Public administration research has thus far focused on the responses of bureaucracies to top-down pressures by elected politicians. By comparison, bureaucracies’ responses to bottom-up public pressures, such as media coverage and social protest, and the micro-mechanisms that underlie the variation in their response, have received less attention. This study contributes to current literature by analysing the extent to which subjection to political control shapes the direct response of bureaucracies to bottom-up public pressures. Based on current literature, we explore two distinct micro-mechanisms: on the one hand, building, inter alia, on principal–agent theory, we would expect higher levels of political control to render bureaucracies more attentive to public pressures in order to preempt intervention by politicians who are reliant on public support (the principal–agent mechanism). Conversely, building on regulation theory, we would expect autonomous agencies to exhibit their attentiveness to salient public pressures in order to compensate for their precarious democratic legitimacy (the legitimacy-deficit mechanism). Empirically, we analyse the responses of a diverse set of 36 bureaucracies to the unprecedented social protests that took place in Israel during 2011. We focus on bureaucracies’, including independent agencies’, symbolic responses via advertising campaigns. Our analysis shows that higher levels of political control enhanced the inclination of bureaucracies to engage in symbolic interactions in response to the social protests, supporting our extended version of the principal–agent model.