corporate-reputation

Americans hate corporate America; Google, however ...

May 5, 2011 at 12:37 PM ET

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Google, we love you.

Corporate America, not so much.

An annual survey, conducted by Harris Interactive and released this week, found that Google had the best corporate reputation among a group of the 60 most visible U.S. companies.

But the same survey also found that 77 percent of people think corporate reputations in general are either “not good” or “terrible.”

The good news for corporate America: That’s down from a high of 88 percent in 2009.

Robert Fronk, the global practice lead for reputation management at Harris Interactive, said Americans tend to differentiate between the idea of corporate America as a whole – something they generally see as negative – and certain companies or industries that they like and trust.

The approximately 30,000 people surveyed gave Google the highest reputation rating, followed closely by Johnson & Johnson and 3M Company. Berkshire Hathaway, the investment firm headed by Warren Buffett, was first last year and ranked fourth this year. Apple ranked fifth.

The companies with the worst reputations on the list: Chrysler, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, BP and AIG.

The annual study doesn’t cover every company in America. Instead, it first asks respondents which companies they think are most visible. Then, it takes the 60 most visible companies and asks respondents to rank them based on various aspects of their corporate reputation. That includes things like financial performance, products and services, social responsibility and leadership.

The survey was conducted between December 2010 and February 2011, before Google and Apple came under fire for reportedly gathering location information about people who use mobile devices that run on their platforms.

Fronk said it’s not clear that an individual event like that would have been enough to tarnish a company’s reputation substantially.

For example, he noted that they conducted last year’s survey at the height of publicity over Toyota’s potential safety problems, and yet the company’s reputation didn’t suffer substantially because consumers seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude.

This year, however, Toyota fell from 20 to 43on the list.

“Toyota’s reputation was fundamentally built on a quality product platform, and that quality product platform has eroded over the past year, which has undermined the rest of their reputational quality,” Fronk said.

Johnson & Johnson retained its high ranking despite a long string of recalls in a wide variety of its healthcare products, including the medications Benadryl, Tylenol and Rolaids.

Fronk said some consumers may not have connected the recalls to Johnson & Johnson since many are made by subsidiaries with different corporate names.

“That has absolutely worked to their advantage,” he said.

He also said consumers may be willing to forgive a corporate misstep if the company appears to be acknowledging the problems and handling them well. Still, he said Johnson & Johnson should be worried about whether they can keep their good standing going forward.

“I would certainly be concerned,” he said.

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