Tell most principals behind a family office they need media and reputational support and it’s likely to send shivers up their spine. While that might be the case, an increasing number of families are starting to recognise their “vulnerability to the media”, says Jordan Greenaway, managing director of London-based Transmission Private.
“Reputation is a powerful tool; one that crosses the boundary between public and personal lives. An effective reputation can give families vast influence, reach and the ability to defend and advance their interests. But leveraging this reputation is not easy and often you need creative, surprising and contrarian strategies to deliver results,” explains Greenaway.
He goes onto say that this is something that many families and family offices are only starting to come to terms with this now, drawing on a comparison with other companies.
“It would be difficult to find a company with a market capitalisation of £100 million that didn’t have a dedicated media team responsible for looking after the company’s brand and reputation,” says Greenaway. “Yet, you have families and family offices that are managing multiples of that value in terms of wealth that have no-one on hand to manage and control their reputation and media – and safeguard the family name. I think that is incredibly risky.”
A family’s reputation also interfaces with how they are viewed within private circles, such as the investment, political and wider business communities
It is this realisation that led him to set up Transmission Private four years ago, which has carved out a name for itself as a private office that works exclusively with families and family offices, helping individuals manage and control their media interest.
“Our clients tend to be first, or second-generation entrepreneurs, family business owners, investors, philanthropists, political donors, or financiers,” says Greenaway. “But while our first conversation might be with the family office principal, we work with the family unit as a whole, becoming a protective shield between them and the media, making sure that coverage is fair, balanced and representative.”
Greenaway goes on to say that he considers their work to be “defensive” in the first instance; more interested in “safeguarding and protecting” a family’s name and reputation than promoting their clients and families. “Due to their success, our clients attract a certain degree of natural press interest. They want that press interest managed in a subtle, low-profile and professional way.”
So, what does a media office focused on family offices do? “We look after every part of the family’s reputation, advising around the media risk of investments, philanthropic engagement and much else besides,” says Greenaway. “Increasingly, part of our strategy is ensuring that the family’s online profile is balanced and representative.”
But a family’s reputation goes much deeper than just what is in the papers, according to Greenaway. “A family’s reputation also interfaces with how they are viewed within private circles, such as the investment, political and wider business communities. As a result, our work also involves facilitating introductions and meetings with other business leaders, figures, and international organisations.”
Transmission Private’s success has been a result of better understanding how private clients think, according to its founder. “I feel our strength has been in understanding the psychology of families and their businesses better than anyone else in the industry. Most private clients do not want media coverage; it is a necessary evil that sometimes has to be stomached. Too many other companies seem to relish getting their clients in the media, which we do not think is in tune with many clients’ needs.”
It has also been driven by how online and digital has changed the media. “Five or ten years ago an unfair or unrepresentative piece of media coverage may have been frustrating, but it wouldn’t, by and large, create long-term problems. That isn’t the case today. An unfair piece of coverage can sit against an individual or family’s name in Google search results for years in the future. That has focused many people’s mind.”
He adds: “It is also the case that family offices have reached a level of maturity where they need dedicated media support. Many family offices are involved in a large number of complicated investments, and these can end up posing media risks to the family if they are not tightly controlled and they don’t have someone who can offer an assessment of the media risks. We are often on quick-dial for the families’ family offices, including their wealth and philanthropic managers.”
The industry has traditionally been called “reputation management” which causes Greenaway to bristle
The industry has traditionally been called “reputation management” which causes Greenaway to bristle. “I have always disliked that term. There is a misconception that reputation management is only needed by families who have something to hide. That is not the case at all. Individuals and families now have a choice: to take control of how they are perceived by the outside world, or to leave it in the hands of someone else – or even the Google algorithm – to define for them.”
Family Capital asks him to explain what this means in practice, and he goes on to cite an example from a recent client. “When we started work with one family, the only thing you could find about them online was the dividends they took out in 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013. There were four separate news stories about this in a leading newspaper. This was despite the fact that the family was highly active in philanthropy, and was doing some really interesting work in environmental conservation. Our work involved giving them a more balanced and fairer profile online and in the media.”
While Transmission Private has seen an increase in interest from families over the last 12 months, Greenaway said that this has posed challenges in and of itself as the practice is keen to retain the “personal touch that has distinguished us from other companies in the sector”.
In fact, in an industry where large companies are the norm, Greenaway says he has taken the conscious decision to stay small. “We are structured more like a hedge fund or boutique investment management firm. Each of our clients works with a single dedicated Partner of the practice, and their only contact will be with that individual who looks after their every media need. That means that all client information and data is kept as securely as possible. It also means that our clients build up personal, trusted relationships with our firm – rather than being parcelled between different departments.”
In the past public relations has been subject to a certain degree of natural criticism over the years, so how does Greenaway assess the impact of his work? “For many clients, we have very defined briefs around how they want to be perceived and by whom; that might be by the public in general, or perhaps just the investment or political community. We do not shy away from setting those out clearly with our families. The whole private client space is built on trust, and openness and honesty with our clients is a critical element of that,” he says.
“Overall though, I would say this: we have delivered value if they are more comfortable with their profile, both in public and private circles, and they start sleeping easier about potential media intrusion and reputational harm. They know that we have it under control 24/7. It puts their mind at ease.”
This is a Partner Content Article in association with Transmission Private