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The Five Most Critical Steps to Protect Reputations During Litigation
POSTED ON April 18

Crisis sometimes happens fast. Other times, it has been brewing for a while and there is much that can be done in advance before it becomes public or otherwise known by your stakeholders.

There are so many things that can be done to plan and prepare, manage and then rehabilitate after a crisis – which often includes litigation – but there are certain critical things that must be done.

Here are the five (5) most critical things we think should be done to protect reputations in the midst of crisis, especially those involving legal issues.

1.  Determine your objectives. There are usually several moving pieces to deal with in a crisis. It’s critical to assess what is most at risk and needs immediate attention first. While all your stakeholders will need attention and focus at some point, figure out who you must reach first. Consider your highest priorities and most important objectives, and then plan to protect and take care of them. Some areas to consider:

  • Business continuity
  • Customer/client/patient/other stakeholder health, safety, services, investments
  • Regulatory issues
  • Public support: maintain, restore trust
  • Organizational Leadership: from the C-Suite to the Boardroom
  • Employee morale/productivity

2.  Be prepared for social media. Social media is its own beast and can make even the most contained crises spin out of control. Social media is:

  • Fast-moving
  • A space where anyone has a voice
  • Difficult to control
  • An incomplete platform, one-sided
  • A lot of information, often irrelevant

Handled correctly, social media can be a great tool for getting your message out, even in the face of negative content leveled directly against you. If managing a crisis on social media is new to your organization, get help. There are more ways to get it wrong than there are to get it right.

3.  Careful disclosing of information. This is a tricky one, as we have seen over and over again with large organizations covering up facts and providing incomplete or misleading information. Some tips on getting out the right information in a way that is transparent but protective of organization:

  • Don’t over-disclose – TMI (too much information) is good for no one
  • What you say is discoverable
  • Generally no right to privacy in social media disclosures
  • Verify facts and then stick to the facts
  • Don’t speculate

4.  Be empathetic. What we see companies missing a lot in crisis is a real focus on the victim or affected stakeholder (public or private). While there is a natural tendency to focus on how the problem will affect the organization – i.e., Will we be subject to a government investigation? Will we be fined? What is this going to cost us? – the initial focus must always be on those impacted by the issue. Ask yourself:

  • Who is impacted?
  • What are they losing sleep about at night?
  • What do they need to be made whole?
  • What are their long-term needs?
  • What needs to be done to earn back trust?

5.  Coordinate legal and public relations strategies. When legal and public relations intersect, there is a risk of focusing too much on legal interests, or too much on public perception. Both must be balanced. And both must be protected. Communications must be in plain English and avoid legalese always – the general public does not appreciate legalese the way we lawyers do.  At the same time, if legal issues or positions are not fully explained, it can cause confusion and distrust. Tread carefully here, and have your legal team coordinate with a PR pro who knows how to walk the line.


About the Author Stacy Bettison

Author Avatar A public relations expert and an experienced attorney, Stacy blends her unique expertise in public relations, journalism and media with her understanding of legal and business issues to bring valued counsel to clients facing reputation challenges during litigation.