Barbara Miller writes book about marketplace advocacy campaigns

Marketplace Advocacy Campaigns: Generating Public Support for Business and Industry was inspired by the "Friends of Coal" campaign.


Growing up in West Virginia, Associate Professor Barbara Miller in the School of Communications was well aware of the prominence of the coal industry throughout the state.

Since 2003, she began to notice the Friends of Coal logo everywhere: on bumper stickers, on license plates, on billboards, on television. It was largely inescapable and not completely out of place, considering coal mining is a major economic contributor in the state.

But her constant run-ins with the logo grabbed her attention for an academic reason: It sparked her interest in marketplace advocacy and eventually led to her first book, “Marketplace Advocacy Campaigns: Generating Public Support for Business and Industry,” which studies the persuasive power of what she calls a “unique genre of advertising and public relations.”

“Generally speaking, issue advocacy is distinct from other forms of advertising and public relations in that it moves beyond the more traditional and straightforward goal of promoting a product or service into efforts to promote and organization’s stance on an issue or public policy,” Miller says.

Miller has been researching this topic for six years, but the most recent analysis and writing has occurred in the last two. She has previously written about marketplace advocacy for scholarly journals, and the book draws on those studies to develop a model of marketplace advocacy influence on audiences.

“The FOC campaign is a prime example of a marketplace advocacy campaign in that it promotes the benefits of an industry sector to society, in this case coal, while also attempting to quell public concerns about industry risks,” Miller says. “As these campaigns are becoming increasingly widespread, it’s important for audiences to understand if—and how—they influence public perceptions of businesses and industries.”

Barbara Miller

Miller says the last book on the subject of advocacy advertising was written in 1977, even though issue advocacy has existed since the initiation of corporate institutional advertising in the early 1900s. In fact, she says political and social revolutions of the ’60s and ’70s are typically credited with the rise of advocacy campaigns by many industries.

“In recent years more and more businesses have come to recognize the role of marketplace advocacy in promoting a positive public image and reducing the costs of responding to pressure from activist groups, litigation, regulation and boycotts,” she says. “This book provides a current perspective on marketplace advocacy, including overviews of campaigns targeting regional audiences, national audiences and international audiences.”

Some of those campaigns include the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s “Energy to Fuel our Future” at the regional level, the American Plastic Council’s “Plastics Make it Possible” at the national level and Dow Chemical Company’s “The Human Element” at the international level.

Miller says she’s interested in the topic because advocacy campaigns are designed to encourage “both action and inaction.” At one level, initiatives target the public to encourage support and boost political activism. But at another level, they also work to prevent public intervention in industry-related activities.

“It’s important to note that either outcome is ultimately beneficial to the advocated business or industry,” Miller says.

Miller will continue to conduct research in this area, she says, and at the moment she’s working to organize focus groups with Communications assistant professor Julie Lellis that would study how audiences respond to values communicated in marketplace advocacy ads. She’s also interested in researching whether these campaigns can provide a “reservoir of credibility” in times of industry crises, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

“I hope readers take away from the book an increased awareness of the extent of marketplace advocacy campaigns and begin to consider their potential for impacting the political process,” Miller says. “These campaigns have the potential to build and shape the public’s agenda regarding business and industry matters.”

Miller earned her bachelor and master degrees from West Virginia University before attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her doctorate. She has six years of experience as an account executive and branch manager with Professional Communications in Bluefield, Va., and Morgantown, W.Va.

Her published work has appeared in the Journal of Advertising, Journal of Public Relations Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and Newspaper Research Journal. Miller received a 2010 grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communications at Penn State University to study ethical environmental communications.

Miller, who came to Elon in 2006, teaches courses in strategic communications, including “Strategic Campaigns,” “Communications Research” and “Strategic Writing.” Her research has focused on marketplace advocacy, communications campaigns and crisis communication.

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