Remember back in ’06 when Jack Abramoff was in hot water? Remember how sinister (read: guilty) he looked coming out of the courthouse dressed as a gangster circa 1920? Well, similar things keep happening – high profile defendants totally botching their projected image. Don’t their handlers get it? You need to project as positive an image as you can. A lot is riding on it.
Think about Brett Reid’s case (for those of you that don’t know, Brett, 22, the son of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid). Anyway, the guy got caught (again) drunk behind the wheel at four in the afternoon. So what is Brett wearing as he enters the courthouse? A bold, pinstripe suit reminiscent of a Goodfella.
The point here is simple. If you’ve messed up and are on the other side of the law, you need to project an image that says, “I messed up. I need to show the court, the media and the public that I am really a good person at heart who is at least attempting to appear sorry for what he did – not some untouchable in a Mafioso suit with matching handcuffs.” Brett’s people should have nixed his choice in attire and gone with a simple, contrite charcoal suit with a white shirt and calm tie (see Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens).
Now I am no fashion expert, but I do know a bit about perception and image. Do you think the judge looked at Brett and thought, “Hmmm… maybe this kid just has some issues and needs help.” No. He thought, “Who does this guy think he is coming into my court room looking like Sylvio Dante?”
The bottom line is that if you’re in trouble, do everything you can to set the perception going forward and control the direction of your reputation. Dress calmly and professionally. Maintain a neutral facial expression (unlike this one). Speak with contrition. Don’t block out cameras. Be respectful. Just try to be as human as possible – it will resonate with the court, the media and the public.