CUSTOMIZED OR OFF THE SHELF?: To manage a brand's reputation youneed an air-tight way of measuring it. Larry Dobrow looks at theoptions, and finds off-the-shelf systems can prove cheaper

For companies and organizations on the reputation- or

brand-measurement bandwagon, there are more ways than ever to get a bead

on how their audiences perceive them. There are off-the-shelf systems

that do everything from gauge the general public's familiarity with a

company to let that company's CEO know how close he or she is to

approaching the gold standard established by General Electric 's Jack

Welch. And then there are literally hundreds of research firms that, for

a tidy fee, will custom-design a program to pinpoint a company's exact

position in the reputation galaxy.



Yet despite all the hemming and hawing, the reality is this: Most

reputation measurement systems, either off-the-shelf or custom-tailored,

are fairly similar. They look at the same attributes (quality of

products/services, etc.), poll the same audiences (stakeholders of all

shapes and colors), and use comparable research methodologies.



"All of the systems have good elements, but they don't focus on the

things that matter most, like the strength of an organization's

support," says Jim Hutton, a marketing and communications professor at

Fairleigh Dickinson University. "There are differences between them, but

maybe not as many as they'd have you believe."



Proponents of off-the-shelf systems claim a handful of advantages over

customized ones. Generally, the cost is lower, though prices quickly

escalate when a client adds or subtracts attributes, or narrows the

respondent base. But the key benefit of large-scale reputation tracking

systems - like the Fortune/Roper Corporate Reputation Index or the

Harris-Fombrun Reputation Quotient - is their wealth of historical

data.



"The value in staying close to a system is the ability to compare a

company's results with information accumulated over time," explains Joy

Sever, SVP of Harris Interactive's reputation practice. "You

consistently look at the same attributes."



On the other hand, even companies that have developed detailed

reputation measurement systems concede that customized research boasts

one major advantage: specificity. "I wouldn't mind being able to ask

open-ended questions, to see the true intensity of feelings about a

company," admits RoperASW vice chairman John Gilfeather.



Customized research is more likely to reveal the kind of intra-industry

comparisons many companies seek. "The question shouldn't be 'Where am I

on the list?' but rather, 'Where are my peers?' notes Ogilvy PR

Worldwide managing director/global head of research David Michaelson. "A

paper company doesn't compete against jet manufacturers, and shouldn't

be measured using the same processes."



As for the companies and organizations that are conducting reputation

research, there doesn't seem to be any particular preference one way or

the other. Johnson & Johnson tapped Harris Interactive a few years ago

for what corporate VP of public affairs Bill Nielsen describes as an

"exhaustive" research effort. "We wanted to understand what the name

Johnson & Johnson triggered among consumers and other audiences, like

medical professionals," he explains.



What J&J learned was that its audiences viewed the company quite

favorably. Noting that the research revealed information that will help

J&J both protect and enhance its brand, Nielsen says he has a great deal

of confidence in the results of the research.



Holly Ripans, manager of market research for the American Red Cross

(ARC), had a similarly productive reputation measurement experience, but

with a more customized spin.



The organization tapped research firm Worthlin Worldwide to create a

program that ultimately consisted of 97 in-depth interviews with

financial donors, blood donors, purchasers of the group's blood products

(hospitals, etc.), and the general public, as well as 1,150 shorter

telephone interviews.



"We got everything we wanted," Ripans says. "We were glad to learn that

we held up well in terms of trustworthiness, efficiency, effectiveness,

and caring."



The end result: The ARC tweaked its tagline (from "We'll be there" to

"Together, we can save a life") to call more attention to its training

initiatives.



THE SYSTEMS



Company CARMA International

Product CARMA imMEDIAte (web-based media analysis) and customized

research

Contact Name/Number Elizabeth Smith, chief operating officer,

(202) 842-1818

Cost $200-$400 for CARMA ImMEDIAate, $15,000 and up

for customized research (average corporate client pays $75,000).

Who it Polls Company offers interpretative analysis of the media's

coverage of a given company. Does polling for customized research

programs only.

What it Measures Explores the correlation between how the media has

treated a company (as well as others in its sector) and its stock price.

Tracks 25 issues that may impact a company's reputation, including

consistency of company's messages and strength of leadership.

Company Harris Interactive

Product Harris-Fombrun Reputation Quotient

Contact Name/Number Dr. Joy Sever, SVP/director of reputation practice

(212) 539-9660

Cost $6,000 for information without analysis; $100,000-$500,000 for customized study (price depends on the

number of people interviewed and number of companies measured)

Who it Polls The general public, customers, corporate employees, general

investors, and consumer boycotters

What it Measures 20 attributes, including emotional appeal, vision and

leadership, workplace environment, social responsibility, financial

performance, and quality/value of products and services. The RQ is

designed to help identify the relative placement of a company's

reputation among its competitors, as well as reveal the areas that might

be weakening its position in the marketplace.

