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How to recover from a major blow to your reputation

It recently came to light that Prince Charles accepted a £1 million charity donation from Bakr bin Laden and Shafiq bin Laden – Osama bin Laden’s half-brothers – for The Prince of Wales’ Charitable Fund (PWCF). According to the Sunday Times, the Prince of Wales agreed to the donation in 2013 following a meeting at Clarence House despite objections from key advisers at the time.

This news came a few days after the UK’s Charity Commission announced it would not conduct any further investigation into another large sum donated to the heir of the Crown, merely seeing it as a slightly irregular form of charitable donation. Prince Charles received 3 million euros in cash from former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani between 2011 and 2015, some of it in shopping bags, which he then handed over to one of his charities.

These two incidents demonstrate the importance of reputational issues and, therefore, raise a very reasonable question. If you are a high-profile individual – royalty, celebrity, or High Net Worth Individual (HNWI) – and you find yourself in a questionable situation related to gifts or donations, should you get involved? The short answer is not really.

Reputation management – why does it matter?

Warren Buffet famously warned that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Nobody wants to purchase bad products or services, and similarly nobody wants to buy something associated with a company, organisation or individual which is publicly portrayed as the villain. As an individual with some sort of public profile, media attention is inevitable. Developing and maintaining a good relationship with journalists can help tremendously. However, there are occasions where negative coverage will occur and this will impact your public image, and the knock-on effect is that your professional image and business could suffer.

Furthermore, although freedom of information is fundamental in our democracy, as it enables freedom of the press, this should not enable the publication of fake news. There is a necessary balance between free press and protection of one’s reputation. The European Convention of Human Rights in its article 8 recognises the right to protection of one’s reputation as key component of the right to privacy.

Internet never forgets

Another aspect of reputation management relates to social media. The fact of the matter is that whatever comment you leave on the Internet immediately becomes public information and will have a long-lasting impact.

In Classical Athens, ostracism was established as a legal procedure by which a citizen could be expelled from the city-state for ten years. Interestingly, ostracism was often used pre-emptively against any potential threat or tyrant, such as Themistocles. Although in many cases popular opinion often informed the choice.

In comparison, in our contemporary society, people are quick to judge a tweet or a Facebook comment and denounce it as ostracism i.e. cancel culture. Some of the most infamous recent examples include Roseanne Barr, whose show was cancelled by ABC in 2018 mere hours after she published a racist comment on Twitter. However, it is important to bear in mind that once a post has been delivered on social media, its digital imprint will last forever.

The golden hour and recovery phase

If a situation by which your reputation is at stake cannot be avoided, your best option is to seek assistance quickly. That initial response is crucial and there’s a reason why the industry itself speaks of the “golden hour” within crisis communication. But, arguably, not enough attention is paid to the pre-response phase and indeed what happens next after the acute crisis phase.

Prior to any public response, a speedy digital audit should be carried out to assess the sentiment of stories, the gravitas of the publications issuing them and any responses that may have been made by related parties. In addition, an assessment of social media will also be useful.

A digital audit involves monitoring traditional media publications and social media to analyse what has been said and done already, along with tracking what’s coming next. Reputation management professionals will often use dedicated monitoring technology to provide a thorough overview of your digital and print reputation. Furthermore, they can assess past and current conversations around your image before identifying ways of enhancing the more positive conversations.

Once this has been carried out, your adviser will move onto the next step of “crisis management” by scenario planning for what might happen next, in terms of further negative press, as well as providing recommended approaches to questions from the media, reputation renewal and any corrective action.

Media training may also be suggested to ensure you are not nervous or do any further damage to your “brand” when facing journalists.

In certain circumstances, a more extreme approach may be required for re-building your reputation. This involves looking at the accuracy of the stories that have been released and where possible, how to remove them.

There are ways to remove some information about you on the Internet. The recently introduced GDPR has laid down regulations for the “right to be forgotten” under which EU citizens can request the erasing of personal data “without undue delay”. However, this should not be confused with a “Get Out Jail Free” card, as this right to be forgotten may be overridden in the name of, for instance, freedom of information, compliance with legal ruling or obligation, or public interest. In extreme situations your PR team may suggest involving a reputation management lawyer who can advise on the possibility of any retractions or story removal, as well as act on your behalf in communicating with any third parties.


For more information on our reputation management services, get in touch with us or visit our dedicated reputation management section on our website.


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