A study completed recently at the University of Texas at Dallas – Naveen Jindal School of Management looked at the positive difference made to a firm’s publicity in newspapers and other outlets when there is at least one member of the Board of Directors who is a media professional of some type. “This paper presents evidence that the composition of a firm’s board of directors can affect the way the firm is covered in the news. Specifically, we show that a board member with media expertise enhances the firm’s ability to manage how the firm is portrayed in mass media.”
For tracking purposes, the study defined a media professional as someone who had prior or current experience with a news or media company as the top executive or owner, a writer/journalist, editor, a board member, or other similar position. Firms a “media” board member seemed to indicate to those studying the situation that the company was actively interested in publicity for the company.
The study tracked a “firm’s news coverage and qualitative content of news stories (slant) in a large database of articles from Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and eight major local newspapers that meet our data requirements (Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, Denver Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Washington Post) between 1996 and 2006.”
Determining slant for coverage was according to how positive or negative any coverage for the firm was in articles, and the coverage was how many times a company got mentioned in articles in the listed newspapers. Using established guidelines set by predecessors – Tetlock, Saar-Tsechansky, and Macskassy (2008), Loughran and McDonald (2011), and Gurun and Butler (2012), the group identified both negative and positive words in a textual analysis of articles.
Their results showed that having a media person on the Board increased their news article coverage by 33% per year with 21% less likelihood of the article having a negative slant. To explain the results, they looked at several possible explanations. One of these possibilities was that a media person naturally increased the awareness of publicity and how it works within an organization. This seemed especially true when that board member was brought into the mix specifically to increase public awareness of the company and its products, services, and mission.
Another possibility was that these board members get better coverage because of their past associations and ties with the periodicals, however, from what the group observed, at least with those having strong ties to the Wall Street Journal, this didn’t appear to make any difference in either number of articles or the slant of the articles.