PointofView. You Need to be Known to be Liked: Applying Lessons from Corporate Reputation Management to the Public Sector

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1 PointofView You Need to be Known to be Liked: Applying Lessons from Corporate Reputation Management to the Public Sector Public Perceptions of the Reputation of the Federal Government and Other Public Sector Organizations

2 I. Introduction Reputation and its management have long been staples in any business executive s toolbox. At first, public affairs professionals looked to reputation simply as an instrument to hedge against the multitude of risks faced by the company, such as product recalls, labor disputes, and politically charged mergers. In this sense, reputation management was primarily thought of as building resiliency for rainy days ensuring that, at the very least, stakeholders would give the company the benefit of the doubt when tricky situations arose. More recently, reputation management has been shown to have a more immediate impact than mere risk management. Reputation has a present value which can be used to drive an organization s performance today, because the better a company s reputation, the more likely consumers and stakeholders will be to buy its products, believe its messages, and remember its ads. 1 In a practical sense, this means that the better a company s reputation, the easier it is for that company to communicate credibly and effectively to various stakeholders. The effectiveness of any communication effort depends on who the messenger is. Effective messaging is a function of three variables: the Messenger, the Message and the Target Audience. Figure 1: The most elegant message or communication will simply not be believable if the messenger is not credible. 2 This is why the reputation of the messenger (i.e., the organization which communicates via an ad, a brochure, a letter, or a spokesperson) is crucial. If having a good reputation is central to achieving effective communication, what is needed to build one? While the building blocks of a good reputation are many, the most basic is simply being known by your stakeholders. 3 Empirical evidence shows that with very few exceptions (e.g., Enron or AIG) the more familiar people are with a company, the more favorable their opinion will be towards it (underscoring that you need to be known to be liked). Public sector organizations face many of the same problems as their private sector counterparts managing crises, mitigating stakeholder disputes, educating citizens and users, being on policy or on message, etc. We would, therefore, assume that the same logic of corporate repu - tation and reputation management could be applied to public sector organizations as well. But can it? For instance, does the reputation of public sector organizations improve as they are better known by their stakeholders? This is an empirical question which must be tested. So what does the evidence suggest? To test this, we analyzed data from an online poll of 1,007 Americans 18 years of age and older, conducted December 3 6, In it, we asked respondents to rate their familiarity and favorability toward 56 different U.S. federal and transnational public sector organizations. In this scenario, we only consider one stakeholder group: citizen-consumers. II. You Need to be Known to be Liked: The Familiarity-Favorability Link Among Public Sector Organizations Are those public sector organizations which are better known also better liked? Does the logic that applies to private sector corporations also hold for public sector organizations? The short answer is yes there is a clear relationship between familiarity and favorability among public sector entities. The more familiar the public is with a given public sector organization, the more favorable its opinion of it. The following chart illustrates the relationship between mean familiarity and mean favorability (both based on a five-point scale). 4 The dotted line is the line of best fit, where we would expect to find an institution s favorability given its level of familiarity. Entities with a mean favorability score above the line are better-liked than expected given their familiarity levels, while the reverse is true of entities below the line. On this chart, most government agencies can be found relatively close to that dotted line, including those with a level of familiarity that is extremely high (e.g., the U.S. Postal Service), higher than average (e.g., OSHA and the CIA), lower than average (e.g., the NSA or the Department of the Interior), or extremely low (e.g., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Bureau of Indian Affairs). This demonstrates that, more often than not, the better known a public sector organization, the better liked it will be. The chart also points to some significant deviations from the general trend. A number of government institutions 2

