Failure to Plan Increases Risk of Reputation Damage in High-Profile Lawsuits–Guest Post

(I don’t often invite guest posts from promotional releases, but I did request this from Greentarget as their research into the 20/20 hindsight of litigation-related crisis communication was very interesting. In litigation, lawyers often take the lead in directing communications. Some are very good at it. But most, if not all, do prioritize the risks in the court of law higher than the risks in the court of public opinion. That can lead to very damaging results. What it does lead to almost always is a more conservative approach to managing communications than is best for the company. That, it seems to me, is what this research points to.)

By Larry Larsen, Greentarget

In today’s 24-hour news environment, most senior legal officers across corporate America acknowledge the importance of communications with stakeholders during high-profile lawsuits.  Yet the majority have outdated strategies or no strategies at all to direct communications outside of court, according to a new survey conducted by Greentarget.

This lack of preparation leads to overly conservative communications, the survey shows, with decisions and actions that are often impulsive and governed by the fear of negative media attention. Ironically, these instincts can compound the likelihood of reputational damage.

“The fact is that most senior legal officers can name the top two or three lawsuits they never want their companies to face,” said Larry Larsen, senior vice president of Greentarget and head of the firm’s Crisis & Litigation Communications Group. “They should take some level of control and prepare for what’s to come.”

Here are the steps to take in preparation for likely scenarios. Giving some level of advanced thought can save precious time when a high-profile lawsuit is filed and the questions start pouring in.

  • Crisis response team. To save time and limit confusion, have a team in place with one leader and key representatives from decision-making functions within the organization – legal, external communications, internal communications and marketing.
  • Decision tree and likely scenarios. Because it’s vital to know when to active the crisis team and alert senior management, we typically recommend a tiered system on which to gauge the severity of a crisis.
  • Trusted outside counselors. A firm should have key outside advisors — legal, financial, public relations, etc. — on call to assist and strategize as situations dictate. Large firms should consider multiple advisor relationships in each category in case of conflicts.
  • Training and role-playing. If your organization’s leadership doesn’t have experience with the media or in crisis situations, drills and media training sessions are invaluable for driving home the critical steps and the resulting responsibilities.