Have you ever wondered why that celebrity that you were so sure you hated just last month, now you have nothing but warm fuzzy feelings about? Doesn’t it seem like the internet was just obsessing over Alec Baldwin‘s voicemail blow-up at his daughter, or Vanessa Hudgens‘ naked pictures, and suddenly the only stories you’re hearing are about are them adopting a dog or working for Habitat for Humanity?
Well that’s not an accident. It means someone’s doing their job.
We spoke to Cliff Stein of Reputation Changer, a company that specializes in ‘online reputation management’. In this digital age, with information so readily and speedily available, for better or for worse, you are defined by the most recent thing you did. Or really, the most recent thing that people remember that you did. Like right now, you remember that Amanda Bynes got a DUI, because it was a month ago and it’s still all over the internet. But if you wanted to remind yourself which other celebrities have been arrested in the past five to ten years for driving under the influence, you’d probably head straight to Google, search ‘celebrity DUIs’, and click one of the first five to ten links. And if you’re one of those celebrities who’s showing up on the first page of search results time and time again, even years after the fact, your reputation is taking a heavy, unnecessary beating. Which is where Cliff and his team step in.
Once you hire Cliff or someone else from Reputation Changer, their goal is to give you back control of your online image so you know exactly what people are going to see when they look you up online. In Cliff’s own words:
“People get most of their information from the internet, and people are drawn to the negative, so it’s important that we suppress those negative listings and get the focus back on the positive, through blog posts, press releases, and building up new websites.”
This may sound on the surface like sweeping misdeeds under the rug, but Cliff made a good point in our conversation that he doesn’t think anyone, whether celebrity or not, should be defined by their mistakes. Particularly if they’ve addressed it and moved forward to doing better things with their life, it’s not fair if it keeps showing up as the first hit on a search engine, constantly fueling peoples’ interest in it. Cliff recommends his services to celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and John Travolta — neither of whom have employed Cliff’s services — who are deeply involved in controversy but interested in moving forward with their lives without being bogged down by old scandal.
In the case of John Travolta in particular, Cliff uses that case to illustrate the fact that when a story breaks about a celebrity, it really doesn’t matter if it’s true:
“It’s not my job to play judge or jury. Most of the time you don’t know the true story. The only person who really knows the truth is the person who’s actually being reported on. When they go to court, and there’s investigations, a lot of times they’re found to be true and a lot of times they’re found to be false. But false accusations can drastically affect people on a personal and professional level.”
Regardless of the content of the allegations, Cliff recommends addressing them head-on in a genuine way, and then moving forward and refusing to discuss them again. It’s all about taking control of the message and moving on with your life, with your career. If you stop talking about it, others will too.
Cliff acknowledges that he has no direct influence on the clients themselves and their behavior. He’s not an agent or a manager, so if they want to continue their bad behavior, they will, and he’ll just continue working to subdue the evidence of it on the internet. In some ways, it seems to me to be a very thankless job, since if he really does it well, no one will have any idea that he’s doing it, but he says he does feel positive effects:
“Well we knew what it is going into it. We knew that this was a very confidential thing that we were doing, so we get all the satisfaction that we need off the back-end. [A client] will call and say, ‘You made all the difference in the world,’ and that’s all that we need. Even if we don’t get that phone call, we see them going about their lives and that’s all you need.”
And hey, you never know. For somebody like Lindsay Lohan, she might start to like the feeling of having a better reputation, and that might encourage her to clean up her act a little bit in real life. Anything’s possible!
But what I really want to know is…how many of these Reputation Changer guys do you think Chris Brown has on his payroll working behind the scenes right now? Because otherwise I don’t understand how he could beat the shit out of a woman’s face and we’d still give him a Grammy. C’mon people.
Sigh. It’s a weird job, but I guess somebody has to do it.