After a steep decline prompted by two years of headlines revealing Wall Street greed, government bailouts, and the global economic crisis, the American public's perceptions of the reputation of corporate America seem to be bouncing back, according to the findings of the 2009 Harris Interactive RQ Study, which measures the reputations of the 60 Most Visible Companies in the U.S.


The percentage of Americans who see the state of reputation as "not good" or "terrible" decreased from 88 percent in 2008 to 81 percent in 2009. Perhaps even more telling, there was a 50 percent increase in the number of Americans who said that the state of reputation is "good", up from 12 percent to 18 percent, the first positive improvement in four years.


Six companies received an RQ score over 80, which is considered to be an "excellent" reputation, with Berkshire Hathaway taking the top spot from frequent number one Johnson & Johnson by less than 0.5 points. Rounding out the list of companies with excellent reputations are Google, 3M Company, SC Johnson, and Intel Corporation. SC Johnson appears on the list of the 60 most visible companies for the first time, with the 5th highest RQ score this year and is the first company since Google in 2005 to debut in the top five.


"In addition to the slightly more positive reputation environment, we see a very different overall view of how companies are being evaluated and perceived this year," says Robert Fronk, senior vice president and global practice lead, reputation management, at Harris Interactive. "In last year's study we saw companies that provided value and a sense of comfort getting strong overall reputation ratings. This year, we see overall corporate governance, performance and leadership driving positive reputation perceptions.


"Finding two holding companies, Berkshire Hathaway and SC Johnson, in the top five, is a visible reflection of this difference in focus."


At the other end of the spectrum, nine of the 10 lowest ranked companies were recipients of government bailout funds. AIG moved up one spot, ceding the lowest rating to Freddie Mac, another first time company on the list of the 60 most visible. These two companies, along with Fannie Mae, received RQ scores below 50, which over the past eight years of this study, has been a very strong indicator of a lack of future viability for a company. Freddie Mac's score of 38.94 is the lowest recorded score since Enron's 30.05 in 2005.


Another newcomer to the list, Goldman Sachs, joined the most visible list with an RQ score of 51.36, also ranking among the bottom five.


There was good news Ford, which saw its RQ score increase by 11.28 points from 2008, the largest single year improvement in the past nine years. Ford's score of 69.77 places it statistically in the category of companies with a "good" reputation, a tremendous accomplishment given the state of the automotive industry.


"Ford's almost record-breaking leap in reputation, the second-largest in our study's 11-year history, was enabled by perceptions of their products and services finally catching up with the other positive indicators we have seen in the market over the past few years," says Fronk. "This, combined with perceptions of a clear vision and strong leadership, really distinguishes Ford from one of the lowest-ranking industries and provides them with a competitive business advantage."


At an industry level, technology remains the highest rated industry, with a five-point increase from last year to a current 72 percent positive rating. The two largest reputation increases were in retail and automotive, both showing nine point increases. The only industry to show a decline in reputation was pharmaceuticals, which saw a two point decrease following a five point rise in 2008. Financial services and tobacco continue to hold the lowest industry rankings, although even financial services showed a five point increase from last year.


The survey also revealed the top reputations on six key dimensions:

·         Social responsibility: Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, SC Johnson, Lowe's, Whole Foods Market

·         Emotional appeal: Johnson & Johnson,, SC Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, General Mills

·         Financial Performance: Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, Disney, Coca-Cola

·         Products and services: 3M Company, Intel Corporation, Google, Johnson & Johnson, SC Johnson

·         Vision and leadership: Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola,

·         Workplace environment: Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, 3M Company