Money is a potent factor when it comes to reputations. How money is used, spent or paid out is a great source of drama, agitating and exciting emotions (good and bad) and as such provides the perfect material for today’s media whose audience is struggling with day to day austerity.
The BBC made the headlines because of overly generous pay offs to high ranking staff. Oh how the man in the street would like to be treated so well! Perhaps fortunately for the BBC, the debacle became concentrated on the chaotic squabbling of its senior directors and everyone’s faith in their favourite aunty has not been seriously shaken.
The Beeb after all has given us the World Service, Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing and the depth of affection for the institution has been earned over many years.
Not so fortunate are the banks. The new chief of RBS had to announce that he would not be taking a bonus (at least for two years) to deny the media the prospect of masses of column inches on the subject when the next set of results are reported. Bonuses are currently seen as surreal self-interest rather than reward for performance over and above the call of duty and cannot be a media distraction when the bank has greater issues of trust and reputation to deal with.
Similarly, the newly re-vamped TSB has said, quite deliberately, that it would be looking at the whole culture of bonuses. Thus, even a brand rooted in community as the TSB, has to be acutely aware of media agenda while re-establishing its position in the public eye.
Money in the form of political donations is another topical and interesting reputation conundrum.
Do you have the courage of your convictions and gain leadership status from raising your head above the parapet, or do you attract over bearing scrutiny that weakens or undermines your reputation? Just as with the BBC, when money is the issue it can often depend on what has gone on before. Ultimately, it is about the integrity of the act within the bigger context that matters.
Even spending philanthropically can have an edge if it’s allowed to be misinterpreted. Is it about the giver or the good it achieves?
Madonna was roundly condemned for the way she went about adopting an African child. Brad PItt and Angelina Jolie have been embraced for their crusade to adopt children into their family. Same spirit of generosity but perceived very differently.
In today’s media, excess may be acceptable in Hello magazine, but for everything else the demonstration of wealth needs to be associated with clearly presented principles, a track record or known culture. It also needs very careful media management.