11 Strategies To Protect The Family Reputation

Fire ImageLast week we looked at the New Risks to Family Cohesiveness and what can damage the family reputation or family brand. This week I share 11 Strategies to Protect that reputation.

    • Agree that the family’s reputation is a most valuable asset that can impact wealth preservation and legacy, and treat it with equal consideration.
    • Include “reputation risk” as part of the regular risk analysis and management meetings. The goal is always to prevent a crisis, which is best done by addressing a festering situation before it erupts. Query family members on pending marriages or divorces, new businesses or philanthropic causes and early onset of illness such as Alzheimer’s that could impact sound decision making, particularly in business.
    • Conduct an Internet audit on key family members – that is, check their online profiles for listings or postings on search engines, social media sites, news media sites, blogs, etc. It’s time consuming, but important and there are firms that can do this for you. If information is accessible by someone else, you need to know it too. While in most cases it isn’t possible to remove negative postings, it is possible to develop strategies to build up a body of positive references, online and offline, to help suppress negative postings. Remember, most people only check the first three pages of an Internet search. Consider retaining a cleaning service to purge unflattering or unwanted digital material.
    • Become familiar with social networks and photo and video websites. While adults may be higher on the “life experience” scale than their children, they are almost certainly lower than their kids on the “tech savvy” scale. Find out what sites younger family members are accessing; what is being posted and with whom they are “chatting.” Remind everyone that anything that is posted becomes a matter of public record. Make it clear that you online presence should not be automatic- don’t “friend” everyone who contacts you-successfully managing social media means and make it clear what the positive power of social media is – the object should not be to collect friends; it should be to have worthwhile communications.
    • Agree not to disclose any confidential or unflattering information about any family member (or ex family member) or post any unflattering or compromising pictures of them in social media platforms, agree not to use vulgar or sexually explicit language in social media platforms.
    • Identify a “family crisis team” – advisors who can step up to the plate immediately should a situation erupt. It should include two or three respected family members, the estate planning attorney, a family office advisor, a communications professional and a trusted family friend with good independent judgment. Carry this contact list with you. Crises can erupt any time and gain ground fast. Most newspapers today have an online presence and while it might take until the next day for a story to appear in print, it will be uploaded to the Internet almost instantly.
    • Consider some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to resolve family disputes. Keeping the matter outside of the courts can help keep the media and public from finding out about it. “The desire for confidentiality is a significant factor in the increased use of ADR, both arbitration and mediation,” says Justice Sheila Prell Sonenshine, retired California Superior Court Judge and Court of Appeals Judge, now a mediator and arbitrator with Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services. “Addressing potentially embarrassing family matters is often necessary to resolving family disputes and ultimately restoring harmony. ADR assures confidentiality of even the most sensitive or explosive issues. Financial pressure ignites and fuels family business disputes, more so in tougher economic times. Underlying family discord further accelerates these matters, particularly when the issues become public.”
    • Have a simple crisis plan developed and in place – and share it with the family. If a crisis occurs, those involved will be prepared. Decide in advance who acts as the family spokesperson and have that person media trained. (The family attorney may not be best; in the court of public opinion putting the attorney out in front is often interpreted as “defensive” or “something to hide” and that may not be the case.) Establish rules for confidentiality, including use of e-mails, to avoid fueling rumor mills. Often, it isn’t the crisis itself that causes damage but the way in which it is handled, particularly the communications aspects.
    • Be open to opportunities that can “enhance” the family’s good name. This can carry great weight in the event a family does come under fire. While “publicity” for its own sake can be a gratuitous exercise, a strategic approach to public recognition, in both online and offline media, can shine a beacon on important values and principles for which a family wishes to be known.

Source material:  Reputation Management in the Internet Age,” published in Trusts & Estates in August 2010 by Johnson & Soldano.  Click here for article.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit, http://www.patriciaannino.com.

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