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Britney Spears' Conservatorship Fight Shows the Power of Reputation

We may fall, but loyalty built from a genuine appreciation of what we have to offer can build us up when we need it most.

Recent reported royal tussles have caused us to note the importance of crisis management and to query whether in the face of a media crisis the old mantra of never complain never explain holds true. Now, royalty of another kind invites us to consider how our professional clients in the financial field should be managing their reputations. I refer, of course, to none other than pop princess Britney Spears.

Some stars are seemingly too popular to fail. We have seen Britney shaven-headed, hot-tempered and under-performing; but then again we have watched her achieve the heady-heights of stardom, on fire on stage and with a successfully performing bank balance. Britney has 30 million Instagram followers and a $60 million fortune. She may at times appear like a hot-mess, but she is certainly also still hot property.

Those of us in professional services do not perform in a similar circus. But while Britney may have strut her stuff in Vegas, we perform and present every day of our professional lives; while Britney’s fortune may dwarf ours, if not our clients’, juggling and safely managing the fortunes and reputations of our clients is our songbook; and while she may command a Britney Army of 30 million loyal supporters, a key similarity is the importance of our network of clients and colleagues in enhancing and preserving our reputations.

Britney Spears’ case is far from clear–and seemingly far from over. Not unlike many of our clients who prefer to keep a relatively low profile, she kept for the most part schtum about the conservatorship in force for the past 13 years. However, her grievances boiled up and over, reaching a head of steam in her leaked and much publicised statement to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny, condemning the legal process controlling her person and her affairs.

Those of us with our feet not on the marble pedestals of celebrity, but on the solid ground of our professions, are reminded by Britney of the power of our network. The #FreeBritney movement did not start at the singer’s instigation but evolved from her devoted fans’ fear that their princess was trapped in a controlling tower of conservancy. In court papers she has thanked fans for their loyalty—it is arguable that their vocal and persistent support gave her the courage to take steps towards the court room, and the confidence to speak out once there.

Our infantry is made of clients and contacts, customers and competitors whose voices are as important in the court of public opinion. Supporters can provide approving and reputation-enhancing music to our ears, and detractors add to a sea of negative noise in a cancel culture. We’re only as good as our last performance, the adage goes. While the management of our reputations goes far beyond this, it is rooted in our performance, and how loudly and accurately that performance is communicated. A negative review or unsatisfactory reference from a client can be as damning to we professionals as the pap-snapped angry pics of umbrella-wielding Britney were to her. But umbrella aside, Britney weathered that media storm. Our own clients may be high-profile individuals satisfying millions of fans, while we are professionals advising on million dollar investments; our clients are perhaps at risk of scrutiny from 24-hour rolling news, while we are under 24/7 pressure from high-maintenance clients. Whether we are the celebrity star or the celebrated professional, the trust and loyalty of our fans, our client base and our contact list can serve to build a respected and valuable reputation. And that reputation and the admiration of our client base is built on our own performance.

If we want to manage our reputation, we can learn from Britney that while we may fall, loyalty built from a genuine appreciation of what we have to offer can build us up when we need it most.

 Amber Melville-Brown is head of the media and reputation practice at the international law firm Withers.

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