Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The public relations of high profile litigation

This blog has been on record for years that the growth sectors of our profession will be those which cope with the aftermath of the misconduct, political and financial, of the past eight years.

While this blogger has no personal experience in legal public relations, some things are clear. The ideal is to fight your case in court; the reality is that what happens in the courthouse is greatly affected by the larger debate. Indeed, which controversies explode into full scale legal investigations, and which deflate will, in part, be driven by public relations. No one should think that aggressive PR can fend off potential prosecution, but it can avert fishing expeditions. In the event of investigations, or high profile congressional inquiries, good PR can minimize the damage. Console yourself with the thought that there will be so many controversies in the future that yours may be relegated to sideshow status.

First, do an internal review. What part of your present operation is likely to attract unwelcome attention? Those of the things that need to change before Henry Waxman hauls you before the cameras to berate you. Review your records management policy and be sure it can cope with the revised rules of civil procedure. It is probably advisable that you set up a meeting with your internal PR spokesman, corporate council, and CIO.

Make your friends before you need them. This blogger assumes you have a PR effort that is cultivating the reporters in your field; be sure to include a social media component to that. I recommend encouraging your employees to blog, Tweet, or participate in whatever social media attracts them. The role of house PR should be to monitor social media along with the traditional media to spot relevant trends and discussion lines.

In the event of controversy your first job is to get the facts out as soon as is consistent with accuracy. Your corporate website has a news section doesn’t it? You do post your press releases in HTML as opposed to PDF right? You do have an RSS feed on the news section of your corporate website? All these things will be critical in the event of a high profile controversy.

In the event of litigation, consider establishing an online library of the public documents connected to the case. If you choose this route you must include all the public documents in the case as a carefully edited selection will invite ridicule. A comprehensive collection of the documents tells the general public that you consider the facts to support your company.

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