If the facts are on your side and your reputation is at stake, speak up. #crisismanagement #corporatecommunications #reputation
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Today an attack could come from anywhere with the push of a button. We are vulnerable and at risk. But we can prepare and plan to help avoid harm, injury and any damage to our reputation.
There are steps we can take to protect our information and the information people give to us in trust. If that trust is breached there are also steps you can take to minimize any damage to your reputation.
If you or your company is not on social media, you should. After all, just because you or your company is not Tweeting or otherwise posting pictures or updates, does not prevent others from talking about you. It is important for you to listen to the chatter, know the influencers or where the discussion got started in the first place.
To Defeat A Bully, Take Away Their Ammunition. Politics can be brutal. If you run for office, you should prepared to face your toughest critics and have your dirty laundry aired. As a serious candidate, knowing the bad choices you made, you can pre-empt your opponents attacks by addressing your negatives and turn them into something positive.
Engaging the public through strategic communications is a vital component of any strategy, in both the public and private sector. That is why the State of Michigan, the Governor, each state Department, the City of Flint, the business and community groups in Flint, the Mayor of Flint, and other organizations affected by the water crises needs someone to help define the narrative to communicate about the situation, to find the people and their stories to share, to run interference between the national media looking for a story and the people of Flint looking for answers, for solutions and for help.
When your data is breached or you system is hacked, the best response is a quick response to minimize damage to your reputation.
5 tips to limiting vulnerability to a cyber attack other rises
In dealing with public health issues it is important to be proactive, direct, quick and efficient to maintain the public's trust that you are on top of the issues and working diligently to resolve the problem.
Photo Courtesy of Bryan Gottlieb
If there is anything we can learn from the recent crises facing General Motors (GM), the Veteran's Administration (VA), Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers, The New York Times, Target and other companies and individuals facing their own high stakes crises is that it is important to talk to each other.
As children, we learn that if we lie we will get caught, if we cheat we are only cheating our selves. So as business leaders, it is important to follow the rules and play by the rules. To engage your employees and the communities in which you do business. Work hard at developing working relationships, not just in the board room, but on the court or course. Make friends now so that if a crisis ensues, you will be prepared to respond and others will come at your defense. But most importantly work to minimize the risk of any crises by devoting the resources in developing strategic relationships.
It does not matter if it is an employee-error, high profile litigation, government investigation or industrial accident, if something happens a response needs to be immediate, decisive and strategic.
When faced with a crisis, damage to a company or individual’s reputation can be devastating. Business executives must be ready to respond to protect their reputation, employees, shareholder and brand.
To prevent a crisis it is always helpful to be prepared and have a plan in place however, there are many companies who fail to plan for potential crises. Consequently, many companies react to a crisis rather than respond.
When companies react they are most likely not thinking through the impact of their response and action in leading to that response. At a minimum then, companies should have a public relations firm on retainer or at least on the tip of their mind when something happens.
Crises happen! In the past few weeks, we have seen a chemical spill that cut off tap water for 300,000 West Virginians and a cruise line that had to cut its trip short after nearly 700 passengers and crew fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea.’
And the best way to deal with a crisis is to plan for it so it can be prevented or at least any potential damage caused by whatever the crisis is, minimized. However, if you don’t plan for a crisis, and we can prepare for everything, here are a few tips to remember, no matter what:
When a crises occur your team needs to quickly assess the facts and determine the best response given the situation. For the company and government in West Virginia, the response should have been immediate. But in some instances the response should be not respond at all – Especially if it is over social media. Proper monitoring should flag anything to be concerned about on line and in real-time. But just because someone posts something about you, your company or your CEO does not mean you have to respond, in fact, you shouldn’t. You don’t want to start a debate on line and feed a discussion that could potentially be more damaging than just one post.
The response in West Virginia should have been direct and done in person. The response for the cruise line should have been through statements, press releases and on a website.
Who speaks for you?
The CEO may not always be the best person to respond to a crisis. It really depends on the issue, but perhaps there is someone else that should respond or at least has more knowledge to thoughtfully respond. This could be a front-line employee or someone with direct experience with the issue. Many people want to hear directly from the CEO, so have the CEO be prepared but be prepared to find another spokesperson.
In the case of the chemical spill, the Governor and Mayors of the affected communities should be the face of the solution holding those responsible for the spill accountable. The CEO of the company involved should also be the public face, attending press conferences and town halls. In the case of the cruise line, any statement should be from the CEO.
