Reputation Stumble Rate Swings Back Up

March 27, 2012

Reputation Stumble Rate Swings Back Up

There’s no avoiding the bad odds of maintaining a coveted top shelf reputation spot in one’s industry. Each year Weber Shandwick measures the rate at which companies lose their #1 most admired position in their respective industries on the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies survey. We call this the “stumble rate.” Between 2011 and 2012, 49% of the world’s largest companies experienced a stumble, up from last year’s 43% but exactly the same as 2010’s rate.  With 1-in-2 companies losing their enviable industry position during the past year, the stumble rate highlights just how difficult a good name is to keep.  Looking at this finding another way, #2’s have good odds of becoming #1’s in their industry. Either way, reputational equilibrium is hard to keep. Companies have to continually manage their reputations and watch out for vulnerabilities. Perhaps companies should apply “stress tests” in the same way they are applied in medicine — determining how the organization’s core equity responds to external stress or crisis in a controlled environment. Very much like scenario planning.

2012 Reputation Stumble Rate from

Fortune‘s Most Admired Companies Survey


The industries that have the same #1 this year as last year are:  Aerospace & Defense, Beverages, Computers, Consumer Food Products, Delivery, Electric & Gas Utilities, Electronics, Entertainment, Food Services, Health Care: Insurance & Managed Care, Health Care: Medical Facilities, Health Care: Pharmacy & Other Services, Home Equipment & Furnishings, Information Technology Services, Insurance – Property & Casualty, Internet Services & Retailing, Mining, Crude Oil Production, Network Communications, Pharmaceuticals, Securities, Semiconductors, Soaps & Cosmetics, Specialty Retailers: Apparel, Specialty Retailers: Diversified, Superregional Banks, Trucking, Transportation & Logistics, Wholesalers: Diversified, and Wholesalers: Office Equipment & Electronics.

Seven industries have had a new number one each year since 2009. The industries with the most churn are Airlines, Energy, Food & Drug Stores, Life & Health Insurance, Motor Vehicle Parts, Telecom and Tobacco. During the past three years, a total of 40 industries have seen at least one stumble, so with nearly 60 industries represented on the ranking each year (it varies year to year), few are immune to reputational stumbling.

We also looked at the rankings within each of the nine reputation drivers that survey respondents assess companies on to help understand why companies stumbled. Of the stumblers between 2011 and 2012, we learned that…

  • One stumbler experienced a ding to just one of its drivers. Sometimes it just doesn’t take much when you have strong reputational competition.
  • Two stumblers lost ranking across all nine drivers.
  • The most pervasive loss of reputation was in the areas of Use of Corporate Assets and Social Responsibility. Nineteen stumblers’ rankings went down on these two drivers, followed closely by Management Quality with 18 stumblers losing rank on this driver.
  • What may have degraded perceptions of these drivers? A 2011 media analysis of the largest drops suggest that survey takers may have been sensitive to management changes (e.g., one CEO step-down announcement considered by analysts to be too far in advance of his intended departure date and one long-term CEO retiring) and management of assets (e.g., property spin-offs and failed asset funding). As for social responsibility, no stumbler experienced particularly steep drops on this driver so nothing reported in the media popped as a clear reason for the dings. Perhaps CSR activities are once again being more closely scutinized by peer survey takers as CSR becomes expected behavior.
  • The driver least damaged was Global Competitiveness with 12 stumblers losing position.


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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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