. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Beutling, A.
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a global organization which sets the de-facto
standards which most organizations producing CSR reports adhere to. Their annual report serves
as a tool for identifying industry trends in CSR reporting and provides a necessary grounding for
this research. Finally, the GRI itself maintains a large CSR report database which will be useful
for identifying prospective automotive company CSR reports to use in this research. Finally, the
annual report will be helpful in creating an object and attribute issues agenda which can later be
tailored to the automotive companies subjected to thematic analysis by this research.
Kiousis, S., Popescu, C., and Mitrook, M. (2007). Understanding influence on corporate
reputation: An examination of public relations efforts, media coverage, public opinion,
and financial performance from an agenda-building and agenda-setting perspective.
Journal of Public Relations Research, 19 (2), p. 147-165.
Kiousis et al. carried out research similar to that which will be employed by this study,
although Kiousis et al. assessed CSR performance in a much less direct way than will be done so
in this research. Specifically, Kiousis et al. conducted a content analysis of a sample of 121 PR

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

64

Appendix B
releases (which are very much akin to CSR reports) and 106 news stories, and compared their
findings with 20,000 responses from the Harris Interactive and Reputation Institute Reputation
Quotient Survey, which assesses corporate reputation. Kiousis et al. found that by simply
mentioning certain issues in PR releases, companies could cause the public to associate them in a
positive way with these releases. Kiousis et al,s study, specifically as it relates to the PR
releases, is the most similar locatable study to the intent of this research, and its results which
indicate the existence of agenda setting effects for PR releases are highly desirable.
Martin, L., Ruiz, S., & Rubio, A. (2009). The role of identity salience in the effects of corporate
social responsibility on consumer behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 84 (1), 65-78.
Martin et al. extensively researched the effect of CSR reports on consumers in their 2009
study. Their study is intricate in design and specifically examines the role of the modifying factor
of identity salience on consumers exposed to CSR reports. While Martin et al. do not specifically
study CSR reports from an agenda setting perspective, identity salience itself is explored in
McCombs works (Carroll & McCombs, 2003; McCombs, 2005), where it is explored in more
general terms as an influence on first and second level agenda setting. This research will include
two survey questions as proxy measures for identity salience in order to control for these factors
in regression analysis.
McCombs, M. (2005). A look at agenda-setting: Past, present and future. Journalism Studies, 6
(4), p. 543-567.
McCombs 2005 examination of the evolution of agenda setting theory since 1968 is
particularly useful because it specifically references agenda setting in the corporate context. The

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

65

Appendix B
fact that the father of agenda setting research has acknowledged the existence of the sub-field
this research will address is notable, although McCombs still considers corporate agenda setting
only within the specific context of mass media. The studies on corporate agenda setting
referenced by McCombs in his 2005 agenda setting summation are somewhat simplistic in
nature, but in fairness to McCombs, the more complex studies testing for agenda setting effects
in corporate communication identified by this research were only published in the mid to late
2000s, after McCombs wrote this piece. The fact that McCombs has yet to specifically reference
the existence of agenda setting effects in unmediated corporate communication is tentatively
encouraging it does not mean that such effects do not exist, but rather that little research has
been done in this highly specific area, leaving the door open for the results of this study to be all
the more impactful.
McCombs, M. E. & Shaw, D. L. (1993). The evolution of agenda-setting research: Twentyfive years in the marketplace of ideas. Journal of Communication, 43 (2), p. 58-67.
McCombs and Shaws contributions to the field of agenda setting research did not end
with their original 1972 study, and their 1993 summation of agenda setting research from 1968
1993 is useful for tracking the progress of agenda setting research and for determining the
possibility of applying it to less traditional situations involving manipulation of the public
agenda. McCombs and Shaws original 1972 research only allowed for agenda setting to affect
how much the public thinks about an issue, making it a useful but limited theory for the purposes
of parties hoping to influence the public agenda. McCombs and Shaws follow-up work expands
the usefulness of agenda setting theory by acknowledging the existence of second level agenda

