The court of public opinion can affect an enterprise’s reputation and ongoing business prospects just as much as actual court proceedings. Given today’s tumultuous business climate and a political environment constantly impacted by global wars and brewing conflicts, the role of communications in supporting a legal strategy has taken on an outsized importance. In this era of hot takes, disinformation and over-heated rhetoric—and amid a rising distrust in the media, government and societal institutions—every enterprise’s key stakeholders seek assurance, accurate information and empathy on all fronts. A business and its legal counsel must navigate rapidly emerging legal issues—from class action lawsuits and litigation salvos from competitors to regulatory investigations and contractual disputes—and take even greater care in crafting public statements, internal announcements and litigation-related filings that could attract media interest.
In such a fraught landscape for enterprises of all sizes, here are a few key considerations when developing a communications strategy to support a client’s legal strategy:
Tone is critical: All messaging in court filings must be aligned with the times and aligned with the substance and tone of other corporate messaging. This may mean adjusting certain assertions and language that could be deemed insensitive in light of global events. If business goals or corporate marketing and other outreach strategies have been altered due to COVID-19, for instance, any legal filings should reflect updated corporate messaging as appropriate, or at least not contradict it.
Written words matter: Now that legal proceedings have returned to in-person settings, the media covering them may still be relying on web video, audio and/or electronic filings. It’s always best practice to draft legal filings that convey your position in a manner that’s compelling, clear and user-friendly to reporters.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '24 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
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Fewer outlets and fewer court reporters: It has never been more crucial to take the time necessary to truly tailor a pitch about a legal matter to individual reporters and their specific approaches and areas of interest. Given consolidation among—or staff reductions at—national business media outlets and the closing of many local news platforms, fewer reporters may be covering legal issues and still fewer may be assigned to the courts where a client’s legal proceedings will occur. This challenge requires more in-depth research to identify journalists who may be interested in your client’s legal matter, while also making it harder to attract coverage if that’s the desired strategy.
On the other hand, the shrinking number of news outlets and journalists may increase the likelihood that a client’s legal development falls under the media’s radar and doesn’t receive meaningful coverage. Today’s legal media environment may work in your favor if this is a client’s desired outcome. However, because social media may provide unwelcome public exposure with no warning that could quickly ignite traditional media attention, it’s always best to plan for the worst possible outcome—including incoming inquiries from traditional media outlets—while hoping for the best.
Maintain privilege and confidentiality: Given the propensity of leaks via social media platforms, communications professionals must ensure that all relevant materials and correspondence with in-house and external legal counsel are appropriately marked to preserve privilege. Additionally, given the greater numbers of employees working remotely on less-than-secure Wi-Fi connections, assume that confidential documents and emails could leak and draft and distribute documents with appropriate amounts of care.
Plan, yet be nimble: Effective litigations communications requires anticipating the next steps in the legal process as well as other unrelated corporate issues that may attract increased scrutiny from regulators, the media and the public. For these expected developments, businesses should prepare appropriate messaging and communications materials in advance. But at a time when the future is so uncertain and business goals, tactics and strategies could change quickly, enterprises must also be able to nimbly respond to new concerns and developments as they arise. Moreover, real-time coordination and cooperation between operations, legal and communications teams will be paramount for the foreseeable future.
Communications strategy surrounding litigation has an increasing potential to significantly shape a company’s reputation among its key stakeholders and impact its future course. To be effective, communications professionals must incorporate the ways in which audiences, information sharing, court procedures and the news cycle are changing as conflict and unrest are on the rise.
KARV has deep experience in designing and implementing strategic communications programs that support a client’s litigation strategy. With 2024 looking to be chock full of uncertainty, change and challenges, we remain ready to support clients as they navigate any and all types of legal situations.
Eric Andrus is Executive Vice President at KARV, a strategic and communications advisory firm specializing in issues management, corporate communications, litigation support, and crisis communications with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.