With a 24/7 news agenda it’s no surprise that public interest proliferates when litigation arises, and with increased media transparency comes increased public scrutiny - often the winner in the courtroom is not necessarily the winner of the headlines.
Negative media coverage will cast a shadow over a company’s reputation, and it can take years to re-build a tarnished brand image. Therefore, developing a communications strategy prior to litigation is fundamental to upholding a business’ reputation.
While it can be difficult, it is important to strike a balance between saying too much and not saying enough. A good communications strategy can be as important as the litigation itself, so companies should put a great deal of thought into their communications approach.
When considering the communications of a case you must contemplate the following:
- Developing a strategy
Be proactive, not reactive. Whether the circumstances warrant an aggressive or a more laid-back approach developing a communications strategy is a must. It is vital that you can help steer the narrative and if you need to comment or react you must be prepared. Emphasis should be placed on the preparatory phase as it’s always better to have something in your back pocket than be caught out. Often the most effective strategies are when the litigation PR team says and does very little but ensures that what is done is significant.
- Scenario planning
Pre-empting the type of questions the company will face from the press and key stakeholders is always good practice. This ensures a unified response and limits the risk of unwanted speculation or incorrect/insensitive information being shared. The Q&A document should be a work in progress and regularly updated as the litigation progresses.
- The need for alignment
The communications strategy should be developed alongside the legal strategy, therefore, there is a need for the legal team and litigation PR team to work in unison. It is important that the litigation PR team is fully briefed from the outset and there is complete transparency. This way the comms can be developed to explore every avenue and there will be no surprise questions from journalists or key stakeholders. It is also important that external communications mirror the company’s values to ensure there is consistent messaging across all channels.
- Helping the media and public understand complex legal issues
Complex litigation PR cases warrant a simple message. The public tends not to get caught up in the intricacies of a case and are instead are looking for a clear and concise message to be communicated that they understand. The litigation PR team need to be able to navigate the intricacies of the court process as well as the media landscape.
- Litigation PR is akin to reputation management
You may be faced with a post-litigation rebuild and when confronted with a lot of negative publicity how you deal with it can speak volumes. Every time you communicate with the media it should be viewed as a chance to enhance reputation. You should remember that poor communications can outlive a court battle so a lot of thought should go into the wording of statements to ensure that they don’t negatively impact reputation.
In conclusion, it is vital that if litigation is on the horizon a communications strategy is developed. Companies should work closely with their litigation PR team to ensure the strategy is proactive and foolproof. Despite each case being different, you must communicate.