Arthur W. Page Society

Reputation Institute Finds Media Have “Zero” Impact on Reputation

The Reputation Institute has published its newest and largest study of reputation, and one of the results should stimulate quite a discussion among PR professionals. The RI study finds that the media’s impact on a company’s reputation among consumers is “zero”. The important factors in reputation for consumers are direct experiences with the company and the company’s marketing and PR. In other words, we respond to company communications but determine the reputation on what it does, not what it says it does.

The Reputation Institute (RI) study is done with the general public, not special interest groups, shareholders or other stakeholders. It asks average people what companies they admire on seven drivers of reputation.

This is a startling result for the PR profession that has long viewed its greatest attribute as its relationship with the media. For a long part of the history of PR, the profession recruited former reporters. Still, most PR university programs are housed in journalism schools.

I am not surprised by these results. The media have been fragmenting in the past few decades. City newspapers are dying and television evening news shows are losing ratings. The media have been following a horizontal segmentation pattern that has occurred in other consumer products, with more a more varieties available to serve special, niche interests. One can even create ones own “alternative universe” by exposing oneself only to media that reflect one’s already established views.

US society has always had an underlying suspicion of “elites” and “intellectuals” (surprising since the Founding Fathers fit both characteristics perfectly), and the attacks and quick ability for many to dismiss science has led to what RI finds is another interesting aspect of reputation—reputation is based on “feelings”, not on intellect or facts. Brand management has long known that people act on emotions. But, PR has traditionally held tight to their feeling that that was marketing and PR was about thought leadership and intellectual discussion. Perhaps that may still be the case with some stakeholders, but not with consumers, whose influence can create network effects with others.

The RI study might not be perfect and we might want to dispute or even dismiss the results, but the trends seem fairly indisputable and have been for some time. The question is what this will mean to this profession that continues to hold the media in far higher opinion than they are held by most of our stakeholders.

Elliot S. Schreiber, Ph.D.
Clinical Professor & Executive Director,
Center for Corporate Reputation Management
Drexel University LeBow College of Business

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