What is your brand, and is it protected? I grew up believing my brand was “me” and I didn’t have to do much about it except be “me.” The “me” brand can change: the photo shows an old one. But everyone’s experienced how being yourself can be challenging and people around you might see, or claim to see, a very different being when they look at you. Just-being-me has become a brand to be managed and shielded from distortion and outright lies. Have you checked outsiders’ comments on your social media lately?
If your brand includes a public persona connected with business, entertainment, or politics, you must engage Public Relations and Reputation Management. You don’t belong to you anymore but to your handlers and the public. This can be enormously profitable if you want to hide a devil within and display an angel without. Think Machiavelli, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Jekyll and Hyde, Dorian Gray, and a current public figure of your choice. Reputation laundering has built-in mysteries.
To write Where Privacy Dies, I looked into opposition research, reputation doctoring, and risk management. These strategies can legitimately benefit the individual and the public. The response to the Tylenol murders in 1982 are held up as an example of a corporation, the media, and law enforcement acting together to track down who had taken bottles of the pain reliever from drugstore shelves to lace them with poison. One outcome was the development of tamper-proof caps and reassurance that Tylenol was safe again. Reputation management during crises can cover up all kinds of misdoing. Think of Volkswagen lying about their vehicles’ emissions or Russia using Facebook to meddle in U.S. elections, as reported by USA Today. Also see BusinessInsider’s list of Corporate PR disasters. I wish I could say that The New Yorker writer Ed Caesar read an advance copy of Where Privacy Dies. He did his own excellent research to expose a PR firm, its equivocating founder, and a company seeking to influence a government in “Reputation Laundering”.
It’s fun in fiction to have absolutely delicious villains, and reputation management offered itself. And good luck with your brand.