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

66

Appendix B
setting effects, whereby the media is capable of actually influencing what the public thinks about
issues. This research will seek to find evidence for both first and second level agenda setting
effects for consumers exposed to CSR reports.
McCombs, M.E. & Shaw, D. S. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. The
Public Opinion Quarterly, 36 (2), p. 176-187.
McCombs and Shaws 1972 Chapel Hill study is the seminal work for the field of agenda setting
studies and is the first piece of research to empirically test agenda setting theory. Within their
study, McCombs and Shaw examine the effect of media coverage on issue salience for voters in
Chapel Hill, Virginia during the 1968 presidential election. While this research seeks study
agenda setting in a more evolved corporate context, it is nonetheless essential for the purposes of
this research to gain an understanding of agenda settings origins. One cannot advocate for the
expansion of agenda setting research without first understanding where its roots lie. It is also
important to keep in mind the limitations of this study, including the fact that a small sample was
used and no demographic controls were in place. This study will remedy both of these factors
with a large sample size and demographic controls.
Meijer, M.M. & Kleinnijenhuis, J. (2006). Issue news and corporate reputation: Applying the
theories of agenda setting and issue ownership in the field of business communication
Journal of Communication, 56, p. 543-559.
Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis conducted one of the few studies which have applied the
theory of agenda setting to the world of business communication. Unlike this the goal of this
research, which is to examine the agenda setting effect of corporate social responsibility (CSR)

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

67

Appendix B
reports on consumers, Meijer and Kleinnijenhuis examined the effect of media coverage of CSR
factors on consumers. While their approach to CSR and agenda setting was less direct than the
approach which will be employed by this research, it is nonetheless encouraging because Meijer
and Kleinnijenhuis did find compelling evidence for the existence of agenda setting effects.
Their huge sample size, which included a content analysis of 9,200 newspaper articles and 2,200
television shows and a survey of 280 Dutch citizens, lends even more credence to their
conclusions.
Pouvreau, B., and Sonier, P. (2012). Corporate social responsibility disclosure in corporate
communication: A content analysis of the automotive industrys sustainability reports.
(Master Thesis in Management). Retrieved from DIVA-Portal Umea University.
Pouvreau and Soniers 2012 thematic analysis of changes in automotive industry CSR
reporting trends from 2002 to 2010 will serve as the backbone for the regression analysis and
correlation which will be performed in this research. Pouvrea and Sonier have constructed a CSR
attribute agenda of six attributes which closely mirrors the attribute agenda proposed by Carroll
and McCombs for corporate agenda setting research. Pouvrea and Soniers attribute work is even
more useful because it ranks each of the six specific attributes it identifies by order of
prevalence. This allows for a correlation test to be conducted between the perceived issue
importance identified by survey participants who are exposed to the CSR reports reviewed by
Pouvrea and Sonier and the actual issue importance identified by the researchers thematic
analysis. Two of the specific CSR reports examined by Pouvrea and Sonier for the year 2010,

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

68

Appendix B
which were authored by Ford Motor Company and Mitsubishi Motors, were obtained for later
use in survey design.
Sen, S. & Bhattacharya, C. B. (2001). Does doing good always lead to doing better: Consumer
reactions to corporate social responsibility. Journal of Marketing Research, 38 (2), 225243.
This article was useful for determining what, if any, moderating factors lead to CSR
report effectiveness in relation to influence on consumer trends. The results show a two sided
street: one the one hand, company specific factors, such as the type and quality of a companys
products, have an effect on CSR report influence, but on the other hand, individual specific
factors such as general CSR beliefs moderate the effectiveness of CSR reports. This served as an
informative source for my research on moderating factors on the consumer side.
Steinweg, Tim. (2010). Driven by corporate social responsibility? Top ten car manufacturers:
A CSR analysis. Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations. Amsterdam,
Netherlands: Colophon.
Steinwegs 2010 report for the Center for Research on Multinational Organizations
summarizes the sustainability efforts of the automotive industry as a whole. Steinweg divides his
report into sections reflecting the major trends and areas of automotive industry sustainability
and into sections reflecting the sustainability efforts of automakers on a company-by-company
basis. Steinwegs research could be particularly useful if used in a correlation analysis to study if
CSR reports do in fact accurately reflect the sustainability efforts of major automakers and if
public perceptions of automaker sustainability are in fact accurate. Unfortunately, while

