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"What Is Our Story?" Philip Morris's Changing Corporate Narrative.


We sought to learn how employees reacted to changes in the corporate narrative of Philip Morris Companies (PMC) in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

We analyzed archival internal tobacco industry documents about PMC's creation of a new corporate story.

In response to litigation and public opprobrium, PMC replaced its market success-oriented corporate narrative with a new one centered on responsibility. Although management sought to downplay inconsistencies between the old and new narratives, some employees reportedly had difficulty reconciling them, concerned that the responsibility focus might affect company profitability. However, others embraced the new narrative, suggesting radical ideas to prevent youth smoking. These ideas were not adopted.

PMC's new narrative was unconvincing to many of its employees, who perceived it either as a threat to the company's continued profits or as incongruous with what they had previously been told. As it had done with the public, PMC misled its employees in explaining a narrative repositioning that would help the company continue business as usual. Moving toward a tobacco endgame will require ongoing discursive and symbolic efforts to disrupt this narrative.

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