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Article: Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Museums have higher reputations than companies. This was the outcome of a study in ten countries by professor Cees van Riel of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). The Louvre has the highest reputation worldwide. The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum follow in the second and third places, which puts them among the top in the world. In the study, it also became clear exactly what it is that makes museums so highly regarded. Van Riel thinks that businesses could learn from this.

Van Riel talking about what businesses can learn from the high reputations of museums

What businesses can learn from the high reputations of museums

For twenty years, Prof. Cees van Riel has been working with the Reputation Institute to study the reputations of companies and especially: how does this reputation come about? What are the drivers of a high or low reputation?

This is important, because previous research has shown that even a small difference in reputation has major implications for the market value of companies.

This study investigated the reputations of museums with the same standardised instrument that has previously also been used for companies

License to operate

As for companies, reputation is an important ‘license to operate’ for museums. Aside from financial effects, a positive reputation leads to more and better job applicants and an organisation with a high reputation is a more credible partner for government and political parties and NGOs.

However, until now such a large scale study had never been done for international art museums. This study investigated the reputations of museums with the same standardised instrument that has previously also been used for companies: RepTrak. This makes the results comparable between museums and also between museums and companies.

What museums were studied?

This study looked at 18 art museums in 10 countries on 4 continents (see report for full list of countries and museums). Among other things, the museums were selected on the basis of their visitor numbers, and tried to obtain the best possible distribution over the continents. The study surveyed 12,000 people, both visitors and non-visitors. The most important results are given below. Read the whole study here.

What were the most important outcomes of this study?

  • Museums have a very high reputation across almost the whole board. The best museums score better than the world’s most highly esteemed brands such as Rolex, Lego or Canon.
  • The Louvre in Paris has the highest worldwide reputation with a score of 84.3.
  • Worldwide, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum take the second and third places respectively (scores 81.9 and 81.7). To compare: Rolex is the most reputable company in the world with a score of 80.38. Lego is at number 2 with a score of 79.46.
  • Among European respondents, the Van Gogh Museum took first place in the reputation ranking, ahead of the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum.
  • The most important drivers behind the high reputation of museums are primarily the quality of the collection and the distinction of the collection.
  • The reputation of the city and regions where the museum is located also plays a role: when the city and region have high reputations (like the situation in Amsterdam), this drives the reputation of a museum. On the other hand, it is also likely that a reputable museum can give the surrounding city a higher reputation than the country as a whole. This might be the case in St. Petersburg: Russia has a relatively low reputation worldwide (39.8). The Hermitage scores 81.4 worldwide which puts it fourth. The reputation score for St. Petersburg of 67.8, the city where the Hermitage is located, is considerably higher than the country as a whole. It seems likely that this city benefits from the Hermitage’s lofty reputation.
  • Museums are also highly valued for their contribution to society: they conserve heritage, they have an educational function, and they provide entertainment to a wide audience. This audience is increasingly diverse, especially in Europe. Collections are made accessible to more people who are not part of the cultural and economic elite. Van Riel thinks these museums are rewarded for this in the form of a higher reputation.
  • Finally, the study also showed that museums are valued for their good governance: publically obtained resources are used critically and wisely.


What are the most important implications of the report?

Companies that want to increase their reputation could learn from the social contribution that museums provide and the way they are managed, says Van Riel: “The DNA of museums is completely focused on fulfilling their social tasks. And with this ‘sense of purpose’ in the back of the mind, that idea of giving meaning, the money in museums is spent as intelligently as possible. Museums are rewarded for this in the form of a fabulously high reputation. Companies that want to improve their reputation can certainly take an example from these drivers behind the high reputations of museums.

Prof. Cees van Riel

Professor of corporate communication

Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)

Profile picture of Prof. Cees van Riel
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