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Reputation spillover: corporate crises’ effects on country reputation

Diana Ingenhoff (Department of Communication Studies, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland)
Alexander Buhmann (BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway)
Candace White (School of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)
Tianduo Zhang (University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)
Spiro Kiousis (Department of Public Relations, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 5 February 2018




The purpose of this paper is to examine how varying degrees of media-constructed associations between organizations and their home countries affect audience perceptions of such associations and, subsequently, how recipients attribute crisis responsibility and reputational damage to the home country. Additionally, the paper investigates if pre-crisis country image can buffer negative effects of the crisis for the country.


The authors hypothesize that the strength of actor associations in media reports about crises affects recipients’ cognitive processes of crisis responsibility attribution and, thus, the “direction” of reputational damage (corporation vs country). Empirically, the authors analyze the effects of different levels of actor association in crisis reports (strong actor association vs weak actor association) regarding a Chinese corporation in a one-factorial (between-subjects) experimental design; and the intervening effect of China’s country image prior to the crisis. Participants for the study lived in Switzerland and the USA.


The effect of different actor associations presented in the media on perceived association between a corporation and its home country is confirmed. Furthermore, these varying perceptions lead to significantly different tendencies in people’s ascriptions of crisis responsibility (corporation vs country), and different degrees of reputational fallout for the home countries. Finally, the data did not confirm a moderating effect of pre-crisis country image on the reputational damage caused by the crisis.

Research limitations/implications

The study contributes to the understanding of key factors in the formation of crisis attributions as well as insights for the study of country image and public diplomacy.

Practical implications

It provides a new approach for corporate communication and public diplomacy to analyze the complex interdependencies between countries and internationally visible and globally known corporations, which potentially affect the country’s perception abroad.

Social implications

Particularly for smaller countries that cannot rely on political and economic power to defend national interests in a global context, their “soft power” in terms of reputation and country image can play a central role in their political, economic, and cultural success.


The paper applies a new conceptual framework and methodology to analyze how both mediated and cognitive associations between different actors influence attribution of responsibility in crises, and how these associations ultimately bear on reputation spillover for the different actors.



Ingenhoff, D., Buhmann, A., White, C., Zhang, T. and Kiousis, S. (2018), "Reputation spillover: corporate crises’ effects on country reputation", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 96-112.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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