United Airlines' corporate reputation is at an all time low, but perceptions of Wells Fargo and Volkswagen are on the mend

United Airlines' corporate reputation is at an all time low, but perceptions of Wells Fargo and Volkswagen are on the mend

When a brand talks about a PR nightmare there is no question that United Airlines is still waking up from its own.

Negative perceptions of United’s corporate reputation have increased by 500% after it forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight last month.

According to new research from The Harris Poll, 42% of US consumers said United has a 'bad' or 'very bad' reputation when surveyed in April, compared to 7% in late 2016.

"United's six-fold increase in negative corporate reputation sentiment shows us once again how quickly and severely a company's corporate reputation can be damaged," said Carol Gstalder, senior vice-president at The Harris Poll. "Corporate reputation is your most valuable asset and with the majority of Americans talking about, advocating or using reputation as a lens through which to make purchase decisions, the business value of a company's reputation has never been higher."

The Harris Poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 US consumers in April 2017, found that 19% of consumers believe United Airlines has a 'good' or 'very good' reputation, compared to 31% in late 2016. United's reputation decline comes on the heels of a January 2017 Harris Poll survey, which found that only 16% of Americans perceive the airline industry to be 'honest and trustworthy'.

Other Companies in Crisis

According to Harris Poll's research, other companies that have experienced recent corporate crises – Delta, Volkswagen and Wells Fargo -- have had varying corporate reputation results.

While United's negative corporate reputation increased significantly, Delta experienced no negative change following the cancellation of more than 3,000 flights over five days in April. 4% of consumers said Delta has a 'bad' or 'very bad' reputation in April, showing no difference in opinion from late 2016. In fact, positive reputation sentiments for Delta increased – 34% of consumers said Delta had a 'good' or 'very good' reputation in late 2016, compared to 46% in April.

Harris Poll's analysis also shows that Volkswagen and Wells Fargo are showing signs of recovery following PR disasters including an emissions scandal for the automaker and questions over the bank's sales tactics. 40% of consumers said that Volkswagen has a 'good' or 'very good' reputation in April, compared to 24% in late 2016 and 16% in November 2015. Meanwhile, 31% of consumers said that Wells Fargo has a 'good' or 'very good' reputation in April, up from 13% in late 2016.

"After pervasive crises that rocked Volkswagen and Wells Fargo, we see signs of reputational recovery," said Gstalder. "Time heals some crisis wounds, so while there is an opportunity for United to execute a remarkable comeback, it largely depends on how they address the operational, corporate cultural and leadership issues moving forward."

The Harris Poll's April corporate reputation results are based on a sample of 2,210 US adults aged 18 years-old and over, surveyed online. Each respondent was asked how familiar they were with the companies measured; in order to rate the reputations, only those 'very familiar' or 'somewhat familiar' with the company were included. Each company received more than 1,300 ratings.

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Laurie Fullerton

Laurie Fullerton is a writer based in Boston, MA with a background in business, sports, community, medical and travel writing. She has been a newspaper editor in the Boston-area, a sports writer covering yacht racing and a community reporter. She has been reporting for The Drum since October 2015.

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