OPINION: How reputations are managed and ruined

To alter the old estate agents' cliche, there are three things to consider when deciding whether to buy into a proposition: reputation, reputation and reputation.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

In our business, the perceived reputation of an individual or brand is the single most treasured asset. Because it is fragile, easily damaged and immensely hard to restore, its management is fundamental to good PR consultancy.

Recent days have offered three studies into how reputation can be managed, damaged or destroyed at the media coalface. Those involved are the Mayor of London, Formula One boss Max Mosley, and Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg.

The lesson to be drawn from the case of Nick 'Cleggover' is that some questions simply are not for answering. Whatever puppyish braggadocio induced Clegg to play the lovers' numbers game with Piers Morgan, his answer that he had availed himself of less than 30, invited not admiration but ridicule from a largely disbelieving public. By breaching his own and his family's privacy, Clegg simply added another notch to Morgan's well-marked journalistic bedpost.

How inestimably smarter was Ken Livingstone in personally announcing the existence of his three additional teenage children by different women. The story that Ken was a 'secret' father of five children had been traded around the murkier regions of the media for weeks and a Sunday newspaper exposure was expected to damage Livingstone's already fading re-election prospects.

The brilliance of the Livingstone strategy was to break the story to the relatively friendly BBC London, thus spiking tabloid guns. The statement also drew the nuanced distinction between secret and private matters. Since, Livingstone argued, those involved in his disparate family life knew all the facts, there was no secrecy to expose.

The story of Mosley and his alleged Nazi torture games with a coven of Chelsea hookers is altogether darker stuff. Mosley, a huge mover and shaker within the world of F1, was previously relatively unknown outside it. Successive News of the World exposes and ferocious follow-up coverage have almost certainly shredded his credibility beyond the point where he can function on behalf of the F1 brand. Despite vigorous legal actions aimed at re-asserting his rights to privacy and trying to correct the story, his eventual departure looks likely.

The tales of the fool, the brave and the knave - each offers its own unique insights into this fast-moving reputation game.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at The Daily Mail and The Sun.

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