What do lawyers know about your reputation?
Don’t let your team of lawyers have the final say on how you communicate external messages. From the beginning, even before a crisis occurs, the legal and marketing departments should meet frequently to foster a solid working relationship and understanding of what each other does. Messages should also be shared with legal and often have legal sign off on statements. But the liability concerns a lawyer may typically have should not prevent a company from dealing with the issue directly and otherwise jeopardize the company’s reputation. Limiting a response may open yourself to more questions and further expose you to reputational risk.
The bottom line
When an event occurs, you need to respond promptly, effectively and efficiently. But before anything happens, a company should set up a monitoring system to mind the chatter, engage your employees and service your customers to prevent or preempt something from happening. In addition, a company should have a rapid response plan in place should something happen.
And finally, the best way to limit your risk to is know where you are weak and where crises may emerge – and then to plan accordingly.
Effective crises management can mitigate risk and exposure due to damage to your brand caused by executive and employee misconduct, bankruptcy, disasters, cyber-terrorism and as my children’s preschool teacher would say, “bad choices.
Most companies have insurance coverage that is intended to insure their company’s assets and protect the company’s brand. But for politicians like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, their only insurance is their reputation and the relationships they have worked so hard to build to get them where they are.
Christie and his staff made bad choices. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, ignorance of the actions of your inner circle is no excuse not to stand as a leader, accept their action as your own, apologize and work to repair the damaged caused by your administration -- Whether you knew about it or not.
But Governor Christie waited to long to act. He waited to review the findings of an investigation, saw the potential damage the findings will cause him and then decided to step up. He apologized and is working to rebuild his reputation, by firing key staff involved and making a very public apology to the Mayor of Fort Lee, NJ -- in person.
While his opponents will continue to keep the focus on the Governor and the bad choices of his staff, they should really let the investigation take its course and respond to what emerges from that to give their efforts additional credibility rather than making this purely political.
Time, however will help heal Christie’s reputation. If he has national political aspirations, he then has time to re-focus his energies and rebuild any loss to his reputation. His advocacy following Hurricane Sandy and the other promises he will deliver on over the next few years will outweigh the damage done in closing The GW Bridge. Time repairs ones reputation if you take the time to do it right.
But for those who took the fall in Christie’s inner circle, that road will be more difficult to recover. We all need some insurance to protect our reputation and our livelihood. We all need to take steps to build our own inner circle of trusted advisors and a community of friends who can speak out in our defense, hold our hands in times of difficulty and help us out of a difficult situation. His former staff member’s now must work to re-build their reputation while their former boss continues on an upward trajectory. They must re-evaluate the lessons they learned from this situation and try to turn it around into a positive direction so that they too can move forward.
- Fix the problem.
- Share your lesson - Make it a teaching moment.
- Stay the course.
- Fight back only if you have something to fight for
- Make good.
- Stop the rants.
- This is not about you anymore, it is about Toronto.
- Move on.
- Work on re-building your reputation.
.... They get caught. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford knows that now when he faced reporters earlier this week asking them to re-ask a question they asked him in May. "You asked me a question back in May and you can repeat that question," Mr. Ford told a bunch of journalists earlier this week as reported in The New York Times. He then admitted that he did indeed smoke crack cocaine. Also last week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) was accused of plagiarism, denied it and finally this week admitted what happened. (Although to his credit, he also came out with a plan for addressing the situation.) Rolling Stone magazine released their "Top five political excuses of all time" earlier this week and unfortunately we keep hearing these excuses from our elected leaders.
To a political figure there is no worse punishment than a damaged reputation. The longer a person works to cover up something the more damage they will do to their reputation. As a result, here are 5 tips to help politicians out of a sticky situation:
- Don't lie. If you do lie or misrepresent something, speak out of turn or make a mistake, quickly admit it, apologize, work to resolve the issue and move on to the next issue.
- Don't try to cover it up, it will only make things worse.
- Don't react. Re-evaluate the situation and respond quickly but thoughtfully.
- Don't dodge the media. Focus on the facts and process.
- Seek the advice of an attorney and public relations professional before things get out of hand.
Tonight Lockhart/Gardner fired the Governor's wife. It was actually tonight's episode of The Good Wife, on CBS and in tonight's show, the partners found out that Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) was planning on leaving the law firm to start her own and take with her some of Lockhard/Gardner's largest clients, not to mention a number of associates and lead investigator. There is a lot to learn from watching a TV show. I get that every now and then from watching the Kardashians. However, this one hits closer to home in terms of how I like to help clients, faced with high profile issues affecting their reputation -- as a lawyer, for a law firm and even for the Governor.
