MANY COMPANIES LISTED IN THE DOW JONES industrial average are taking a beating in the reputation department, according to a new study by the TNS Stakeholder Management Center. Disney, Kodak, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, which each ranked high initially, saw their reputations decline by more than 20 points, according to the TNS Corporate Reputation Index Survey. Disney, for example, suffered from turmoil over the leadership of CEO Michael Eisner. Kodak fell because it was dropped from the Dow 30. J&J, TNS surmised, fell due to problems in the health care sector. And Merck tumbled because of the recall of its arthritis drug Vioxx. Other companies showed remarkable gains in corporate reputation. Altria and SBC Communications each gained 19 points, and JP Morgan Chase was up 17 points. TNS attributed Altria's rise to a reduction in public criticism of tobacco-related companies, while both SBC and JP Morgan Chase benefited from increased advertising activities and media coverage surrounding their respective mergers with AT&T and Bank One. "Reputation matters. Those companies affected by bad news related to products, executive behavior or sector issues, lost reputational equity despite their blue chip status," said Shubhra Ramchandani, general manager of the Stakeholder Management Center. Perhaps these wild fluctuations in corporate reputation are linked to corporations' apparent disinterest or lack of ability in corporate communications-at least that conclusion might be drawn from another new study, this one from Burson-Marsteller, which found that only 15% of the largest revenue-producing Global 500 companies have corporate communications expertise in their boardrooms. Burson-Marsteller's research found that Global 500 companies with communications experts on their boards generally produced superior stock market returns.
IT'S A BIRD. IT'S A PLANE. It's a 14-mile-high billboard! On May 21, independent space program JP Aerospace launched Away 26, a high-altitude balloon platform for scientific research. But in addition to that mission, the space platform had another purpose: Advertising. "Companies are looking for ways to get above the overcrowded field of advertisements," said John Powell, president of JP Aerospace. "There are a lot of race cars and basketball stars out there, but not too many spaceships. They get noticed," he added. The first advertiser on the space platform is GP Deva, a Beverly Hills, Calif., provider of health and beauty products.