2. Become familiar with social networks. Jordan says family members-young ones and even many of the adults-need to understand that anything they post on such networks as Facebook and Twitter will become a matter of public record. She once had a client who was running for political office and was photographed at a party standing behind a table filled with wine glasses. A reporter contacted the client, pointing out that the photo was posted on YouTube-something that could have caused severe embarrassment seeing as how the client was known as a non-drinker.  The photo did not get any further attention, but once the client became aware of it he was able to prepare an explanation just in case.

3. Conduct a thorough Internet search. "That includes the more obscure references that are deeply embedded, often starting sometime around page 15 of a search," says Jordan. There are search companies that can help find these hidden references. Jordan works with one such company, RepuMinders, which is part of Transom Family Services. While search outfits cannot remove the negative references, Jordan believes it is important to be aware of what is out there and try to build positive references by seeking media coverage of a client's more redeeming activities.

4. Audit the family's reputation on a regular basis. Jordan recommends conducting a thorough Internet search every three to six months. "It's a review of your reputation, like reviewing your investment portfolio," she says. "At this time family members should also talk about whether there is anything going on that has the potential to emerge as an issue."

5. Assemble a crisis team and have a plan in place to get the necessary information out. The team should include certain family members but also a lawyer, the head of the family office, a media relations representative and a trusted family friend. Jordan believes a family, like a corporation, should appoint an official spokesperson, whether it is someone in the family or an outside professional, who will handle all inquiries if a problem occurs. The spokesperson should be prepared to figure out who has a right to know what is going on-that could be investors in the family business, a spouse, the media,  employees, bankers, vendors, clientele, insurance agents, government officials, and others-and how much information is appropriate. However, the spokesperson should always be truthful so that the information he or she communicates leaves no room for innuendo or rumor. "I would never work with someone who came to me and said, 'Can we spin this so it looks as if I didn't do it?'" says Jordan. "If you're guilty you're guilty." Instead, she advises anyone who has committed a legal or ethical violation to go public with an acknowledgement, then seek redemption through what she calls the three "R's": responsibility, recourse and remedy.

6. Enhance the family's good name whenever possible. "This isn't about self-aggrandizement or publicity," says Jordan. Rather, letting the world know about philanthropic work and accomplishments of family members can be a preventive strategy, a way of building a good reputation that can carry a great deal of weight when something goes wrong. She also recommends rewarding family members who help strengthen the family's reputation.

Jordan recommends the same tactics for anyone who runs a business.  "The CEO is the voice of the company, and responsible for the ethical tone," she says. Consider the many Wall Street CEO's currently under fire largely for a lack of contrition over their roles in profiting from the credit bubble that led to the financial crisis. As another reputation specialist, Franz Paasche at Communications Consulting Worldwide in New York, told the International Herald Tribune in November, one of the repercussions of this perceived personal failing might be that banks will be ill-equipped to fight for the policies they want in Washington. By contrast, CEO Gil Scharf of the brokerage firm Euro Brokers established a reputation as a compassionate and ethical corporate leader after his firm lost 61 people, a third of its staff, in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Jordan, who is a personal friend of Scharf, called him right after the tragedy and they talked about how to handle that unforeseen crisis. "I said you're going to be judged by how you treat the families of the victims," says Jordan. "He had no other thought than that." Scharf made himself accessible to the press, relating personal recollections of employees who had died, and quickly set up a relief fund for the families.

Kathy Bronstein, former CEO of the Southern California-based fashion retailer Wet Seal, turned to Jordan over another matter that could have damaged her reputation: In February 2003, after 18 years with the company, she was fired from Wet Seal with no warning. The company had suffered two quarters of poor performance, but less than a year before "many in the industry were hailing her as a merchandising genius," the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Michelle told me when I should accept a media interview and when I shouldn't," says Bronstein. When Bronstein did talk to the media, she was up front about the firing, as well as her subsequent lawsuit against the company (for wrongful termination, gender discrimination, defamation, emotional distress and invasion of privacy) and settlement. A year after Bronstein lost her job, the local newspaper, the Orange County Register, ran an interview in which she owned up to having occasionally lost her temper as a boss, but also made it clear that she had moved on, reassessed her life, and become happy with her new part-time consulting business, which continues to thrive. Bronstein says Jordan was particularly helpful in showing her how to steer interviews so that she was able to tell her side of the story. "I'd recommend Michelle in any situation where someone needs advice on how to minimize the downside," she says.    

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