Managing a crisis and a company’s reputation is much easier and more effective when the PR team and legal counsel are on the same page.
To help this relationship work, here are qualities that each side should have.
Qualities an in-house lawyer values in an external PR firm:
Experience: Having a member of the PR team who has worked as a reporter was invaluable in translating the process. What was the reporter looking for? What would he accept from us?
Qualities a PR firm values in corporate legal counsel:
Resiliency: Working with a reporter on background takes persistence and a willingness to go back repeatedly on issues, if necessary. They can’t give up and provide the reporter with an excuse to report an inaccurate or unbalanced fact.
Responsiveness: A media crisis is a 24/7 grind. Members of the media appreciate getting immediate responses to questions and issues. (It is also a two-way street.)
Toughness: Someone you would want with you in a bar fight.
Teachability: Work with someone who will get beyond sound bites and who wants to understand the details and background. This will involve a desire to dig in and learn about the company and how it does business.
No legalese: Save legal language for pleadings, not the media or communication to non-lawyers. In a crisis, a good lawyer will know less is more for messaging.
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at email@example.com.
Legal qualities courtesy of Bill Ojile, chief legal counsel for Alta Colleges.
Values PR: Understanding the proactive and reactive role of public relations, particularly during a crisis, is valuable, and counsel knows it can preserve or help rebuild a company’s reputation. The court of public opinion is just as valuable as the actual courtroom.
Cool-headedness: A crisis can have many different lifecycles, and keeping calm with a focus on the end goal is appreciated.
Open-mindedness: A PR response can be very different from a legal response in a crisis, though the two factions have shared goals.
Backbone: During a crisis, an executive might want to go out swinging or say absolutely nothing. A good legal counsel will offer a better perspective and a more moderate, effective approach. Remember: You want to win the war, not the battle.