Doing Well By Doing Good is More Important Than Ever

By Chris Tomlinson | Houston Chronicle |

Reasonably or not, more and more Americans expect businesses to do more than offer a quality product at a reasonable price; they also want companies to do good by society.

Customers have long expected business people to contribute to their community. And it makes sense because no business can thrive if their customers do not. But after decades of businesses prioritizing shareholder returns over everything else, a backlash is underway.

A company’s reputation for social good can affect its revenues, recruitment and expansion, according to research by Harris Poll and public relations firm Finn Partners.

Since 1999, The Harris Poll has surveyed perceptions of the 100 most well-known companies in the U.S. The 2018 poll of 25,880 people generated what Harris calls a reputation quotient, which gives executives a sense of how consumers feel about them.

Harris asked people to rate companies on their products and services, emotional appeal, social responsibility, vision and leadership, financial performance and workplace environment.

A company with a solid reputation finds it easier to attract top talent and investment, researchers found. Companies with a lousy reputation must work harder to achieve their business goals.

On the 100-point scale, a quotient of 80 or above is considered excellent, while anything below 70 is fair to poor. Only two Texas companies ranked excellent in 2017: San Antonio-based H-E-B and Austin-based Whole Foods.

Many Texas companies, though, scored below 70: AT&T, J.C. Penney, Exxon Mobil, American Airlines and Halliburton. Also near the bottom was BP, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston.

Companies that sell us food spend a lot of time building customer trust, which makes sense. Down the list, Exxon Mobil and BP are responsible for major oil spills, AT&T and American Airlines have had customer service problems and J.C. Penney’s bankruptcy and failed reboot ruined its reputation.

Harris and Finn researchers, though, dove deeper and found that people judge companies on visible values, ethical stewardship and civic-mindedness. These are things CEOs can influence.

“Those three areas together are the new yardstick that the public uses, and remember, the public are voters, the public are future talent, the public are the people who are going to say whether you can put your name on a baseball stadium, or not,” said Wendy Salomon, managing director of corporate reputation at Harris.

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