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

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Appendix B
Stienwegs work is notable for its breadth, it goes into significantly less depth on an automakerby-automaker basis than does Pouvreau and Soniers 2012 report on the sustainability efforts of
Ford Motor Company, BMW Motor Company, and Mitsubishi Motors.
Tan, Y., & Weaver, D. H. (2013). Agenda diversity and agenda setting from 1956 to 2004.
Journalism Studies, 14(6), 773-789.
This is yet another summation of the evolution of agenda setting over the course of the
later part of the twentieth century. It is notable both because of the shear span of time it covers
(nearly 50 years) and because it goes back all of the way to 1956. Most agenda setting metastudies acknowledge agenda setting research as beginning in the late 1960s with McCombs and
Shaw (1972). Tan and Weaver managed to identify more instances of past agenda setting
research than any meta-study I reviewed.
Tang, L. (2012). Media discourse of corporate social responsibility in China: A content analysis
of newspapers. Asian Journal Of Communication, 22(3), 270-288.
Tangs massive study of agenda setting in China examined a sample of over 800 media
sources in order to establish agenda setting effects for Chinese companies. This is the only study
I identified on agenda setting in China and is extremely important for that reason. CSR issues,
particularly those pertaining to the environment and safe working conditions, are coming under
increasing scrutiny in China, and this report shows that Chinese companies have a method of
countering (sometimes justifiably) negative press. Furthermore, the existence of agenda setting
effects in a state like China, which has a far less open media than most Western countries,
provides an interest perspective for agenda setting research. Finally, this article (unsurprisingly)

AGENDA SETTING THEORY AND CSR REPORTING

70

Appendix B
shows that Chinese consumers tend to be skeptical of CSR statements by companies than their
Western counterparts. A comparative study between Western and Easter agenda setting effects
would make for an interesting reapplication of my research model.
Townsend, S., Bartels, W., & Renaut, J.P. (2010). Reporting change: Readers and reports
survey 2010. The Global Reporting Initiative. Amsterdam, Netherlands: ScribbleDesign.
One of the most important issues at play in this research is the frequency at which CSR
reports are ready by the general public. If CSR reports are not read by the general public, then
there is no sense in a research project which measures the ability of corporations to influence the
public via CSR reporting. Fortunately, Townsend et al. show through their study, which was
administered via a survey, that consumers do make up a notable portion of CSR report readership
and that the number of consumers exposed to CSR reports has increased over time. Townsend et
al. thus help to justify this research by showing that CSR reports do not simply disappear into a
black hole of corporate reports upon publication.
Weaver, D.H. (2008). Agenda-setting effects. The International Encyclopedia of
Communication. Donsbach, W. (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Blackwell Reference
Online.
Weavers entry in the International Encyclopedia of Communication provides important
background information regarding the history and terminology surround agenda setting. It was
useful for establishing the distinction between first and second level agenda setting and for
establishing the role of agenda setting within the broader context of media effects theory.

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Appendix B
Whan, Eric. (2004). Guess what? People do read CSR reports. Globe Scan Incorporated.
Ontario: Canada.
Whans study provides details on the readership of CSR reports that are essential for the
application of agenda setting effects to the CSR report medium. Agenda setting is a media effects
theory that relies on mass media to influence the public. In order to apply agenda setting theory
to CSR reports, it must first be demonstrated that a portion of the CSR report readership is made
up of the public at large. Whans survey confirms this requirement by showing that members of
the public at large, consumers, and individuals interested in CSR issues make up a large portion
of CSR report readership. Whan further confirms that an adequate percentage of the public at
large is aware of CSR reporting and CSR issues, making this a worthy emergent public relations
medium to study.