What's the first thing you do after you meet someone?

a) Invite them out to lunch?

b) Send them an e-mail?

c) Google them to find out what they're about?

Michelle Jordan bets that most people choose "c."

Jordan is a "reputation manager," a term she believes she coined about five years ago for consultants like her who help people restore or rehabilitate their reputations. Sometimes the task is to establish a good reputation before anything negative appears.
"Lots of people think they are living beneath the celebrity radar screen," she says, because they are not the parents of Paris Hilton, for example. But with the increasingly active use of the Internet by recruiters, prospective employers, the boards of cooperative apartments, kidnappers, college admissions officers and all kinds of clubs and thugs, not to mention the Russian mafia, a bad online report can be devastating, even if untrue. And the victims range far afield from Hollywood celebrities and politicians. Anyone with wealth and influence can be a target.

One business executive contacted Jordan because stories all over the Internet claimed that he had committed dozens of forgeries. What was not reported was that all charges against him had been dropped and his own lawsuit was gaining traction. Still, he was unable to get his daughter accepted at the schools she wanted to attend. Years ago, notoriety simply disappeared. "Now it lives forever online," Jordan said. "If you do have something come up, you have to act very quickly."

Jordan founded Jordan LLCĀ in 1998 in Newport Beach, Calif., to help CEOs, senior executives and other leaders with strategic communication needs, she says. "The firm specializes in issue and reputation management." She also deals with crisis communication for companies and individuals.

Five years ago, Jordan conducted a workshop on reputation management at a conference for family offices. She asked: "How many of you have faced a situation with your family where something embarrassing-maybe true or maybe not-has been spread around in the news to your detriment?" One or two hands cautiously went up, (or just flips of the wrist).

But after the session, several people pulled her aside. They wanted to know: "How do we protect ourselves? How do we establish a reputation? How do we rebuild it?" From there, Jordan says, "it just kind of rolled."