We live in an incredibly connected world that is wired 24/7. Information flows at a rate faster than the average individual can decipher fast enough. It helps to spread the word, such a connected world, when we are doing well or our businesses need a boost. In the same way, the world can get to know in the bat of an eye that something has gone wrong.
All it takes is a Twitter message or a Facebook status to get the ball rolling on the fall. One accusation, usually as a result of something that indeed went wrong, will get the flow going and before long, the media will be on to it. It will go viral next, becoming an Internet sensation and you watch, to your horror, everything going down like a deck of cards.
Max Clifford case
Take the case of celebrity PR man Max Clifford who now faces the prospect of jail as a result of sexual misconduct. For a long time, he was the front man who took care of the troubles the stars faced. From Simon Cowell to hundreds of other stars and high-profile companies, Clifford was their point man in PR.
He covered up celebrity faux pas, helped build the likes of Cowell into mega stars. He helped engineer the reinvention of celebrities and made sure that they were sought after by a media hungry for more news. He was responsible for the meteoric rise of Cowell as the most loved and hated figure in the music world – Cowell and he had been in a partnership for over 12 years but as charges against his PR man were read out in court, Simon Cowell did a Simon on him and dropped him.
In a matter of a few days, everything Max Clifford had built and helped other celebrities to fight, rose up against him. As story after story of his victims spread online, his clients took carefully measured steps away from him. Although Clifford has indeed committed serious sexual crimes against women, including using his position as a PR man to the celebrities in the course of abuse, his is a classic case of how things can go wrong so fast so soon.
The man does not seem like he regrets what he has done; it seems that power has indeed gone to his head and he still seems to be unaware of how low he has fallen. That sometimes does happen – when in the face of disaster, particularly corporate disaster, denial emerges as the first response. Too many people think “this cannot be happening to me”.
Reputation management is no longer something to be added to a glittering array of jargon. It is a real issue that needs to be managed well enough to avoid scandal and potential threats. In a world which feeds on an information frenzy, companies and individuals are hiring professionals who not only can deliver positive PR but also ensure that the company’s reputation is managed and well spun. In good times, not many will fear trouble but when trouble does come as it did for Max Clifford, if you have already not taken the trouble to manage your reputation it could and will usually spell trouble.
Take the case of Senator John Edwards who lost his bid for higher office thanks to an affair that surfaced. He was the all American star who could have risen if not for the dirt that came back to haunt him. Obviously, he had not managed his reputation well enough. There are so many other well-known men and women who have been hounded down by a ghost from the past.
Managing online reputation
In order to ensure that a reputation must be managed, there must also be a clean sheet to start with. It is tough if not impossible to successfully manage a cupboard full of skeletons. The Internet crawls with information you think no one else knows. Don’t be surprised if something crucial comes a cropper at a crucial time.
There are a lot of folk out there who make other people their business, especially when there’s much at stake to be gained either in business or personal terms. One would marvel at the length to which some people would go to throw charges against an individual or a company. If and when the storm does come if you are ready with your story and your homework has been done, your reputation does not need to be salvaged from the pit. If mistakes have been made you can try your best to work around those mistakes and come through unscathed. Plenty of people have.
History is filled with stories of scandals that broke and destroyed lives, marriages, careers and companies. Someone lied and someone covered up but it wasn’t done right so when the story broke, there was trouble. Its best to steer clear of controversy and make sure your reputation is managed well and good in order to avoid such issues.
In today’s world, managing a reputation also includes managing the online reputation. The Internet hoards information that may have been carried years ago. A good idea is to Google your name and see what comes up – you may be amazed. It may also be the starting point to appreciate sound reputation management.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist and a writer, can be contacted at nayominiweerasooriya @gmail.com)