Big Pharma's a C student, rep study finds, with Bayer at the top, Novartis at bottom

When it comes to Big Pharma's reputation, "average" says it all. That's the story from the research firm Reputation Institute, which perennially puts major drugmakers right smack in the middle of its scorecard. In other words, pharma is a C student.

And reliably so. The industry's top-scoring company, Bayer, totted up a 68.4 on an 100-point scale, about the same grade it has earned over the past four years. Across the industry's 12 biggest companies, the rating is 65.7 points, exactly the same as in 2013. Even the lowest-scoring multinational drugmaker didn't fall much lower than its peers: Novartis ($NVS), with a 63.6-point rating.

Of course pharma's score is all about who's talking. This year's Harris Poll showed that most of the general public aren't impressed with pharma at all, with only 37% of respondents saying positive things about the industry. A recent survey focusing on integrity put drugmakers near the bottom of the heap. And individually, ratings vary, too. With patient groups, HIV specialist ViiV and Pfizer ($PFE) top the list these days, with Gilead ($GILD), Novo Nordisk ($NVO) and AbbVie ($ABBV) all winning marks, too.

But the Reputation Institute's numbers not only don't vary much company to company. They're remarkably similar from country to country around the world, with only a few variants. In 11 of the 15 surveyed markets, scores fell in the 60s. The outliers didn't differ by much, either. South Korea has the dimmest view of Big Pharma at 58.9 points, while Russia gave the biggest thumbs-up at 73.5 points.

Lucky for pharma, one of the most positive markets is the U.S. (70.5 points), which of course is the world's most lucrative country for drugmakers. Also lucky: The industry scores highest in the "products" category--and its second-best grade came for innovation, which essentially spills over onto its reputation for high-quality meds that work.

The industry didn't do too badly in the financial performance category either. Its worst rating? Citizenship.

Overall, the institute's findings aren't so bad, compared with those other reports. And when it comes to anecdotal evidence, Big Pharma tends to get a black eye. Take John Oliver on This Week Tonight, who scolded the industry for the all-too-common practice of paying doctors beaucoups bucks to talk up its drugs, using company-approved scripts. Or the series of major investigations into mismarketing and poor-quality manufacturing, many of which ended in multibillion-dollar settlements and consent decrees. Or the pop culture joke about sunny-seeming drug ads with scary-sounding side effects in voice-over. Compared to all that, a C on a report card seems, well, average.

- get the Reputation Institute report

Special Reports: Top 15 pharma companies by 2014 revenue - Novartis - Pfizer - Gilead - AbbVie - Bayer