We are living in an age where reputation is arguably the most valuable asset that any entity has. Cyber breaches, social media, malware, and rogue employees are just a few reputational risks that companies face on a daily basis. It is crucial that companies be on guard at all times to proactively protect and manage their reputations.
While most people think the PR team is responsible for safeguarding an organization’s reputation, the legal team is not exempt from being vigilant. It is tempting for a legal team to prioritize remaining quiet during intense legal battles to avoid future legal risk. However, this strategy does not work in the current media climate, where communication voids will be filled by someone else’s (most often opposing counsel’s) likely incorrect narrative.
The intersection between crisis, law, and communications has never been more visible than it is today. When the litigation is complete, regardless of the outcome, the goal is to emerge with your company’s reputation intact. Many lawyers are not aiming to be communications experts, but they are expected to have an appropriate team in place. The good news is that there are many traditional communications strategies that legal teams can adapt in order to navigate litigation communications effectively. Below are our top tips.
Establish the team and attorney-client privilege
You will need a team of experts who understand communications and media relations. Communications consultants are accustomed to signing NDAs and dealing with highly-sensitive client matters. Establish attorney-client privilege with the outside counsel and your PR agency from the outset and you will protect sensitive communications from legal discovery.
Take control of the narrative and craft your messages
Legal arguments aren’t just for the courtroom. You have to think about how the case will be received by a wider audience. This will likely mean translating complex legal matters into digestible sound bites that resonate across a broad swath of individuals, including business writers, consumers, and industry experts. The high-level narrative should be supported by factual proof points that spokespeople can highlight when educating the media and others.
Map out the news moments
You may not know the precise when of every milestone in the litigation, but you are likely have a good sense of the what. Decisions, motions and jury selection are all news moments that will gain the attention of the media. The team should be prepared to capitalize on those moments with multiple sets of messages that address various outcomes. This can be laid out in a sequential plan that will help to keep everyone informed and on-track, and also create a consistent and cohesive narrative.
Make a list of media targets
There may be industry reporters with whom you already have relationships, and there may be legal trade reporters who are learning about your company because they are following the case. Read what they write and update them with new information as it becomes available.
Identify/establish third-party surrogates:
Under some circumstances, it may not be appropriate or permissible for you to speak publicly about a matter. For this reason, it is important to have a stable of surrogate spokespeople who can explain and educate on your behalf. It may make sense to connect media targets with these people by providing their contact details and availability. This will also require providing spokespeople with overviews and background information to get them up to speed.
Materials that break down the history of the matter for a layperson will come in handy when communicating with media. In particular, a timeline of the case is useful, particularly when a matter is complex and originated years ago. Present the information in a straightforward way that makes it easy to connect the dots. Have all the filings ready to send as attachments in case someone wants to delve into the nuances.
Use all available channels to reach your important target audiences
Your company website, Twitter feed, and LinkedIn profile may be appropriate platforms for sharing fact sheets and Q&As, or for simply pointing people towards useful sources of information that may be illuminating. It will not always be possible to secure a slam-dunk interview, but that does not mean that you have to sit idle.
Monitor the conversation
Ideally, the team will track social media activity, traditional media, and employee chatter (if relevant) for sentiment and feedback. Legal trade publications in particular may be following the matter closely and will have a sophisticated understanding of court proceedings. However, if they don't talk to sources, there may be gaps in reporting. If any worrisome misinformation starts spreading, you can head it off at the pass and address it with the facts.
How has communications helped you in a crisis or legal situation? Do you have a litigation communications plan in place?