A Nielsen Rep Talks Reputation Management, The Harris Poll and More

What the Farfegnugen, indeed.

Polls are fascinating fodder for reporters. And we already know readers love a list. One such organization proudly offering listicles is The Harris Poll.

In the 2016 version of its annual corporate rankings, there are some interesting findings: Amazon.com has a better reputation than Apple or Disney, USAA and Kellogg have risen to the top 10, and that little car company caught in a global emissions scandal has plummeted to the very bottom of the list.

PRNewser was able to discuss the results with Sarah Simmons, senior reputation consultant at Nielsen (owner of The Harris Poll).

1. In the world of PR, reputation management and image building rarely find their way to the top of a client’s to-do list. Noting what has happened to Volkswagen, do you think that should be re-prioritized? 

You are right, for some companies, managing reputation has taken a back seat to sales, quarterly earnings and sometimes more “urgent” aspects of running their business day to day – but as a practice we are seeing an increased attention to and active planning around reputation management.

We know this to be especially true of companies that are highly regulated or doing work in industries that court more risk (heavy industrial, energy, healthcare and lately an increased focus from consumer packaged goods).

Increasingly, our clients see that their reputational equity can do one of two things: First, if it is positive, it can pave the way for their business objectives. Second, if it presents challenges or is negative, it can put obstacles in the way of their plan and inhibit their ability to execute. In the end, this drives profitability and sales and overall success of their business.

It’s not necessarily about “selling” your product – it’s often more about having an audience who is willing to listen to your point of view, give your business perspective the benefit of the doubt or encourage growth in their community. When you consider various stakeholders, reputation is the key to finding investors, supporters and certainly ties to the ability to sell products or be profitable – ultimately, it’s about selling your company to the broader audience.

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2. Customer service is notable at Amazon, but some of the actions of its CEO Jeff Bezos and PR Chief Jay Carney haven’t been so popular. With Amazon as No. 1 on your poll, can the actions of the many overcome the lapses of a few? 

On the contrary, I think what Amazon’s RQ rating reveals is that they have consistently been high performers across all the reputation related categories and, in a moment of hot and negative media attention, they drew on their equity to recover quickly from something damaging.

I would argue they have actively performed on products and services, by having a vision for their business and being emotionally appealing. Despite not making huge profits, they’ve managed expectations on their financial performance – because of this foundation, they were able to weather the storm. In fact, they were very effective at getting their side of the story into the media and I think were given the benefit of the doubt by their stakeholders.

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3. From Wegman’s last year to Publix this year, what is it about grocers that make them so endearing to the public?

Regional and independent grocers are a very interesting case – they often hover on the edge of our most visible list.  We know that they are very active in their communities and community members spend a lot of time in their stores.  Because of this role in their communities, they generally perform well on corporate social responsibility metrics and high on emotional appeal.  In a study like this, among consumers, we see the connection between these metrics and their overall visibility and reputation.