Looking back on 2010, most Americans were seriously disappointed by how the nation's businesses conducted themselves, with 61 percent saying corporate America failed to meet their expectations, and only 5 percent saying that businesses exceeded their expectations. When asked to grade how well corporate America did in 2010, 82 percent assigned a grade of 'C' or lower and 40 percent assigned a grade of 'D' or 'F.' Just 17 percent gave corporate America an 'A' or a 'B' for its 2010 performance.
And while Americans are more optimistic about how Corporate America will do in 2011, their expectations for businesses next year are even higher. Close to seven in 10 have higher expectations for corporate America in 2011. That said, six in 10 believe those expectations will be met.
And as the nation struggles with economic challenges, 88 percent of consumers felt that corporations had recovered from the recession better than American families, and 85 percent thought corporations had better prospects for the coming year than American families did.
"With consumers highly dissatisfied with U.S. businesses, the 2011 strategy for Corporate America needs to be 'back to basics'," says Bradley Honan, senior vice president of StrategyOne, the research unit of Edelman. "Explaining not only 'what' they do for the country, but 'how' and 'why' they do it needs to be the game plan for how to rebuild corporate reputation."
Asked what corporate America's highest priorities should be in 2011, consumers emphasized helping improve the economy and reducing unemployment, promoting ethical corporate behavior, paying back any bailout money, making high quality products and services that require fewer recalls, and overall making fewer mistakes.
"Let's be clear, Americans are not dreaming up some far out vision of utopia," says Honan. "Instead they are being realistic that corporate America should—and indeed must—engage in important issues of the day where they can make a demonstrably positive difference. That means the economy and jobs for starters, but also ensuring their products are safe and not harmful to use, and that they simply conduct their day to day business activities in an honest, ethical, and transparent manner."
Other survey highlights included:
- 88 percent of consumers said it was extremely or very important that companies help get the economy back on track in 2011, but only 17 percent said companies deserved an 'A' or 'B' for their efforts on this in 2010. 84 percent said companies deserved a 'C' or below.
- 88 percent said it was extremely or very important to conduct business in an ethical manner in 2011, and 87 percent said it was a top priority to do business in an honest and moral way. But just 17 percent of Americans thought companies deserved an 'A' or 'B' for honest and moral conduct in 2010, and just 18 percent awarded companies an 'A' or 'B' for their ethics in 2010.
- 85 percent of consumers thought it was extremely or very important for companies in 2011 to deliver high quality products and services, although only 31 percent said companies deserved an 'A' or 'B' for this in 2010.
- 84 percent of Americans thought companies needed to demonstrate good governance in 2011, while only 16 percent felt corporations had earned an 'A' or 'B' grade on this issue in 2010.
- 83 percent said it was of high importance for corporations to pay back any bailout money loaned them as quickly as possible in 2011, but 78 percent of consumers said companies deserved a 'C' or below for this issue in 2010.
- 82 percent said it was a top priority for companies to make fewer mistakes and errors in 2011, while just 19 percent gave companies an 'A' or 'B' for this in 2010.