The aim of this paper is to study if and how impression management varies during different phases of the legitimation process, in particular during the legitimacy building and legitimacy repairing phases (Suchman, 1995). We aim at understanding whether and how the disclosure tone adopted by a company in the two different moments is diverse and thus functional to the intrinsic objective of the each phase. The empirical analysis focuses on the case of British Petroleum Plc. We investigated the impression management practices undertaken by the company both during the preparation of the rebranding operation, i.e. a situation in which the company is trying to build legitimacy; and during the happenings of two legitimacy crises, like the explosion of the refinery in Texas City and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The evidence appears in line with the theoretical prediction of legitimacy theory. Results show that while the company tends to privilege image enhancement techniques during the legitimacy-building phase, it uses more obfuscation techniques when managing a legitimacy-repairing process. Moreover, the analysis suggests that the company makes more extensive use of impression management techniques in the disclosures addressed to shareholders, investors and other market operators than in the disclosures addressed to the wide range of other stakeholders.
Keywords: Impression management, disclosure tone, legitimacy building, legitimacy crisis