What the Axios Harris Poll 100 Can Teach Brands About Reputation

A sterling reputation will always rank as a top goal for many public relations strategic plans. While the old adage, “all PR is good PR” may make a point, today’s data shows that consumers do holistic research before opening their wallets. That includes not just looking at product quality and operations, but also the amount of trust and respect buyers have for a company’s values. 

In late May, Axios and Harris Poll released their annual list of 100 reputation rankings for businesses. According to Axios, The Axios Harris Poll 100 is “a trusted ranking of the reputations of the companies most on the minds of Americans, with a framework Harris has used since 1999.”

The group surveyed 16,310 Americans first asking them to identify the most visible brands in America, followed by a ranking of those brands identified. The rankings populate through identifying scores for several characteristics in each brand such as character, ethics, growth and products and services. 

This year (2023) the poll listed the top five as Patagonia, Costco, John Deere, Trader Joe’s and Chick-fil-A. The bottom five listed as Meta, Twitter, Fox Corporation, FTX and The Trump Organization. 

Some of the biggest drops in reputation this year came for Tesla and FTX. 

Building Trust Through Action

There’s no magic trick to become a brand with a top reputation. Much of it comes from a clear outline of purpose, understanding of audience and quality product. However, there’s also a lot for aspiring organizations to learn from the businesses in this list about maintaining a good reputation with the public. 

Cheryl Fenelle Dixon, Principal and communication consultant, Perfectly Clear Communications, says it’s not surprising that Patagonia earned the top spot on the list because they consistently “walk the talk,” with a universal appeal across all demographics and political groups. 

“The top brands scored high in the categories of character, trust, culture and ethics—great reminders to all brands of the importance consumers place on these characteristics,” Fenelle Dixon says. “To maintain or improve reputation, brands should align their messaging with action—ensuring their core values resonate with those of their target audiences, and that their operations follow suit.” 

Importance of Internal Communication

Employees will continue to be a company’s biggest influencers and advocates. That front-line staff represents how a brand comes across and delivers that important information to consumers. Events such as strikes or layoffs handled the wrong way, can cause a crisis for brands.

“Transparency and consistent communication inside and outside the organization are critically important,” Fenelle Dixon says. “The public looks not only at how the brand is behaving in the marketplace, but how they treat their own people.”

This can be proven as we view high-scoring Costco, John Deere and Patagonia as the top three employer brands on the list. Others that fell on the list, like Dollar Tree and Shein, were impacted by claims of unsafe work practices, layoffs and perceived bad behavior by their leaders.

The Perils of Leadership

There’s also quite a bit to acknowledge from this list In regards to organizations whose reputations have slipped. And much of that comes from errors in leadership. 

Marathon Strategies CEO Phil Singer, says the biggest thing brands can learn from the experience of Tesla and FTX is that brands being so closely tied to a specific individual creates a volatile environment. 

“Few of the top 20 companies on the rankings are identified with a single leader at the company—and those that do have mostly evolved away from that, like Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple,” Singer says.

FTX is a special case given the magnitude of the fraud allegations against founder and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, but the [Elon] Musk [Tesla/Twitter] experience is instructive in the sense that having a CEO expressing views on a variety of topics leaves little room for error,” he says. “And when things do go sideways, it’s incredibly difficult to divorce personal reputation from corporate reputation.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal