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Web of Lies? Brands Hire to Secure Reputation

Rounding out the top five reputable companies were Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods (KFT), Kellogg (K), Walt Disney (DIS), and PepsiCo (PEP).

The companies with the best reputations are those that bother to communicate with the public, Johndrow says, and these days that means communicating online with blogs, tweets and Facebook updates. He notes that Johnson & Johnson was the only company in the health care space in the top 50, let alone the top five. J&J's handling of the 1982 Tylenol cyanide crisis, which included a massive product recall, is often cited in business school textbooks as a shining example of crisis management. Last spring, the company's McNeil Consumer HealthCare division issued a 40-product recall, in part because of bacterial contamination in its production facilities. This time the crisis included a negative report from the Federal Drug Administration, and yet investors didn't seem concerned. According to a May poll by TheStreet, 70.4% of voters said the public will continue to trust J&J products, while only 29.6% of voters said the recalls have hurt J&J's reputation and will result in lower sales. This may be due in part to the fact that J&J made a point of issuing an apology from the CEO on its corporate blog.

Banks fare terribly in consumer perception, not only because of the recent financial crisis but also because "no financial services company has talked about themselves publicly about what they do as a company," Johndrow says.

As for Pepsi rival Coca-Cola (KO), Coke came in at No. 24 on the reputable companies list, 19 steps below its chief rival. "Coke has done very little compared with Pepsi to engage with the general public as a company," Johndrow says.

"Right now if you're not talking about what you're doing as a company, people assume you're doing something wrong," he says. "If you're quiet, the assumption is generally guilt."

-- Wrtitten by Carmen Nobel in Boston.

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