Heather Claycomb: Protecting reputations in post-Weinstein world

Written by Heather Claycomb, FPRINZ, HMC Communications

If you've found yourself gasping at Hamilton City councillor Mark Bunting's inappropriate words and actions over the past week, keep reading.

First of all let's establish that I agree his communication with freelance journalist Angela Cuming was absolutely wrong. So wrong that within 24 hours, every national media outlet was all over the story, as were some international ones. And fair enough.

It's incredibly easy to join the masses in pointing the finger and criticising his actions. But remember as you point your finger at him, there are four more fingers pointing back at yourself.

Think you have nothing to worry about? Think again.

Every one of us – women included – need to take stock, hit the reset button and change our communication behaviour. Adopt the "this doesn't apply to me" approach at your peril.

Every man and woman who cares about their personal and professional reputation needs to understand that we are living in a new, post-Harvey Weinstein era.

On October 5, the New York Times started the ball rolling with the first story on Weinstein's decades of inappropriate sexual behaviour. This one scandal has now changed how the world views sexual misconduct, including the "boys will be boys" behaviour that many would have shrugged off only months ago.

Women around the globe can celebrate Weinstein's accusers for helping raise awareness of sexual misbehaviour which happens in every industry every day. Because of those brave women, millions around the world now have a voice and confidence to speak up when something happens to them.

What the Weinstein scandal also did was make people hyper vigilant in pointing out inappropriate sexual innuendo. Gone is the era when snide comments, unsavoury jokes, a pat on the bum and flirtatious behaviour is overlooked. And that should make us all a bit scared.

Because it's not enough to control your future actions. Everything you've ever posted on social media could be dredged up and scrutinised. Every drunken, flippant comment you've made at office parties may come back to bite you. It's frightening but it's true.

And the ripple effects on one's reputation can be catastrophic.

Working in public relations, I'm in the business of protecting reputations and the environment we're working in today feels like there are pit bulls hidden around every corner, ready and waiting to tear you apart. One wrong word or action can literally ruin your reputation in a matter of minutes.

So, what can you do to protect your reputation?

I think the biggest thing we all need to do is pause. Pause before you act, pause before you tweet, pause before you tell a joke – just pause.

We live and work in a busy, busy world where we push our send, tweet, post, snap buttons with alarming speed at all hours of the day. If your reputation is important to you, you cannot continue this mindless behaviour.

Instead, we must build in a pause before we hit that button to ask ourselves, "Could this possibly offend the person I'm sending this to or people they could share it with?" If there is any possibility the answer is yes, don't push it.

Let this be a timely reminder as we enter the holiday season. Many of us will be imbibing with workmates and be out in public with our guards down.

As you do, keep Weinstein in mind and remember, there are no private conversations any more and everything you do in public can go viral on social or end up on the front page of Stuff. Anyone can take photos, videos or share your every word or move – even without your knowledge.

So, just be mindful to build in your pause.

Because one thing is for sure: we're going to see a lot more high-profile people outed for their inappropriate behaviour. Behaviour that would have been "excused" – albeit wrongly – only a few short months ago. Don't let it be you.

Heather Claycomb is director of Hamilton public relations agency, HMC Communications, and a Fellow of the Public Relations Institute of NZ.