Company InsightFarm (a Burrelle's/VMS company)

Product Media analysis

Contact Name/Number Bruce Jeffries-Fox, executive vice president,

(877) 839-9770

Cost $500 per month for basic content analysis, $100,000

and above for in-depth surveying and media content analysis.

Who it Polls Depends on the depth of analysis a client wants. No

interviews conducted for basic media content analysis.

What it Measures Often utilizes the client's existing research. Includes

coverage and analysis of competitors, analysis of each story's

favorability/unfavorability, a "reputation yardstick" (analysis showing

the extent to which a company's media coverage is helping or hurting its

corporate reputation), and an overall marketing power assessment.

Company Ketchum

Product Brandbuilder

Contact Name/Number David Rockland, global director/research,

(646) 935-3900

Cost Between $15,000 and $120,000, depending on additional

audiences (extra cost for expanding the study in certain

states/geographical regions or adding a government relations component)

Who it Polls Industry executives, financial analysts, the general

public, online consumers, "influential Americans," and individual

investors. Uses Fortune/Roper historical data.

What it Measures Attempts to define the relationship between external

reputation and business results. Looks at messaging, strength of

leadership, innovation, product quality, and revenues/profits, among

other things.

Company Landor Associates

Product ImagePower Contact Name/Number Britt Dionne, communications

manager, (415) 365-3869

Cost Varies widely based on scope of project. Fees start at $5,000.

Who it Polls Respondents are recruited from the online population

through AC Nielsen Online. To qualify, respondents must be between 18

and 64, and reside in the country of the survey. For

business-to-business surveys, respondents must be business executives or

decision makers.

What it Measures Distinctiveness (uniqueness of the brand, compared to

competitors), appropriateness (relevance of the brand, both personally

and professionally, to the respondent), share of heart (respondent's

personal opinion of the brand), share of mind (respondent's familiarity

with the brand), and momentum (respondent's prediction for the brand's

success over the next few years).

Company Market Facts

Product BrandVision

Contact Name/Number Joel Mincey, vice president, (847) 590-6417

Cost Between $100,000 and $1 million annually, depending

on the size and targetability (e.g., consumers vs. telecom execs only)

of the respondent audience.

Who it Polls Predominantly the general consumer population. Depending on

the study, respondent pool might also include business owners,

"influentials" in a given industry, and government leaders.

What it Measures Attempts to provide feedback about the influence of

marketing and advertising activities on consumers. Includes a

brand-equity assessment, an advertising evaluation (to understand how

specific campaigns are working or why they aren't), and continuous

tracking.

Company Opinion Research Corp. International

Product BrandPerceptions (BP) and CORPerceptions (CP)

Contact Name/Number Justin Edge, vice president/director of Chicago

office, (312) 641-9325

Cost Varies widely based on scope of project.

Who it Polls General public, 4,250 interviews worldwide (BP); executives

from blue-chip corporations, 1,200 interviews worldwide (CP).

What it Measures BP attempts to gauge a brand's strength across various

countries and cultures; the BP questionnaire measures familiarity,

favorability, ten image attributes and likelihood to recommend, among

other things.

CP attempts to evaluate a company's image among executive decision

makers; the CP questionnaire measures familiarity, favorability, 22

image attributes, and three supportive behavioral attributes.

Company RoperASW

Product Fortune/Roper Corporate Reputation Index

Contact Name/Number John Gilfeather, vice chairman, (914) 698-0800 x266

Cost $35,000 for single industry results; $60,000 for

industry group (the client's industry and 2-5 closely related

industries); $190,000 for all companies in all industries

evaluated.

Who it Polls Analysts, executives, consumers, and "influential

Americans."

What it Measures Asks executives and analysts to rate companies in their

own industry on quality of management, quality of products/services,

ability to attract/retain top employees, community/environmental

responsibility, and four other attributes. Asks consumers to rate

companies on honesty, innovation, financial strength, caring about

consumers, and four other attributes.

Company Walker Information

Product Corporate Reputation Report

Contact Name/Number Jeff Marr, group vice president, (317) 843-3939

Cost $20,000 and up, depending on the size and diversity of

respondent audience

Who it Polls Targeted prospects, employees, community leaders, and

leaders in the financial community.

What it Measures Evaluates a company's reputation among important

audiences and how its reputation impacts stakeholder support. Looks at

financial performance as well as the company's internal and external

risk management, allocation of resources, quality of management, ability

to handle hot-button issues, and focus of internal and external

communications.

Company Young & Rubicam

Product Brand Asset Valuator

Contact Name/Number Lynn Fisher, SVP/worldwide research at Cohn & Wolfe,

(212) 798-9505

Cost Varies widely based on scope of project.

Who it Polls Consumers: More than 180,000 people in 40 countries have

been interviewed about nearly 20,000 brands.

What it Measures Differentiation (what distinguishes the brand from all

others), relevance (the personal appropriateness of a brand to

consumers), esteem (the extent to which consumers like a brand), and

knowledge (awareness of the brand and understanding of what it stands

for).

NOTE: List sourced from the Council of PR Firms.



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