Reality–Perception Model of Reputation Construction using Real-world Examples

This article delves into the Reality–Perception Model of Reputation Construction proposed by Aula and Heinonen (2002, 2011), elucidating its four categories through real-world examples. The model offers a nuanced framework to understand the intricate interplay between a company’s actual performance and stakeholder perceptions, providing insights into the dynamics of reputation construction.

Reputation is a critical asset for companies, influencing stakeholder behavior and shaping long-term success. Aula and Heinonen’s Reality–Perception Model presents a structured approach to dissecting reputation, encompassing four distinct categories: Bad Reputation, Worse than Reputation, Better than Reputation, and Excellent Reputation. Through a detailed examination of each category, this article aims to elucidate the model’s practical application in understanding real-world scenarios.

Bad Reputation: Enron’s Downfall (2000-2001)

The exemplar of a Bad Reputation is the Enron Corporation, which faced a catastrophic crisis due to accounting scandals and corporate fraud. Stakeholders experienced financial losses, and the public perception plummeted as the true extent of Enron’s mismanagement unfolded. This instance underscores the alignment of both negative experiences and perceptions, typifying a company in crisis.

Worse than Reputation: Tobacco Industry’s Paradox

Historically, tobacco companies have faced health-related controversies and ethical concerns. Paradoxically, some of these companies managed to maintain a positive public image through strategic marketing and lobbying efforts, creating a dissonance between their detrimental impact and favorable public perceptions.

Better than Reputation: BP’s Struggle Post-Deepwater Horizon (2010)

In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP took substantial actions to improve its operations and environmental practices. Despite these positive changes, the company encountered a communication challenge as the public perception remained unfavorable due to lingering memories of the disaster, highlighting the paradoxical nature of a situation where stakeholders had positive experiences but negative perceptions.

Excellent Reputation: Google’s Triumph in Corporate Reputation

Google serves as an epitome of an Excellent Reputation, with positive stakeholder experiences and perceptions aligning seamlessly. The company’s innovative products, corporate responsibility initiatives, and positive work environment contribute to its stellar reputation, showcasing a harmonious interplay between reality and perception.


Aula and Heinonen’s Reality–Perception Model emerges as a powerful tool for comprehending the multifaceted nature of reputation construction. Real-world examples, such as Enron’s downfall, the tobacco industry paradox, BP’s post-crisis communication challenge, and Google’s triumph, provide tangible illustrations of the model’s applicability. As companies navigate the complex landscape of reputation management, this model serves as a valuable guide, offering a nuanced understanding of the delicate balance between actual experiences and stakeholder perceptions.

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