3 Figure 2: Familiarity and Favorability Graph of Public Sector Organizations Mean Favorability High NOAA NRC NEA BIA World Bank Coast Guard Air Force Park Service Nat l Weather Peace Corps NASA Service CDC Army Corps FBI of Engineers UNICEF USDA DEA FAA DOD ATF CIADOT VA OSHA FDA HHS Medicare Scotus WHO OSG FCC Census Bureau NSA DHS SSA HUD DOJ Treasury DOI DOC DoE DOL Federal Reserve DOS Medicaid ED ICE UN SEC Smithsonian Exec. Office of the President Navy US House of Reps. Marines Army US Senate IRS USPS More likely to be favorable than unfavorable 0 More likely to be unfavorable than favorable Low Mean Familiarity High are clear outliers, indicating that the correlation between familiarity and favorability is not a perfect one, and that there are some exceptions to the rule. Highly political federal bodies, such as the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Office of the President, have much lower levels of favorability than we would anticipate given their levels of familiarity. This is most probably a function of the overall general lack of trust in government, as these are the ultimate representations of government as a whole. Additionally, the IRS has a very low level of favorability given its relative level of familiarity. Here the reasons are more than obvious: no one enjoys paying taxes! In contrast, people are much more favorable to the Armed Forces, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, than would be expected given their relative familiarity ratings. Why? The armed services are outliers because their reputations are enhanced by a protective reputation halo driven by strong public emotions paired with effective social marketing. III. Maybe it s all about knowing what the Federal Government does in order to like it Does this general rule hold for the Federal Government writ large as well? To test this, we asked respondents to rate their favorability towards the Federal Government both before and after they rated each individual public sector agency. Here we wanted to see if people had a better opinion of the Federal Government once they had considered the multitude of things it actually does. Figure 3 Pre Post Favorable Neither/nor Unfavorable 21% 47% Net Favorability towards the Federal Government (Favorable minus Unfavorable) The short answer is yes : people have an improved opinion of the Federal Government after seeing a long list of Federal Government agencies. In fact, favorability towards the Federal Government improves by 10 points if people first consider what it does (see Figure 3). This underscores our initial point you have to be known to be liked. 3

4 IV. Implications and Conclusions So what did we learn from this short exercise? First, on average, the better known a public sector organization, the more likely it is to be seen in a favorable light. This suggests that constant engagement and communication can improve reputations in the long-term. If people know more about you, they will be more likely to like you. But why is this important? It is simple: the better a public sector organization s reputation, the more credible it will be when addressing issues, promoting initiatives, and presenting itself, and the more effective it will be in its communications. This in turn can contribute to positive outcomes such as compliance with recommendations, mandates, or announcements; participation in new and existing programs or schemes; potentially minimizing fraud or misuse of services; etc. Second, the simple familiarity/favorability trend does come with some exceptions such as the IRS and politicallyoriented bodies, such as the Senate and House of Representatives. This suggests several things: Given their unique status, such organizations may not be good benchmarks when compared to other public sector institutions a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Improving these organizations public images directly is a tall order. Perhaps a different tactic would be to focus efforts only on those stakeholders who matter to the functioning of the organizations, such as direct users, employees and staff. Our research elsewhere suggests that employee attitudes can be important drivers of a public sector organization s reputation because, as insiders, employees are trusted sources of information for the press and public so their comments (positive or negative!) are disseminated quickly and widely. From a communications perspective, if messaging is the key objective, these outlier organizations may choose to focus on the message itself and/or the target audiences. In some cases, it may be that the messenger (i.e., the organization s reputation) could hinder rather than help communications. In contrast, the Armed Forces have a much better image than would be expected from their levels of familiarity, suggestive of aggressive and/or effective social marketing campaigns in addition to the reputation halo mentioned earlier. This is indirect evidence that effective messaging and large ad spends can have an added impact above and beyond just getting your name out. Third, Americans have historically had a love-hate relationship with the Federal Government. Anti-government tendencies are still part of the American DNA today with the Federal Government usually ranking quite low in terms of confidence and favorability, in comparison with a wide range of industries and institutions. Our short exercise here indicates that if people knew more about what the Federal Government actually does in this case by associating it with specific federal agencies then they might see the government in a better light. This underscores, once again, our mantra here you need to be known to be liked. Contact To learn more about managing and advancing reputations in public sector organizations, please contact: Clifford Young Senior Vice President Ipsos Public Affairs Julia Clark Director Ipsos Public Affairs About Ipsos Public Sector Research Practice Ipsos Public Sector Research Practice team is dedicated to examining public policy, public communications and social trends. We offer a complete range of services and methodologies (both quantitative and qualitative) to help our clients gather the information they need to make evidence-based decisions about their policies, programs, services and communications. Notes: 1 An institution s reputation can be measured in a number of different ways. Many times, it is simply the stakeholders degree of favorability towards the institution (favorable versus unfavorable). At Ipsos, we measure reputation as the degree of trustworthiness of the institution. However, favorability and trust are highly correlated (approximately a Pearson correlation of.95), and, thus, one can be used as a proxy for the other if necessary. For more on this topic, see our Point of View paper: In Search of the Holy Grail: Establishing the Link Between Corporate Reputation and the Bottom-Line. 2 For more information see Social Marketing and Message Testing: The Ipsos Approach ( 3 For more reputation management and measurement information, please see our Special Reputation Issue of Ipsos Ideas ( 4 See Appendix 3 for detailed familiarity and favorability levels of each organization. 4

