Reputation is continuously recognized as one of the foundations on which to build organizational success (Key, 1995). When positive, reputation is considered to be one of the most valuable intangible assets any organizations can possess (Vidaver-Cohen, 2007). This is true for organizations both in the profit and nonprofit sectors, in developed and developing economies (Martin, 2009; Balmer & Geyser 2003; Bouchikhi & Kimberly 2008). Although the concept of reputation has been widely used in various disciplines and numerous studies there is still no “definitive definition” (Tkalac Verčič, Verčič, & Žnidar, 2016). Marketing literature especially shows no real agreement on how to define or measure the concept of reputation so Bromley’s conclusion from fifteen years ago (2002) according to which the concept of corporate reputation seems to lack an agreed theoretical basis – still holds today. Reputation has been used synonymously with identity, image, prestige, goodwill, esteem and standing (Tkalac et al., 2016).

In spite of these conceptual disagreements, most authors seem to agree that various stakeholders perceive organizations in different ways and decide on their actions based on the reputational status of the organization (Maden, Arikan, Telci, & Kantur, 2012). Today, when talking about reputation management, one of the most important goals for the organizations is to remain legitimate (Martin, 2009) which emphasizes the importance of corporate social responsibility. CSR is often viewed as a strategic tool to respond to various expectations of multiple stakeholders (Lai, Chiu, Yang, & Pai, 2010). The potential relationship between reputation and CSR is well documented in literature and the two concepts are mostly considered close but still different (Hilldenbrand and Money, 2007).

Developing CSR projects helps an organization build a better reputation among internal and external stakeholders and through attracting talent, motivating employees, recruiting employees and retaining employees CSR can help build employer brands (Suliman & Al-Khatib, 2014). The employer branding concept is associated with corporate reputation (Ruiz, García, & Revilla, 2016) with some authors identifying it as the protector of corporate reputation (Burke & Martin, 2011). Literature in fields concerned with described concepts of reputation, corporate social responsibility and employer branding shows a certain overlap on the conceptual, methodological and empirical level (Hendriks, 2016). Authors often connected CSR and reputation (Stanaland, Lewin, & Murphy, 2011; Maden et al., 2012), as well as employer brands and reputation (Ruiz et al., 2017; Burke & Martin, 2011).

The aim of the study described here (which I conducted with my colleague Dubravka Sinčić Ćorić), was to further explore the potential connections between three concepts – corporate social responsibility, employer branding and reputation. In our study corporate social responsibility was assessed at the individual level through measuring perceived corporate social responsibility. We measured all three concepts among 550 senior college business students. Since the purpose of the study was to explore a relationship between three variables, we used a combined quantitative-qualitative approach in which we started with a survey study. The list of organizations evaluated in the study was drawn from the national study on employer brands. Top twenty employers (organizations) were selected as the most familiar to business school students.

The survey instrument was comprised of three sets of items, designed to measure – perceived corporate social responsibility (by using three items proposed by Shin, Hur and Kang, 2016); perceived organizational reputation (by using four items proposed by Ponzi, Fonbrun and Gardberg, 2011) and perceived employer brands (by using 25 items proposed by Berthon, Ewing and Hah, 2005). All of the scales were drawn and adapted from existing literature as mentioned previously. All of the items were measured by seven-point Likert scales. Each of the students rated two (out of twenty) companies on their corporate social responsibility, employer brands and reputation. We followed up with a series of in-depth interviews with corporate communications directors of the companies in being appraised.

To test the relationship between measured concepts we conducted a multiple regression analysis. The results of multiple regressions shown in table 1. show a positive relationship between perceived CSR and reputation (β = .224; p = .000) and a positive relationship between employer brand perception and reputation (β = .264; p = .000).

Table 1: Multiple regression analysis results

Dependent variable Independent variable Adjusted R² F change Std. B Beta A
Perceived CSR Reputation .132 42,797 .224 0.000
Employer brand Reputation .264 0.000

Multiple regression analysis shows that both perceived CSR and perceived employer brands are good predictors of perceived reputation, which sheds some light towards their underlying relationship. Reputation, at least according to our results, seems to be the umbrella concept that encompasses both perceived corporate social responsibility and perceived employer brands.

Ana Tkalac Verčič is professor of Marketing and Public Relations, University of Zagreb.




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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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