Crisis-stricken companies BP and Toyota are the biggest losers in the annual Corporate Reputation study produced by strategic brand and marketing consultancy Prophet. The study ranked the reputations of 145 Fortune 500 companies and found consumers more concerned with ethics and transparency than economic viability, a notable shift from 2009
Following the Gulf Oil spill that dominated headlines last year, BP landed at the very bottom of the ranking at 145 from last year's rank of 78; Toyota, after a high-profile recall early in 2010, fell to 139 from 18. But other businesses whose reputations suffered during 2009's economic woes made a significant comeback in 2010. General Motors, for example, jumped to the 85th spot from 123 in 2009, a reputation rebound experienced by the auto industry as a whole.
"Our findings reinforce how fragile reputations are, and how much they're influenced by news coverage along with word-of-mouth buzz," says Jeff Smith, the Prophet partner who leads the study. "Add in macro-economic forces and industry-specific factors, and it all combines to make reputation management more challenging than ever before."
Two business sectors command a high level of consumer trust and engagement dominating the list's top 25: consumer packaged goods and technology. Kraft edged out Kellogg's for the No. 1 spot, with others in the top 10 including General Mills (4), Sara Lee (17), Coca Cola (8) and Nestle (10). On the tech side, Sony moved up to No. 5, ahead of Amazon (nine) and Apple (13). Google, however, slid to 28 from 10.
At the bottom were three sectors that have been under tremendous public scrutiny: oil and gas, healthcare and financial services. The oil and gas industry saw a 10-point drop in its overall score from 2009. ConocoPhillips was its high performer with a ranking of 127. In healthcare, Blue Cross & Blue Shield led the pack. And despite financial services' overall poor-to-failing ratings, individual companies saw marginal reputation improvements. JP Morgan Chase, for example, outperformed nearly all its peers except Wells Fargo, with improvements on all key reputation drivers.