Leaders List interview: 60 seconds with Amber Melville-Brown, Withers

Date: 05 Apr 2022

Silvia Ricciardi

Amber Melville-Brown, Withers

Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.

I am the Global Head of Media and Reputation at international law firm Withersworldwide with team members in offices across the world. Operating effectively as a boutique practice within the global operation, we have the privilege of enjoying and providing our clients with the best of both worlds – specialist legal and industry knowledge and relationships, supported by and part of an international operation offering exceptional levels of service and breadth of capabilities.

I operate at the interface between my clients and the media, or any other third party or organisation where my clients’ reputation, privacy, data, information, communications or health and safety are at play. I have been in this world my entire professional life: it is a world that I love and a role I am passionate about.

Talk us through one of your most recent client cases.

In my role I manage the reputations and protect the privacy of the stars of the silver screen, the stage and the stadium, as well as those with their heads below the publicity parapet. So I could tell you tales that would make your eyes water and your toes curl… Except, of course, that I can’t, and I don’t. In my role, discretion is the better part of valour, indeed it is vital.

I can say that I have advised heads of state, heads of business and heads of families. I’ve helped clients who are high-profile, high net worth, high-rollers, high-octane…whether they are involved in high jinks or facing the low reputational blows of third-party allegations. 

I advise clients from the eggs to apples of reputation protection: one client was the subject of a leaked internal investigation, and subsequent sky-high headlines repeating toxic allegations – here I needed to correct the record to staunch the flow of reputational blood; another client got to me, and I got to the reporter, just before his fingers hit the keyboard, and by engaging sensibly to correct misinformation, no readers were misled and the client avoided any headlines at all. While both examples concluded successfully one was a marathon, the other a sprint.

What are the most important skills and personal qualities for a lawyer specialised in Reputation Management?

This may go against accepted norms, but I firmly believe that an important quality for a successful lawyer is to be a human being. Legal knowledge, an ability to digest and assess information, and to do it quickly, are necessary to advise a client in a crisis. But emotional intelligence and empathy are equally important to understand both the client and their needs as well as the opponent and their motivations. Further, the ability to communicate efficiently and effectively is essential – and lest we forget, communication involves listening, as well as speaking. Crisis management is not for the faint-hearted; the role requires a large dose of brainpower, a good amount of stamina, a sensible slice of sensitivity, a healthy serving of guts, and a nice portion of persistence.

Are your clients behaving differently in the present era?

Today we operate in a world where our activities – public and ostensibly private – are recorded in perpetuity on the brightly lit noticeboard of the Internet. Where once upon a time individuals could suffer a reputation malfunction in the “fish ‘n’ chip” wrap of a newspaper yet still achieve rehabilitation before the chips were cold, today we carry our past around with us like a suitcase full of old clothes, ready to be sprung open at the blink of an inquisitive eye, and against which we are constantly judged.

Our activities as human beings have not fundamentally changed over the decades since the Internet was born to shackle us. But we need to learn to live in a world where we are constantly under scrutiny and where information and misinformation can travel across the world at the touch of a button, doing potentially irreparable harm. Being alive to this possibility, and acting accordingly, can be a vital step in keeping our reputation from being fatally wounded.

Worst and best parts of your job. 

Explaining to friends and family why I missed their weekend away, birthday celebrations, dinner party versus the professional satisfaction of pulling a weekender and successfully solving a client’s problem.

Witnessing the stress of a client feeling helpless in the face of media scrutiny versus helping the client bravely front up to and successfully face down negative media attention.

Risking high blood pressure to achieve great results for clients versus the adrenalin of achieving them.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given?

My grandmother read me poetry when I was young, and a line from Robert Browning stayed with me: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?” While not (necessarily) a believer in heaven, I am a believer in not being complacent. Thus far, that for which I have reached in my professional life has happily proved to be within my grasp. The advice took me to university – my twin sister and I the first in our family to go; it led me to becoming a lawyer, a part-time lecturer and university examiner, a legal writer and commentator; it encouraged me to cross the Atlantic and go “back to school” as a mature student, graduating in the top 10% of my year with a Masters in American law; and to re-qualifying at the New York bar. It has also given me the impetus to lead the firm’s global Giving Back branch overseeing our charitable endeavours, including participating in the Three Peak Challenge, mountaineering the three tallest mountains in Great Britain in 24 hours. Now that is an aim that I feared at times would exceed my grasp… But happily, Granny and Browning’s advice kept me going to the end. I hope the mantra will continue to lead me well in my life and professional career.

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