How much will the current negative publicity about Michael Jackson impact the financial value of his legacy?
Shakespeare understood, of course: "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones" was written more than 400 years ago as Antony grieved for the murder of Julius Caesar and damned Brutus for his "honour".
Just half a dozen years ago, a group of eminent UK practitioners met to discuss the impact of post-event reputation management. "Event", in the shorthand of lawyers, accountants and financial advisers, is the death of a client.
If that client is a well-known public figure, whose position in the world contributes to his or her wealth and the prosperity of living family and business interests, the exposure of "evil" is disastrous. Perhaps it is merited, perhaps not – but what can be subdued, through media management, injunctions or rehabilitation during life, is released after death.
Now there is no such thing as ephemera. Words and opinions no longer simply fade away, they are forever in a cloud: recallable, requotable, reusable. Whatever Antony said then, Caesar is now, more or less, rehabilitated. The speech did the job: we have all forgotten the evil that man did. Everything is for sale, is a story, is a script, is a post.
But how many celebrities, politicians and business people are considering the impact of all their deeds, once they are no longer fully in control? Not many. They have been media-trained to within an inch of their lives but, oops, there's the rub...!
Once gone, who is going to control what is said? Who is going to prevent the true or false documentary; the allegations which come from a previously silent witness; the unshackling of a victim, newly empowered?
The view of les éminences grises (although a couple of us were still expensively blond at the time) was that our profession is the only one equipped to step in and manage the truth and the consequences. We are the reputation guardians of life and in death.
If unsustainable accusations are made, we must respond. If a ghastly truth emerges, shouldn't we also act to try to help innocent family from the ravages of a media melee?
We can step away – and we do – if a protagonist is alive and able to manage his or her own defence. There are quite a few current examples of that. But afterwards, in death, who will speak?
And the final conclusion of the group I chaired? In order to leave one's affairs properly in order, any 21st-century individual in the spotlight of global business, modern politics, Hollywood or simply everyday life, will retain and brief wise public relations advisers before the "event" and not wait for the family or the agent to deal with the aftermath of a revelatory media scoop.
Written by Jackie Elliot, CEO of communications firm Cathcart Consulting
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.
Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.