HNW Families must launch their own websites – Washington would have, says Jordan Greenaway
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 westward.
People would not wake up until France attacked, George 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 these 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 Secondly, many families have messy online footprints that are comprised of out-of-date news coverage, financial records and potentially embarrassing social media accounts.
Our latest research, however, hints at a 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 or new ones for their family offices or foundations. This will enable them to communicate information that is up-to-date, comprehensive and, crucially, framed in a language they recognise as their own.
In fact, we found the public preferred reading about families in their own words. 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 im-age. Some 42 per cent of the public said they would go out of their way to read about a family’s mission and values.
But it is easy to get this wrong. These websites should not be egotistical or overly chummy. Big, personal imagery is damaging, found the research. And first-person language should be avoided.
In a world where information moves faster by the day, 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.