5 Appendix 1: Federal Government Agencies included 1. Executive Office of the President 2. U.S. House of Representatives 3. U.S. Senate 4. Supreme Court of the United States 5. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 6. U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) 7. U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) 8. U.S. Department of Education (ED) 9. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 11. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 12. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 13. U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) 14. U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) 15. U.S. Department of State (DOS) 16. U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) 17. U.S. Department of the Treasury 18. U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) 19. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 20. U.S. Air Force 21. U.S. Army 22. U.S. Coast Guards 23. U.S. Marines 24. U.S. Navy 25. Army Corps of Engineers 26. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) 27. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) 28. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 29. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 30. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 31. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 32. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 33. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 34. Federal Reserve 35. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 36. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 37. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 38. National Endowment for the Arts 39. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 40. National Park Service 41. National Security Agency (NSA) 42. National Weather Service 43. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 44. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) 45. Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) 46. Peace Corps 47. Postal Service (USPS) 48. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) 49. Smithsonian Institution 50. Social Security Administration (SSA) 51. U.S. Census Bureau 52. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, formerly INS) 53. United Nations 54. United Nations Children s Fund (UNICEF) 55. World Health Organization (WHO) 56. World Bank Appendix 2: Glossary of Acronyms SCOTUS Supreme Court of the United States USDA U.S. Department of Agriculture DOC U.S. Department of Commerce DOD U.S. Department of Defense ED U.S. Department of Education DOE U.S. Department of Energy HHS U.S. Department of Health and Human Services DHS U.S. Department of Homeland Security HUD U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development DOJ U.S. Department of Justice DOL U.S. Department of Labor DOS U.S. Department of State DOI U.S. Department of the Interior Treasury U.S. Department of the Treasury DOT U.S. Department of Transportation VA U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ATF Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives BIA Bureau of Indian Affairs CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CIA Central Intelligence Agency DEA Drug Enforcement Administration FAA Federal Aviation Administration FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation FCC Federal Communications Commission FDA Food and Drug Administration IRS Internal Revenue Service NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration NEA National Endowment for the Arts NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NPS National Park Service NSA National Security Agency NWS National Weather Service NRC Nuclear Regulatory Commission OSHA Occupational Safety & Health Administration OSG Office of the Surgeon General USPS Postal Service SEC Securities and Exchange Commission Smithsonian Smithsonian Institution SSA Social Security Administration Census U.S. Census Bureau ICE/INS U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, formerly INS) UN United Nations UNICEF United Nations Children s Fund WHO World Health Organization 5

6 Appendix 3: Familiarity and Favorability Charts Familiarity with Government Agencies: % Know well (Top 2 Box) USPS IRS SSA FDA FBI U.S. Senate National Weather Service U.S. Army OSHA U.S. Marines U.S. Air Force U.S. House of Representatives U.S. Navy SCOTUS DOD CDC NASA National Park Service Executive Office of the President UN Census Bureau Department of Treasury Department of Transportation DEA Smithsonian Federal Reserve CIA DHS Department of Education DOL FAA U.S. Coast Guard ICE/INS USDA DOJ ATF HHS FCC VA Peace Corps HUD UNICEF Army Corps of Engineers NSA Surgeon General DOE SEC DOS WHO Department of Commerce NOAA Department of the Interior NEA NRC World bank BIA 60% 57% 54% 54% 53% 52% 50% 50% 48% 47% 47% 45% 42% 42% 39% 39% 39% 38% 38% 37% 33% 28% 28% 26% 22% 22% 21% 18% 16% 15% 15% 70% 6

7 Favorability with Government Agencies: % Favorable (Top 2 Box) U.S. Coast Guard U.S. Marines U.S. Air Force U.S. Navy U.S. Army National Park Service National Weather Service Smithsonian USPS Peace Corps NASA FBI CDC DEA VA FAA FDA DOD UNICEF USDA OSHA Army Corps of Engineers NOAA SSA DOT CIA ATF SCOTUS HHS DHS Census Bureau United Nations WHO FCC Surgeon General ED NSA Department of the Treasury DOL Federal Reserve DOJ NEA HUD Executive Office of the President DOE ICE/INS DOC DOI DOS NRC U.S. Senate IRS U.S. House of Representatives BIA SEC World Bank 14% 69% 69% 67% 67% 65% 63% 62% 61% 60% 56% 55% 54% 53% 48% 45% 45% 38% 33% 31% 31% 28% 27% 24% 23% 22% 21% 20%

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