how we investigate


CREA | The Corporate Reputation Equity Audit (CREA) pulls together an industry’s key success factors (KSFs) into a single, complete and powerful package. KSFs are those tasks which must be performed particularly well for an organization to outperform its competition.

KSFs | Reputation indicates a value judgment on specific attributes. In our research studies, participants are asked to rank companies on six KSFs; the CREA framework is organized into six sections that address six categories of success. Building a more prestigious company involves maximizing all KSFs.

SOURCE | Given the multitude of sources, the problem is not getting data but deciding which sources to use. Specifically who you talk to is important. Accordingly, the sampling plan is a critical element of the research design. In all CREA studies, only management board, supervisory board, (non-)executive board, and/or advisory board members or other senior managers are included, i.e., the leadership group or top management group. The peak of the pyramid.

METHOD | Interviews and talks give essential information that cannot be derived from other sources. All people have a story to tell. One-on-one interviews (conversations) are a dialogue with a great deal of flexibility and can be qualitative or quantitative in nature. In practice, longer and broader field surveys – our first choice research approach – tend to favor one-on-one interviews. High-level research participants tend to respond better to such intimate conversations. The approach is straightforward – studies are organized by findings, not by individual examples, quotes or anecdotes. The research is rigorous, disciplined, and comprehensive. Interviews are conducted individually. They are generally supplemented by an extensive questionnaire. Whenever necessary, data are collected by telephone, digital interviews (e.g., through Zoom, Webex, Teams etc.) or email, a set of mutually reinforcing inquiry practices.

OUTCOME | When we finish our field research, we begin to analyze and codify our results. Findings and conclusions are the backbone of our books and research reports. We try to distill the essence of what we are saying in a simple way, with no material loss of the message. Think: minimalist designer Dieter Rams – ‘weniger, aber besser’. We view ourselves as builders, piecing together many pieces of a complex puzzle into a coherent whole. By synthesizing the findings, we identify a set of common traits, a rich body of insights and perspectives – principles of success and failure – and a better understanding of what essentially drives companies.

TRIANGULATION | The best research approach is triangulation; that is, checking each bit of information obtained against other bits of information until a pattern finally begins to reveal itself. Corporate reputation does not reveal itself easily. To articulate it and describe it requires patience and effort. We triangulate data in various ways. We draw on many data sources. We supplement our interviews and talks with many other fact-finding conversations – with former chief executives and founders, alumni, customers, competitors, industry observers (informed observers or ‘knowledgeable outsiders’) such as journalists, academics, and financial analysts, and anyone else who might have a firsthand perspective. While we do not receive universal agreement on every finding, we usually do elicit high levels of general agreement. We also test our findings with specific business communities (through presentations of findings to audiences ranging from management groups of listed companies, through faculty and student audiences at business schools and universities, and to trade and professional association meetings across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. These presentations almost always include give-and-take discussions in which we encourage practitioners to challenge or confirm our findings). To confirm the validity of our ideas and research findings (especially initial findings), we cast our fact-finding and analytical net further. We read everything we can find about the companies studied, including their leaders, their competitors, and their markets. We trace industry trends and execute statistical and comparative analyses. An extensive literature search (from articles in the popular press and newspapers to doctoral dissertations) is included too. 

ERGO | From these interviews/questionnaires, presentations/feedback, statistical/comparative analyses, and published material we synthesize our observations (insights) of specific business practices. The CREA research framework guides the entire research process.


The Corporate Reputation Equity Audit is an exercise designed to assess the wealth of a given company reputation through a specific research population: executives and senior managers, the peak of the pyramid. The audit contains six key success factors:

CLIENT STRATEGY | Client strategy measures a company’s focus on current and potential clients.

MARKET STRATEGY | The following groups (minus clients) generally constitute the interest-holders in companies: employees, shareholders, suppliers, the government, the community in which the company does business, and the society at large. Market strategy measures the company’s stakeholder orientation.

COMPETITIVE STRATEGY | Competitive strategy measures the company’s strength and competitiveness versus rivals. Perceived uniqueness is a crucial competitive weapon.

PEOPLE STRATEGY | People strategy measures the company’s people development approach (and success). It is on this variable that the outcome of the overall competitive struggle may most strongly depend.

INNOVATION STRATEGY | The future of every company depends on its ability to invent new products/services and/or to fine-tune existing products/services to better satisfy client/stakeholder needs. Innovation strategy measures an organization’s focus on inventiveness, innovation, and innovativeness.

BUSINESS MODEL STRATEGY | A business model refers to the core architecture of an organization, specifically how it deploys all tangible and intangible assets. It is a device that mediates between assets and value creation. Business model strategy measures a company’s speed (responsiveness) and flexibility (agility). Good business models result in competitive advantage.


The Corporate Reputation Equity Audit (CREA) is a: (1) comprehensive (it covers all the major performance dimensions of a business); (2) systematic (it involves an orderly sequence of diagnostic steps covering many areas); (3) independent (it is an outsider audit for reasons of objectivity), and (4) periodic (two- to three-year) examination of a company’s corporate reputation with a view to determining problem areas, challenges and opportunities, and recommending a plan of action to improve the company’s reputation.


Most of the six KSFs are not startling, they seem reasonable, even obvious, when spelled out. Some are motherhoods, yet almost none truly lives them. They are largely unpracticed in too many companies. The trick is to get a handle on how a company performs on all KSFs. Each KSF is a sine qua non of an organization’s good name. There is no single secret to the success in management. As often, a web of mutually reinforcing practices is responsible. Any one of the aforementioned KSFs might have been of some help in improving performance; as a seamless whole, their impact has been greatly magnified.



Prof. dr. P.K. Jagersma


JRC International




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