Families must launch their own websites — President Washington would have

In 1799, America's first President was worried. He was concerned his countrymen had not fully recognised the risk Napoleon — at the time waging war in Europe and Africa — presented to America if he turned his attention west.

George Washington

People would not wake up until France attacked, President Washington wrote in a letter to painter John Trumbull. Instead, America needed to get on the front foot; "offensive operations… are the surest… means of defense", he recommended. Today, many families are acting like early Americans. They are ignoring the sleeping risks to their reputations at a time when they need to be proactive.

What are the risks? Firstly, wealthy families are coming under increasing political and public pressure to communicate their economic impact to the outside world. Secondly, many families have messy online profiles, blending out-of-date news coverage, intrusive public financial records and potentially embarrassing social media accounts. This information will only increase with the rollout of new financial transparency rules.

“Wealthy families are coming under increasing political and public pressure to communicate their economic impact to the outside world.”

Our latest research, however, shows a powerful yet simple solution. Rather than let their reputations be determined by third-party information, families need to put more information online about themselves — perhaps on existing family company websites, new ones for their family offices or foundations or even via platforms like The Marque. This will enable them to communicate information that is not only up to date and comprehensive but framed in a language they recognise as their own.

In fact, we found the public preferred reading about families in their own words rather than through third-party information. Sixty-seven per cent of the public said they would read a family's website, more than the number who would click through to news coverage. These websites also gave families the opportunity to add depth to their image. Forty-two per cent of the public said they would go out of their way to read about a family's mission and values.

But families can get it wrong. These websites should not be egotistical, self-centred or chummy. Big personal imagery is damaging, found the research. And first-person language makes it sound like a family is trying to ingratiate themselves.

“We found the public preferred reading about families in their own words — rather than through third-party information.”

In a world where information moves faster by the day, the sleeping risks to families have never been higher. Families need to get on the front foot, cut through misinformation, and communicate directly via their own websites. The best defense is a good offense. Don't take it from me, take it from President Washington.

Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.