Three Key PR Responses to Litigation
Author: Curtis Sparrer
May 13, 2020
Lawsuits are regular business occurrences, and it is therefore important to have a PR plan when litigation arises. This doesn’t necessarily mean a “one size fits all” approach, but it does mean having a set of general principles in place, designed to help mitigate uncertainty for customers, investors and other stakeholders. Following are three key responses to litigation, including media relations, risk management and proactive stakeholder relations. All are foundational principles that PR pros should consider as part of an overall plan when lawsuits arise.
Bospar is often asked about lawsuit-related media strategy, particularly when a startup feels that its work has been infringed upon. And while the battle between underdogs and big dogs may have an eternal appeal, spinning and placing a favorable story is unlikely. Unless it is a clash of the titans, like Apple versus Microsoft, the media is likely not interested.
This lack of interest is exacerbated by the fact that media ownership is unlikely to engage in risky reporting, including factual questions on guilt or wrongdoing, especially when the involved parties might be rich, powerful and litigious – or some combination of all three. What’s more, today’s fast-paced news cycle doesn’t facilitate detailed reporting on nuanced legal issues.
Often, the safest media relations strategy – and most likely to be recommended by counsel – is to adhere to a strict “no comment” policy. Occasionally, counsel may recommend advancing a legal opinion to combat obvious falsehoods or prejudicial information from legal opponents. But if such statements are made, both legal and communications teams should be given adequate time to prepare vetted statements that truly advance the company’s legal cause while protecting its business interests.
Potential downside risk means that going beyond “no comment” requires commitment. Carefully consider the balance between discretion, issues advocacy, and/or beneficial or negative publicity. Risk mitigation should also incorporate aspects of crisis communications, including thinking through the outcome of losing or winning a case. Any outbound communications will require coordination with counsel, and PR pros should budget for extra work, including hiring specialists as needed.
Proactive Stakeholder Relations and Thoughtful PR
Legal matters can cause financial and reputational damage, which is why proactive stakeholder relations and inbound PR are helpful in alleviating uncertainty. Informing key stakeholders about what’s happening and what to expect, publicly sharing basic facts, and responding thoughtfully to inbound media inquiries mean that the media get what they need, and stakeholders are less likely to panic. Energetic yet thoughtful outreach to key audiences – most notably customers, influencers and employees – while “letting the lawyers do the lawyering” is effective in projecting stability.
While PR pros need to be flexible and adaptable in the face of litigation, keeping in mind these three principles can help minimize disruption. That way, companies can focus on business execution and demonstrating their value to the marketplace, giving them the ability to move quickly past the litigation when a verdict is reached.
(The information provided here is not legal advice and does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel. For legal advice, consult with an attorney concerning your specific situation.)