Citywealth pearls of wisdom: David Rigg: protecting reputations

Date: 03 Oct 2008


David Rigg is the founder of Project Associate, a leading UK consultancy specialising in reputation and crisis management for private individuals. He offers his pearls of wisdom for clients and banks.

“Many high net worth individuals have spent a lifetime far from the public eye, and sensibly so. The have frequently built an enviable reputation amongst their friends, family and business colleagues. Reputation is a precious asset requiring nurture and husbanding often over many years. But it is also a fragile creature and can be destroyed in a day. Profile and reputation do not always make good companions.

I am often asked “I think I need a higher public profile, can you help?” My default answer is – “What on earth for?”

In today’s frenetic media world with its twenty four hour rolling news, populist newspapers and explosive growth of the internet, a high public profile carries with it many hidden risks. Few of us would want every nook and cranny of our lives past and present put under the microscope.

Of course there can be sound reasons for having a higher profile – Richard Branson is a master of the art and has often said he does it because it is much cheaper than advertising and it has helped to build his businesses and create the powerful Virgin brand. Where there is a good business reason then a carefully planned approach is needed to avoid, so far as possible, the pitfalls that await the uninitiated. This is not an area where flying blind is to be advised.

And then there are those who have a profile thrust upon them whether they like it or not. I have acted over the years for some of the world’s richest people, often inheriting great wealth upon the death of a parent or other relative. If the benefactor was in the public eye, then so will be the beneficiary. Even if they were not, other events – family feuds, indiscretions by offspring or attacks by disgruntled ex employees for example – can conspire to bring the beam of the searchlight into play. And that can be an uncomfortable and even frightening experience.

So what to do? The point, as the military would say, is that time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. In other words planning is key. Working closely with existing advisors, a careful review of the reputational risks needs to be undertaken and then a plan constructed. Every case is different, each person has their own individual requirements and it is certainly not a case of “one size fits all”.

If sufficiently well thought through there is in fact no need for the individual’s life to be ruined or turned into a constant game of cat and mouse with the media. There are strong privacy laws in this country and sensible, reasonable precautions can help clients to avoid many of the obstacles along the route. The secret is to plan, because the day the media calls for your comment it’s too late.

Thoughts for financial organisations dealing with the current economic turmoil

As far as hedge funds are concerned, I believe their past secretive behaviour will make them the fall guys, mainly because they’ve actively pursued invisibility. You could draw the same parallels with private equity organisations but they have been much better at putting their houses in order and aren’t in the same firing line. I believe, hedge fund people will have their secrecy come back to bite them now.
On the overall situation, it is a warning, when people in large numbers are not prudent with client money, it becomes very difficult to separate one private bank from all the other private banks. Every bank will have to live through the pain of majority mistakes now. I advise that private banks keep communication channels, at all levels wide open. Not just press coverage but keeping clients with substantial assets informed of changing situations and reassured: a lot of communication is important. And from a customers point of view with assets and money in a bank, it’s a good time to take some professional advice on the security of the institution holding capital.

Contact: Heidi Mallace for any further information

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