CDR’s Summer Business Crime Symposium was a well-attended and highly engaging convention that brought together like-minded individuals to discuss this fast moving area of law. The expert panel which was chaired by Gus Sellitto, Managing Director of Byfield, also consisted of Fred Banning, Head of Communications at Pinsent Masons, Melanie Ryan, Partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Daniela Conte, Assistant Director at Farrer Kane, and explored the themes of crisis management, critical risks and compliance strategies. The session was written up in CDR’s Autumn edition by Angela Bilbow.
The panel examined how in the event of a crisis both internal and external resources are utilised. The discussion centred on how the need for contingency plans and appropriate media and communications strategies, as well as for factual, legal and expert investigations becomes paramount.
However, it is widely acknowledged that the legal response and the PR response can be on different sides of the playing field and the panel talked about how to reconcile the legal and PR responses to a crisis. Communications professionals can lean towards a front foot approach, where it is beneficial to tell the whole story early, in contrast to the lawyers who may be more cautious about baring the facts early because they are conscious of litigation or regulatory concerns. In these situations often there is a value of having an external team cast light on the situation and this is a PR agency’s forte.
Gus Sellitto noted in bringing the themes of the panel together that “litigators not only have to be technically excellent, but they also need to have a holistic approach to solving their clients’ problems. Crisis management is an area where litigators with good PR support can come together and really help solve the client’s issue, pre-crisis, post-crisis and in terms of enduring reputation.”
The autumn edition of CDR also contains an informed article written by Naomi Jeffreys which explores how multinational companies hit by a scandal can limit their reputational damage. Gus is also quoted in this piece regarding responding to a crisis.
When a scandal happens, communication is vital. Within the era of 24/7 news and the rise of social media, any data breaches or allegations of fraud can be disseminated in a matter of seconds. Therefore, a timely response to a crisis is a substantial concern for multinational companies, but if the communication is not handled effectively, a rash or ill-thought through statement could have more of a negative impact further damaging a company’s reputation. To illustrate this point, Gus used the example of BP’s former chief executive’s statement after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. The former chief executive received widespread criticism for telling journalists that “there’s nobody who wants this over more than I do. I want my life back.” Gus commented that this shows a “CEO who is really the custodian of the firm’s brand and reputation at that level, who came across as aloof, uncaring and disinterested, it really did play into the media reporting.”
To conclude, whatever type of crisis it is, communication is crucial because a company’s key stakeholders (including shareholders) will want to know what remedial action the business is taking, why it happened and the measures the company is putting in place to ensure that it will not happen again.
Naomi Jefferys' article 'Reputational Damage: What's the Cost?' was originally printed in CDR Magazine, and can be found by clicking here.