Amazon has the best corporate reputation among the 100 most visible companies in the United States, just ahead of Apple and Google, according to the 2016 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient Summary Report. This marks the eighth consecutive year that Amazon has placed in the top 10. Volkswagen ranked last on the list and is a “brand in crisis.”

The survey asked more than 23,000 Americans about their perceptions of the top 100 most visible companies in the country. It considers six corporate reputation dimensions: vision/leadership, social responsibility, financial performance, emotional appeal, products/services and workplace environment.

Here are the top 10 in order for 2016:

  1. Amazon
  2. Apple
  3. Google
  4. USAA
  5. The Walt Disney Company
  6. Publix Super Markets
  7. Samsung
  8. Berkshire Hathaway
  9. Johnson & Johnson
  10. Kellogg Company

USAA and Kellogg Company are newcomers to the top 10, while Berkshire Hathaway returns to the list for the first time since 2008 and The Walt Disney Company returns after slipping in 2015 to 12th.

Reputation management is one of the most important themes in public relations and corporate communications today. As public relations professionals, we look after clients’ reputations and focus on establishing communication channels between them and key stakeholders.

While well-deserved, Amazon’s stellar reputation had to be earned. They have successfully navigated the new marketing landscape by handling the rational and the emotional side of the customer experience equally well. Still, Amazon being best in class may come as a surprise given The New York Times investigation and what the newspaper called a “bruising” workplace culture. Indeed, the poll found that Amazon’s top need for improvement was workplace environment.

“It’s important to proactively manage reputation,” explains Sarah Simmons, senior reputation consultant at Nielsen, the parent company of the Harris Poll. “It really translates into market value for your business. Reputation is not static, and a one-off outreach effort isn’t going to drive long-term impact.” Rather, she recommends that companies embrace accountability, honesty and transparency.

About 80 percent of survey respondents cited that the biggest risks to corporate reputation are lying or misrepresenting facts about a product or service, or intentional wrongdoing or illegal actions by corporate leaders. Other risks include security or data breaches (74 percent), product recalls due to contamination that may cause illness (66 percent) and unfair workplace conditions/culture (64 percent).

One fourth of those surveyed said that employee strikes or work stoppages are “not at all damaging” or “not very damaging” to corporate reputation. Other circumstances that are less damaging are employee conduct (20 percent), a product recall due to technical or equipment failure (15 percent), adverse financial news about the company (12 percent) and safety-related product recalls (11 percent).

In one of his best known quotes, American business magnate, investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

In a world of high-velocity change, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of reputation management and its impact on your company. We must think differently. Reorder priorities. Develop faster reflexes. Establish new responses. Either we find a way, or we make one. Stop doing what comes naturally and do what works.

Consider these five ways to enhance your organization’s reputation:

  1. Set the right tone at the top. Communications programs and communicators should be integral parts of management.
  2. Ensure your communications programs are complete, well rounded, ongoing and, most importantly, proactive not reactive.
  3. Continuously monitor all print, broadcast and digital media and have robust media relations, search engine optimization, content marketing, digital/website and social media programs.
  4. Defend your brands – escalate problems and follow through solving them.
  5. Prepare for a crisis. No matter the size of your organization, bad news can hit at any hour of the day or night, 365 days of the year. Crises don’t take vacations or celebrate holidays. Remember, what happens in Vegas, stays on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Obviously, this only scratches the surface on ways to build and protect your company’s reputation. What’s your plan or did you figure it out as you read this? If you don’t know, call me.

Randy E. Pruett
Vice President & Account Manager