What’s the point of a “most hated/admired” list?

The Huffington Post (now owned by ever-stumbling corporate giant AOL) has published an article (of sorts) entitled:

11 Companies With The Worst Reputations In America

The list constitutents are sadly predictable: Banks, banks, car firms, oil companies and telecom/Internet firms.

You could write it yourself based on media coverage awareness.

The ‘worst’ list made the headline of course. The press release announcing the list emphasises the best performers.

Again this list is predictable: Google, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, 3M etc.

What use is this type of exercise I wonder? For Harris Interactive, who put it together, it’s simple an exercise in marketing: “Look at us, we can help you”.

But there are so many variables in corporate reputation, particularly between and even within sectors, that these lists are not really much use to anyone, except Harris and their sales people.

Is such a list going to keep boards at these companies awake and drive changes in strategy, products and outlook? I seriously doubt it.

I guess corporate PR and marketers might use it for advertising.

Given the variables in the sectors though, intellectually this sort of thing is really of no real value whatsoever.

Perhaps I was asleep and missed a meeting where the value of catch-all lists was explained in detail. Do let me know if so.

The surveyers and ‘analysts’ decided to separate social responsibility from workplace environment, which makes no sense at all:

Social Responsibility – 1) Whole Foods Market; 2) Johnson & Johnson; 3) Google; 4) The Walt Disney Company; 5) Procter & Gamble Co.

Workplace Environment – 1) Google; 2) Johnson & Johnson; 3) Apple; 4) Berkshire Hathaway; 5) 3M Company

Berkshire Hathaway is a holding firm for other businesses, just take a look at their homepage. So ranking them 4th on ‘workplace environment’ is clearly a nonsense.

Are we to believe that all their portfolio companies have been assessed? Clearly not. Which immediately makes the entire list and process appear highly dubious.

Giving the Huffington Post a headline to glibly demonise companies with (whether they deserve it or not) is not really helpful.

It all comes across as rather cynical exercise in marketing by a research firm that should know better.

My suggestion to Harris Interactive is to make such research much more nuanced and targeted, and pull out something genuinely useful for a sector where companies can be compared on a specific issue, that can help make the case for positive change.

(Now my soapbox has collapsed under the weight of my own pomposity, I’d better get back to work)

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