There are two interesting items for corporate counsel who are sometimes pressed into service as PR advisor (or worse, spokesperson).
The first is from the Center for Media and Democracy, which details a short history (with a definite slant) of corporate responses to citizen group attacks, and how some of them may have backfired when the company responded with legal action. As the authors note:
Some companies decide they want to get even, PR backlash and lawyers’ costs be damned. CEOs call in their lawyers, who may see the courts as a way to punish — or even silence — critics. Angry PR advisers might also advocate legal threats and actions. Yet, history shows that legal actions against critics often only scucceed in turning a low-level issue into a full-blown public image crisis.
On a related topic, the Legal Times has an article about how outside counsel should handle the public during a trial. Michael Levy and Richard Levick offer sage advice to lawyers who may be comfortable in the courtroom, but may turn into a fish out of water when on the courthouse steps with a microphone shoved their way. They delve a bit deeper, covering two key issues:
First, what are the risks and benefits of public outreach during litigation? It is a question that allows for a broader picture of how and why communications campaigns are developed and the fundamental choices that have to be made in each case.
Second, how can companies and their lawyers work with communications professionals without exposing highly confidential and sensitive client information to discovery? It is a specific concern that relates directly to the larger, evolving role of the public relations adviser.
With all the access to media that people have, and all the outlets that never existed before (like blogs!), companies need to take a much more long-term view of their PR strategy. As tempting as it may be to try to commence legal action against a wayward citizens group, or stonewall the press during high-profile litigation, in most cases adopting a more even-keeled response (with a trained human face out front) is about the best you can do.
It’s getting harder and harder to have the last word.