Character v Reputation

We’re told reputation is everything. For businesses, educational establishments, and individuals. It is something we speak to our clients about regularly – whether it is having a reputation for maintaining quality of products or services or being recognised as a good and responsible employer or global citizen.

Which is why the current and, let’s be honest, explosive libel trial between actor Johnny Depp and News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun is so gripping. There have been twists and turns, comedy and tragedy, with a plot that’s arguably been better than all of Depp’s recent films.

Depp launched the case against NGN and Dan Wootton, The Sun’s executive editor, after it published stories about the breakdown of his marriage to actor Amber Heard in which he was referred to as a ‘wife-beater’. He denies being violent towards her and, in the light of the #MeToo campaign, he was compelled to fight the allegation or face being labelled for the rest of his life.

The daily reporting of the case is keeping readers occupied for hours. Accusations of violence, verbal abuse, drug use, alcohol abuse – the list goes on. No piece of dirty laundry is being left in the basket. So you might find yourself asking: is this not more damaging than the original accusation?

The reputations of both Depp and Heard are being tarnished by the very personal and shocking stories about their relationship and lifestyle being told by them, their friends, families and staff. But as it turns out this case is not really about reputation, it’s about character.

Depp needs to prove he is not a wife-beater because that would identify him as having a bad character. Domestic violence is no laughing matter. Showbiz is unusual in what it is willing to forgive from its stars, but it does have its limits. Drug and alcohol abuse? No problem. Passing out on airplanes? Great. Leaving a number two between the sheets to make a statement? Rock and roll. Depp’s reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-living actor has, thus-far, only boosted his career, so stories about his partying and addictions are far less harmful. And, for Heard, for whom the phrase ‘critically panned’ so often goes hand in hand with her films, the exposure can’t hurt either.

Central to reputation management is understanding what your audience wants from you or your brand and the behaviours or traits that will alienate them. Crucially, it’s also about how effective your communication is when you do let them down.

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