The Wife of Weinstein – the unsuspecting victim

A tainted reputation is like a bad cold. It’s contagious and spreads rapidly by association – as the Harvey Weinstein case has so poignantly demonstrated. Weinstein was married for ten years to London-born fashion designer, Georgina Chapman, in a relationship which outstripped the length of your typical Hollywood marriage.

The recent allegations of sexual harassment and more saw Weinstein’s personal and professional reputation spiral out of control in a spectacular fashion – a stark contrast to the authority he’s used to commanding in the producer’s chair.

Only days after the first allegations Weinstein’s wife announced she was leaving him despite his previous assurances that his wife “stands 100 percent behind” him. In a brave act of solidarity with the complainants, she revealed, “My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions. I have chosen to leave my husband.”

Denouncing his actions and distancing herself from his tainted reputation should surely help protect hers? Not so far. Outraged fans of the complainants have called for a boycott of Mrs Weinstein’s company, Marchesa. The fashion brand, which designs bridalwear, handbags and jewellery has already been dropped by Helzberg Diamonds. US Weekly stylists decided not to use Marchesa gowns unless Chapman left her husband or donated to a women’s charity. Chapman’s business has found itself at the mercy of a moral debate.

It’s unlikely that the mother-of-two would have turned a blind-eye to her husband’s misdemeanours. If she were unaware of his unwelcome sexual advances towards other women surely her reputation, and that of her company, deserve to be spared? It seems Weinstein agrees. In a recent statement following their split, Weinstein claimed, “I fully support her decision. […] I know she has to do what is best for the children, for herself and her business, she employs 130 people.” In spite of his bawdy machismo, it seems Weinstein has an astute eye for reputational matters, aware that his tainted reputation was likely to spread, encompassing his wife, her business and affecting her 130 employees.

For anyone, anywhere, embroiled in a reputation crisis, the first step is to appraise the situation and try to take back control. There needs to be a foolproof, honest public statement about what went wrong. Only in rare cases will a “no comment” approach suffice. Once the eye of the storm has abated, the PR strategy should be reappraised. Any fight back strategy for Marchesa, for example, should encompass how the business plans to disassociate itself from Weinstein. It must emphasise the brand’s credibility away from purely its success on the movie red carpet and demonstrate the leadership team is broader than Mrs Weinstein. Only then can the company begin to move forward from the damage inflicted on its reputation.

As the allegations against the movie mogul continue to mount, who will the reputation contagion claim as its next victim?

13 October 2017

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Top PR – A Man’s Game?

First Published by PR Week 9 October 2017 (

As an industry, PR is highly inclusive of women. Or so it seems. Women comprise 64 percent of the total workforce, yet only 13 percent inhabit board-level and partner positions. In an age where women occupy positions such as President of the Supreme Court, Police Commissioner and Prime Minister, why are the upper echelons of PR still perceived as unreachable for many?

Recently Spear’s published its ranking of Top Ten Reputation Managers for those who identify as High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs).  Remarkably, female PR advisors failed to feature at all – not only absent from the Top Ten but also from the subsequent list of 16 notable names.

In marked contrast, Spear’s featured two women in its ranking of Top Ten Wealth Managers, and scores of leading female lawyers across various legal disciplines. Yet the financial sector is notorious for its underrepresentation of women though the legal services profession has cottoned on to the value of women in law.

Perhaps the absence of Spear’s-rated women in PR results less from Spear’s own unconscious bias, but more from the conduct of female leaders in the PR industry.

I know many talented, savvy and highly commercial women who manage others’ reputations.  I don’t know if they specifically advise those of high net worth. Which reminds me of that old tease – how do you know if someone’s a vegan?  They tell you.  Perhaps the reason I haven’t learned whether my contemporaries are also up to their eyes in advising the spectacularly wealthy is that my female friends haven’t felt the need to flash their big swinging handbags to say so.  They get on with the job at hand, often too self-effacingly, and hope their efforts are respected.

It would be more worrying were the rankings to imply that HNWIs prefer to seek counsel from male PRs.  Is there a level of trust, man-to-man, that may not be as prevalent between a drippingly wealthy male and a female PR?  Do the less enlightened believe girly PRs are good for some things but when the serious stuff happens, it’s time to call in the boys?

I actually believe men and women are naturally less willing to show their vulnerabilities to the opposite sex in the work environment – the understanding of which is necessary to build the most watertight and appropriate argument in defence of reputation.

Undoubtedly, though, we women are accountable for our reticence to acknowledge our place in the higher echelons of PR.  After all, Spear’s compiled its rankings through recommendations of HNWIs and self-nomination. Studies indicate that the biggest career hurdles women in C-suite positions face, is self-promotion and expressing our talents. Or to put it more poignantly, women’s self-advocacy is seen as excessive in comparison to men’s. Women who self-promote or indeed achieve recognition are less likely to be liked. The dreadful trolling of Laura Kuenssberg is a case in point.

As with any industry, there are obvious hurdles for women in PR to overcome – company culture, avoidance of work-place conflict, stigma in discussing salaries, unconscious biases and lack of transparency. But come on girls, let’s channel our inner vegan: ditch the reticence and speak proudly of what we do, or the big jobs will forever be perceived as belonging to the boys!

Melanie Riley, carnivore & Bell Yard Founding Director

10 October 2017

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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