The Independent: I ‘manage the reputations’ of high-profile celebrity clients in crisis. This is what happens behind closed doors


Since the Weinstein story broke last October, there has been a gathering interest in how high-profile individuals and companies can manage and protect their reputations and how others have their reputations destroyed.

Everyone, with the possible exception of Theresa May, enjoys gossip. Conversations among friends have become beehives of suspicion about the deviant lengths people have gone to, to make sure their private lives remain that way, and who will be the next scrolling chyron on the news channel.

The ‘Me Too’ movement has amply shown how reputations can be deservedly disappeared within a matter of column inches. Trumply put, bad people do bad things and validly deserve to have their reputations shot to pieces.

But others in the public eye may have to protect their reputations against those who are hostile to them without any real cause.

I have never understood why managing reputation should really be considered a luxury by anyone. No one can opt out of having a reputation and few are able to retreat from a competitive world, sheltered from public opinion.

I got into reputation management after a career in law and political communications. It’s a specialist area that needs a particular understanding of how high-profile individuals and entities operate and where they are vulnerable.

The work I’ve done has made me realise that all of us are exposed, whether we like it or not, by how we are perceived, and this perception is rarely wholly accurate when our reputations are fairly or unfairly affected by the sentiments, prejudices and opinions of those who may not even slightly know us.

The media are important gatekeepers of this perception process although inevitably, the version that they show is necessarily veered by the views of their readers and the natural prejudices of the publication and writer.

A lot of people have theories about what reputation advisers do. For some we’re all part of the same well practiced equivalence game as a spin doctor, trading favours, fobbing bromides and burying bad news.

This isn’t the case.

The best way to consider the advice we give is as a kind of insurance, protecting reputations through a frank accounting process that means you properly understand how you are perceived externally and are prepared for any reputation challenge.

What we do is help our clients manage their profiles and position themselves accurately so that, when a crisis happens they are well placed to deal with it and the media have a good understanding of who they are and how they operate.

We work alongside lawyers and in house teams to help clients anticipate risks to their reputations and prepare strategies that might lessen these risks.

It used to be possible to advise clients that staying out of gossip columns would largely mean staying out of the public gaze, that if you did not actively court the spotlight you would be left alone.

Now, everyone is far more accessible than before with a lingering digital footprint. Everyone has an online profile and information on them, their companies and the company they keep can be readily obtained.

A good reputation is now much more than just personal probity. Just because someone is confident they have an iron clad reputation, it does not necessarily follow that others will think the same and in a crisis this belief will be savagely tested.

In a crisis, we can provide balance and perspective to clients often feeling they are under siege from insistent media reporting and ad hominem attacks by rivals.

It is nigh impossible to remain objective in a crisis when your personal reputation is questioned, when your family is criticised or when the integrity of your company is challenged.

It is easy to be consumed by a belief that any criticism is unfair and that people are only interested in the other side’s point of view. And social media can help turn that crisis into a frenzy.

Take a pop star in the middle of a family battle played out in the press. Or well-known business leaders being accused of blackmail and collusion with criminals. Or sports figures caught in a sex sting operation.

Readers will most often be taken by the more sensationalist parts of these stories even though the truth is more multi-storied than presented and they do not particularly know anything about those involved.

Our job is more than just a curation of the facts. We inform about the intricacies of an issue, argue for both sides to be presented fairly and at the same time and try to make sure that any allegations made are able to be addressed and defended properly.

Some reputations are beyond repair though and short of giving advice to go and do good works like Profumo in Toynbee Hall, everything else is ineffective camouflage. For the unyielding Weinsteins and Spaceys out there, reputation management cannot help them any more than sex addiction therapy can.

A version of this article appeared on The Independent website here.

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