In total 108 members of the GPB, which lists the world’s most senior PR professionals, chose the crisis-hit car maker – which polled more than four times as many votes as its nearest rival.
VW is still reeling from the scandal last year when it was revealed the company had manipulated emissions tests on some vehicles. GBP entrants criticised its slow response to the crisis.
"For Volkswagen, the reputation damage was sustained as it was perceived that there was a breakdown in capability, judgement or motive globally," said Roma Balwani, president, group comms and sustainable development, at mining company Vedanta.
The second most popular choice was the US Republican Party, its image said to be tarnished by the rise of presidential candidate frontrunner Donald Trump. "[The Republicans’] presidential nomination contest has been brutal, and it has alienated voters who, after Mitt Romney, the party was desperate to woo," said Kevin Bell, Burson-Marsteller’s global practice chair for public affairs.
Trump’s ascendance is also damaging the reputation of America as a whole, PR bosses believe - 11 said the US or the country's political system had the worst year of reputational damage.
Behind VW and the Republicans was another organisation for whom the past 12 months have been truly awful: FIFA, with 17 votes. The football body is still trying to recover from the 2015 corruption scandal that saw arrests among senior FIFA officials and the resignation of unpopular president Sepp Blatter.
"A crisis is rarely a surprise and FIFA ignored all the warning signs," said Jon Walsh, senior manager –global comms at Infiniti Motor Company. "It will take a generation or more for them to recover."
Which company or organisation has had the worst 12 months in terms of reputation damage, and why?
1) Volkswagen (108 votes)
2) The Republican Party (26)
3) FIFA (17)
4) Chipotle (13)
5) The US as a whole/US political system (11)