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After hitting rock bottom during the height of greed, bailouts, and the economic crisis in 2008, 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.

The percentage of respondents to the study, which measures the reputations of the 60 most visible companies in the US (as determined by Harris Interactive research), who see the state of reputation as “not good” or “terrible” decreased from 88% in 2008 to 81% in 2009. In addition, there was a 50% increase in the number of Americans who said that the state of reputation is “good,” moving from 12% to 18%. This is the first positive improvement in four years.

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Berkshire Hathaway Takes Top Rep from Johnson & Johnson
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 top scorer 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 fifth-highest RQ score this year and is the first company since Google in 2005 to debut in the top five.

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One of the true bright spots in the study belongs to automaker Ford, whose RQ score increased 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 significant accomplishment given its starting point and the state of the automotive industry.

Nine of 10 Lowest-ranked Companies Were Bailed Out
At the other end of the spectrum, 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 Harris Interactive says has been a very strong indicator of a lack of future viability for a company during the past eight years of this study. Freddie Mac’s score of 38.94 is the lowest recorded score since Enron’s 30.05 in 2005.

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Looking further at the bottom of the rankings, the nine lowest-ranked companies all have recently received government/bailout money or currently remain government-supported, including another newcomer to the list, Goldman Sachs, who joins the most visible list with an RQ score of 51.36.

Top Companies by Reputational Dimension
There are six reputational dimensions that the RQ survey focuses on which influence reputation and consumer behavior. Below are the six dimensions along with the five corporations that ranked highest within each:

Social Responsibility: Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, SC Johnson, Lowe’s, Whole Foods Market.
Emotional Appeal: Johnson & Johnson, amazon.com, SC Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, General Mills.
Financial Performance: Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, Disney, Coca-Cola.
Products & Services: 3M Company, Intel Corporation, Google, Johnson & Johnson, SC Johnson.
Vision & Leadership: Berkshire Hathaway, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola.
Workplace Environment: Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, 3M Company.

Honesty is the Best Corporate Policy
US consumers consider transparent and honest practices and trustworthiness as the most important factors for a company’s reputation, according to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer from PR firm Edelman.

When asked to rank 10 factors in a company’s reputation, 83% of U.S. consumers said that both transparent and honest practices and a company being a “company I can trust” are extremely important. High quality products or services followed closely behind, selected by 79% of consumers as extremely important. Other popular factors were “communicates frequently” (75%), “treats employees well” (72%) and “good corporate citizen” (64%). Interestingly, the least popular choice was “financial returns,” which only 45% of consumers ranked as extremely important. In 2006, financial returns was the third-most popular choice, although it was only ranked as extremely important by a nearly identical 42% of respondents.

About the Survey: Harris Interactive conducted 29,963 interviews between December 29, 2009 and February 15, 2010 to determine the 60 most visible companies in the US and then rate their reputation.

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