Almost 30 years after the Tylenol crisis established Johnson & Johnson as a gold standard for the practice of public relations, the company continues to enjoy the best reputation of any major corporation, according to new research from Vision Critical, the strategic interactive research and technology company, and its public affairs arm Angus Reid Public Opinion.
The Corporate Reputation Rankings, developed using the firms’ diagnostic reputation measurement and management tool ReputationPlus, also found unprecedented hostility toward corporations in general.
The ReputationPlus system is designed to look beyond the presence or absence of positives and probes negative responses like executive compensation, management's short term thinking, secrecy, greed and arrogance. In these hyper-critical times examining negative as well as positive metrics helps create a clearer picture of weakness and vulnerability as well as competitive strengths.
Says reputation research veteran John Gilfeather, who has been working with Vision Critical on ReputationPlus: "In 40 years of studying corporate reputation, I have never seen this level of vitriol aimed at larger corporations. It is not just an erosion of positives, but also a rise in distinct negatives. If companies do not start communicating—and communicating better—about why they should be respected, this trend will continue."
Johnson & Johnson tops the list of most favorably perceived companies, in a top 10 dominated by consumer products companies and the big three computing and technology companies. The top 10 all rated favorably on fundamentals like value, quality and trust and being welcomed into a local community, all signs of well managed companies and good corporate citizens. These companies are not just household names but valued household guests - their products staples of most American households.
The top ranking companies have generally avoided any major recent scandals, reflected by a lack of the most negative label of "idiots"—the public's shorthand for arrogance, greed and secrecy. However these companies still attracted comment about executive compensation and putting their profits above what is good for the country.
Many of the top 10 receive above and sometimes very much above average scores for making "a lot of money for shareholders," indicating that companies can be highly profitably and still maintain superior reputations—as long as they aren't perceived as behaving like greedy "idiots."
However there is a mixed picture. It is not news that almost half of Americans think that BP puts profits ahead of what is good for the United States. But it is news that one out of five Americans feels this way about widely admired companies like Kraft and Johnson & Johnson.
The second 10 companies share many of the same positive characteristics of the top ten. Ford (17) deserves special mention by considerably outperforming the other auto companies studied.
The bottom half of the rankings are dominated by financial services and health insurance companies. Those with the least favorable rankings are ones that have been splashed across our television screens and newspaper front pages: health insurers, major banks, Toyota, brokerage firms and oil companies are all subject to public opinion backlash.
BP is, of course, a magnet for negative opinions. Almost half of Americans hold very negative opinions of BP (1 or 2 on a six point scale.) In addition, BP is the company most frequently described as idiots, arrogant and secretive. When it comes to greed, however, Exxon Mobil is essentially tied with BP.
And Americans' assessment of BP exceeds by at least 16 percentage points negative opinions of Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Toyota—the most beleaguered companies in recent months.
Top 10 Reputations
1. Johnson & Johnson
2. Kraft Foods
4. Campbell’s Soup
5. Home Depot
7. Procter & Gamble