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Telling a success story through the president’s letter

Adelaide Martins (University of Minho, Braga, Portugal and University Portucalense, Research on Economics, Management and Information Technologies - REMIT, Porto, Portugal)
Delfina Gomes (University of Minho, Braga, Portugal)
Lídia Oliveira (University of Minho, Braga, Portugal)
João Leite Ribeiro (University of Minho, Braga, Portugal)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Article publication date: 19 July 2019

Issue publication date: 5 August 2019




This paper aims to explore the role of storytelling and impression management (IM) through the president’s letter in legitimizing the practices of an electricity company with regard to controversial issues during a period of change.


Drawing on a qualitative case study, this paper examines annual report letters from 1995 to 2013 using a methodological interpretative approach.


By promoting a success story using IM, the presidents give sense to particular actions related with controversial issues and attempt to influence expectations on strategic changes. The findings demonstrate that organizational actors use the flexibility of the president’s letter to tell the story and emphasize its self-laudatory nature. The study highlights that storytelling in these documents can be used to alleviate the tensions created by the inherent contradictions of social structures.

Practical implications

This research is useful for regulatory authorities, users of annual reports and academic researchers, making them attentive of the narratives companies may adopt to protect their legitimacy. The findings shed light on the need to evaluate the credibility of accountability mechanisms and can help stakeholders to develop a more critical view of the president’s letter.


This paper makes a contribution to research on communication issues by expanding literature on accounting and organizational storytelling. By demonstrating how presidents use sensegiving as a means of legitimacy-claiming, this study adds to the literature on legitimating accounts. In doing so, this paper bridges the gap between theories about organizational legitimacy, storytelling and IM. To sum up, the findings serve as an incremental step toward understanding the nature of accountability reporting.



The authors would also like to thank the editor Professor Deryl Northcott and the two anonymous reviewers of the journal for their perceptive comments, who have helped to improve the paper. Study conducted, by the second author, at Research Center in Political Science (UID/CPO/00758/2013), University of Minho and supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science through national funds.


Martins, A., Gomes, D., Oliveira, L. and Ribeiro, J.L. (2019), "Telling a success story through the president’s letter", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 403-433.



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