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Press Release from the Journal of Marketing: Companies Battling Shareholder Complaints have a Potent Weapon–Advertising.

Matt Weingarden

Key Takeaway: A new study in the Journal of Marketing explores how firms can configure advertising investments to respond to shareholder complaints and limit the damage of these public battles.

Chicago, May 28, 2019 — An international team of researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt, University of Adelaide, Hanken School of Economics, and Maastricht University published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing, which finds that advertising can be used to respond to shareholder complaints.

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The study forthcoming in the July issue of the Journal of Marketing titled “Can Advertising Investments Counter the Negative Impact of Shareholder Complaints on Firm Value” is authored by Simone Wies, Arvid Hoffmann, Jaakko Aspara, and Joost Pennings.

Companies not only deal with revenue and customer pressures, but often face difficult challenges brought by shareholder activists. These activists submit proposals, or complaints, that criticize the firm’s strategic direction. However, they also take their complaints to the streets, gaining media coverage of their demands. In the process, shareholder activists can inflict significant financial damage on firms by tarnishing their reputations, undermining investor confidence, and imposing administrative costs. Stock prices are often negatively affected by these complaints and their media attention.

A new study in the Journal of Marketing explores how marketers can configure their advertising investments to respond to and limit the damage from shareholder complaints. Using a data set from 2001 until 2016 covering all shareholder complaints submitted to S&P 1500 firms, the researchers answer these questions:

  1. Do firms increase advertising investments in response to shareholder complaints?
  2. How does shareholder complaint salience shape a firm’s advertising investment response?
  3. If firms adjust advertising investments in response to stakeholder complaints, what is the effect of such a strategy on firm performance?

Key findings include:

  • Firms that receive shareholder complaints experience substantial decline in firm stock value.
  • An average firm in their sample increases advertising investments by up to $8.08 million following an increase in shareholder complaints.
  • This advertising investment response is larger when complaints are submitted by institutional investors, relate to nonfinancial concerns, or if the topics covered in the complaints receive a great deal of media attention.
  • Increasing advertising investments is an effective firm response: it helps mitigate the decline in firm value following shareholder complaints.

The authors suggest that advertising investments following shareholder complaints are effective at mitigating a post-complaint decline in firm value because they increase the visibility of and emotional connection to the firm, signal the firm’s financial health and sound business strategy, and prevent complaints from contaminating other stakeholders’ attitudes.

Despite this opportunity, Wies notes that “The majority of firms investigated in the study underinvest in advertising following shareholder complaints” She recommends that “To maximize the effectiveness of this strategy, managers should coordinate an advertising investment response to shareholder complaints with other functions in the firm, such as public relations.” The team also advises managers to team up with external partners such as investment analysts to better communicate their firm strategy to the investor community, amplify the potential effect of advertising investments, and try to prevent shareholder complaints being submitted in the first place by winning support for their strategy.

Full article and author contact information available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0022242919841584

About the Journal of Marketing

The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.
https://www.ama.org/jm

About the American Marketing Association (AMA)

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what’s coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.
https://www.ama.org

Matt Weingarden serves as Director, Integrated Academic Content, a role which includes management of AMA's four scholarly journals, academic conferences, and academic community initiatives including the 17 Academic Special Interest Groups