Michelle Jordan believes Martha Stewart might have saved herself a prison sentence, or at least served less time, if she had owned up to selling stock on an inside tip. "From the beginning, she denied any wrongdoing," says Jordan, who is the principal and founder of Jordan LLC, a strategic communications consulting firm in Newport Coast, Calif., that specializes in reputation and crisis management. "As a result, her recovery in the court of public opinion took much longer than it might have."

On the other hand, Jordan says Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medal swimmer, handled the negative publicity just right when he was caught smoking pot in early 2009. "He admitted it immediately, and though he lost his Kellogg endorsement, other sponsors stood by him after he came clean," Jordan says.

Helping wealthy and powerful people navigate public opinion, and the media spotlight, is more than a passing interest to Jordan.

Jordan herself is a recognizable figure who has critiqued celebrities and their crisis management on MSNBC, Fox News and other media outlets, but her own clients are private citizens, albeit prominent pillars of their communities. As she points out, any individual or family with extreme wealth has a reputation to protect and, if a scandal should erupt, often has more to lose than an entertainer or sports star, from whom the public doesn't necessarily expect sterling behavior. Even if a scandal is just local news, the private individual who is involved can still walk into any local restaurant or country club and become instant fodder for whispers and stares. A divorce within a prominent family, a new marriage, a new business, a business failure or disappointment, illness or a succession issue within a family business, a lawsuit, a problem on a nonprofit board, not to mention a son or daughter with a drinking problem-all of these are situations that might lead someone to call Jordan.

"Private individuals very rarely if ever have a team of handlers around them the way celebrities do," she says. "So they tend not to have any guidance as to how to manage the situation when something goes wrong. As a result, a couple of things happen. First, there's this automatic fear of the press. The second thing is, people often try to cover up the truth. I always say a lie can only get bigger and silence can only get louder." 

Part of what her firm does is old-fashioned public relations, helping clients determine how to handle media inquiries when things go wrong as well as how to develop a positive public image in the first place.  But Jordan is more interested in steering her clients to a plan that makes reputation not just a media strategy but part of a family mission statement. When she started Jordan LLC in 1998 most of her clients were CEOs and other senior executives looking for consultation about communication and leadership development, but a focus on wealthy families began about five years ago as the result of a series of meetings with Patricia Soldano, the founder and then CEO of Cymric Family Office Services in Costa Mesa, Calif., which GenSpring Family Offices acquired in December 2008. With Soldano, who is now president of the Southern California office of GenSpring, she talked about the importance of reputation to high-net-worth families, and how it is a greater concern than ever due to the amount of information-and misinformation-that appears on the Internet. 

Jordan and Soldano agreed that wealthy families should consider reputation as important as wealth preservation and legacy building. "It's like the third leg of a three-legged stool. Your reputation can directly affect the other two legs, but in most families it is not managed with the same degree of attention," says Jordan. As with wealth preservation and legacy building, a solid reputation can be shattered overnight if the stakeholders aren't prepared to address adverse circumstances.

"I've found that if people come to me before anything happens, and are willing to sit down and acknowledge that there is something that could become a crisis, we work out a communications strategy and more often than not we are able to deflect it," says Jordan. "Most crises are the result of an issue that has emerged but keeps getting swept under the carpet until it finally erupts."

Jordan has made a number of presentations at conferences of GenSpring advisors and clients. "Usually people will say they'd never thought of this before," says Soldano. "Or they'll say 'I need to go home and check my children's Facebook pages.' Michelle is a visionary in this area, and we are now telling people to hire someone like her. Then when a crisis erupts you have a plan in place. It's like having a plan in case there is an earthquake."  
In her presentations Jordan generally outlines a series of preventive tactics that she believes every wealthy family should deploy. The most important, she says, are these six:

1. Agree that the family's reputation should be treated as a valuable asset.

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