Do reputations matter?


There was a time when a scandal meant the end of a public career. The reputations of politicians, business people and TV celebrities could be ruined when an affair or sniff of corruption became the subject of newspaper headlines.

But now?

What is going on when America has to choose between Donald Trump, a man accused of indecent behavior towards women, and Hillary Clinton, a woman rebuked for allegedly being underhand and secretive with her email account, as its next president? The slurs against their reputations have been batted away by supporters as either ‘a bit of banter’ or merely ‘unfortunate’ and both candidates marched on.

While there are myriad reasons why this is possible, two very modern trends have had a significant impact – the first is the rise of the brand and the second is the proliferation of the media.

Trump is a brand, not a politician. He is a maverick, a disruptor, with a particular tone of voice. People expect him to say what he thinks, even if that is abrasive and offends. His core supporters are not surprised by his boasts of his power over women, accepting them because they fit the Trump brand. Ultimately, comments that would ruin most candidates’ chances in the polls haven’t toppled Trump from the pedestal upon which he has been placed by a faithful section of the electorate.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is a professional politician and the expectations placed upon her are quite different.

Many American voters expect the establishment to behave in a certain way – one that is far removed from their own interests. A key reason why the matter of her emails became so pivotal is that while some might fear what Trump says when he stands up to speak, they are equally scared of an establishment that is perceived to be hiding the whole truth about its candidate’s alleged misdeeds.

But in the face of all accusations, neither blinked and today’s multi-channeled media has a lot to do with this. The voracious appetite of the news media, along with the power of the multitude of social media platforms means that the conversation can move incredibly quickly.

During the campaign the debate around Trump’s attitude towards women or Clinton’s handling of government emails never went away, but they could be defended instantly and loudly in key online communities. For instance, Clinton’s reputation is built around many different facets – including her knowledge and experience of government, and her role as steadfast wife and mother, breaking the ultimate glass ceiling. Different, positive narratives can be broadcast; new stories published to appeal directly to the engaged audiences. The strange modern reality of today’s media is that reputations can go up and down with remarkable alacrity.

So do reputations matter? Reputation means different things to different people and over this week, Bill Stevenson of The Boys Brigade and Caroline Jones Carrick of TEV, give their own interpretations.

What Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton show us is that the answer to the question is still yes, and more than ever, a reputation has to have substance and be consistent. A reputation can have many dimensions, but one built around false perceptions leads to disaster; it needs to be constantly reinforced and at times defended.

Lizzy Lambley is a Director at Indigo