The 10 Companies Burned Worst by Bad Press

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Nothing churns the news cycle like a scandal, and the last two years have been packed with news-churning corporate scandals, from BP's multi-million-gallon oil spill to Toyota's and Johnson & Johnson's multi-million-product recalls. But what company has had it the worst in the press?

24/7 Wall St. worked with the creators of The Flame Index to find the ten companies with the most damaging negative press over the last twelve months from June 1, 2010 to June 1, 2011. Here are the ten companies burned the worst by negative news.


The Flame Index identifies negative coverage in the media using a patent-pending proprietary algorithm which reviews data every second from more than 12,000 news sources and ranks 1,000 companies based on the coverage they receive. We based our rankings on the number of negative articles published about each company plus the number of days that the negative articles continue to be published. All the daily values are summed to create a single overall score. In that way, the top company is ranked by both breaking news stories and prolonged negative coverage over an extended period. "We are accounting for a specific amount of time for news stories to decay," said John Jones, co-founder of the Flame Index. "If a story continues in the media and is picked up by multiple sources, the effect is amplified in the ranking."

Last year, BP was regularly lambasted in the press because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Recently, coverage of the company focused on its negotiations with Russian interests to drill in the area north of the Arctic circle. AIG, one of the government's most expensive bailout candidates, is in the press more often these days for the sales of its shares to pay back the federal government than it is for the catastrophic management decisions that brought the once-venerable insurer to its knees.

The most memorable strategic mistakes of the last two years include Toyota's decision to slacken its quality control as it expanded its manufacturing operations outside of Japan. Poor workmanship caused hundreds of thousands of recalls and the company's CEO, Akio Toyoda, was dragged before Congress and chastised for Toyota's apparent lack of concern for safety. The trouble hurt the car company's sales and damaged one of the world's most valuable brands. Johnson & Johnson fell into the same trap as Toyota by allowing the quality control at some of its over-the-counter drug plants to worsen. Lax oversight was one reason for the production of tainted stocks of Tylenol and Motrin. This was compounded when Johnson & Johnson did not immediately admit its mistake, causing damage to brands that took decades to establish.

Negative press coverage means little unless it has a profound effect on a company's ability to do business either because of damage to its reputation or because it has spurred lawsuits. BP faced both after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Bad press damages public shareholders but can benefit the hearty souls who stand by the company. The S&P 500 is up 20% in the last year. Only two corporations on the list had stock gains above that over the period. One was BP and the other Transocean. Each was at the center of the Gulf disaster. The value of the shares in each firm are up about 50% over the last year. The cause of this is impossible to tell. It may be that the stocks were hurt so badly that even modest rebounds from their lows caused a large percent increase. An alternative theory is that the Gulf disaster is no longer important news, as measured by press attention. It is only a year ago that the Deepwater Horizon incident was on the front page of ever newspaper and news website every day.



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Douglas A. McIntyre and Michael B. Sauter are editors of 24/7 Wall St., a Delaware-based financial news and opinion operation that produces content for sites including MarketWatch, DailyFinance, Yahoo! Finance, and TheStreet.com.

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