From an employer perspective....
- Once information is learned about an employee that would warrant firing them. before acting based on emotion an employer should have all the facts, or at least enough to make a decision on high profile employment issues.
- However, once the decision is made it must be communicated quickly and efficiently. Today, Twitter is the best and quickest medium.
- Before a tweet is sent, a firm or company should already have influential people following them - Work hard at pro-actively building upon your social network.
- Invest in client relations. Today, law firms are too big, lawyers are too isolated and legal bills are too high. Business today is based on personal relationships, not on big law firm names. It is important to ensure your clients know that you are laser focused on their work -- So represent them as if they are your only client.
- Work hard to communicate with your employees so these situations can be avoided in the future.
Good thing they had a public relations counselor waiting in the lobby to begin work on defending a major law firm against The Governor-elect's wife.
From the employee perspective...
- Make sure you are also following the law as you prepare to leave your employer.
- Be proactive in regards to getting everything in order, including notifying those that you can legally notify and what messages you are communicating in leaving.
- Have a website ready to go, in addition to social media -- most likely Twitter and Facebook but also LinkedIn.
- Know who the reporters are covering your industry and those of your clients, and make sure they know and trust you as a resource.
From the Governor's standpoint...
- Be prepared with a statement but don't communicate it directly.
- If confronted and asked in person stay on message.
- Answer the questions directly and bridge to another issue.
- Address the issue, don't avoid it.
- Distance yourself from the business of others, particularly those that you are close to.
- Ensure the public that this issue remains a separate issue outside of your work in the state and that you remain focused on the issues before you.
Regardless of which side you are on, make sure you have the necessary relationships with people to help you should you need it. This includes lawyers, accountants, doctors and strategic public relations counsel. Trust is vital to the success in any business and we work hard to establish it. It is even harder to rebuild in the wake of crisis. As we learned tonight, "politics leads, the law follows." Whatever comes your way, it is important to be prepared and know those that can help you should you need. it.
don’t say anything you couldn’t or wouldn’t say in court, and just sick to the facts
- The claim, offense or defense involved
- Information contained in a public record
- That an investigation of a matter is in progress
- Undisputable facts
A litigation communications plan blends both legal expertise and media savvy, by helping to frame messages during the litigation to help preserve, protect and enhance the reputation of the parties. It also helps to monitor what others are saying about the case and the company and works to control the message, address concerns and build relationships to help the company emerge from the litigation with its reputation intact. An effective litigations communications strategy, works to enhance legal efforts by providing clarity on complex legal issues, before and after litigation. The goal of litigation communications is to guarantee that the client's public image is completely aligned with the legal team's efforts and strategy, while ensuring the company's message is understood outside the courtroom.
Today’s legal market demands a broad range of business solutions lawyers can provide their clients. A strategic communications plan can prove to be an extremely helpful tool lawyers can provide their clients, in anticipation of or during litigation, or just an overall part of their legal strategy.
Every Company Is A Media Company
Today, every company with a website, blog or social media presence is a media company and anyone with access to a computer, smart phone or tablet, has the potential to damage a company’s reputation. However, at the same time with digital and mobile technology, companies have more opportunities to take their message directly to the consumer, to protect, enhance and elevate their reputation.
For companies such as Domino’s and The BBC, to celebrities and politicians such as Lance Armstrong and Elliott Spitzer, lawsuits today are no longer fought in the courtroom. Cases are being tried in the media, with the potential to damage brands and reputations alike.
Clients Turn To Lawyers As Spokesperson
In general, a lawyer’s job is to represent their clients in a court of law, not in the media, and many are uncomfortable in talking to reporters. However, client’s today are turning to their lawyers not just for legal support, but to help protect their reputation and often speak on their behalf.
“An attorney’s duties do not begin inside the courtroom door. He or she cannot ignore the practical implications of a legal proceeding for the client. Just as an attorney may recommend a plea bargain or civil settlement to avoid the adversarial consequences of a possible loss after trial, so too an attorney may take reasonable steps to defend a client’s reputation and reduce the adverse consequences of an indictment, especially in the face of a prosecution deemed unjust or commenced with improper notices. A defense attorney may pursue lawful strategies to obtain dismissal of an indictment or reduction of charge, including an attempt to demonstrate in the court of public opinion that the client does not deserve to be tried.”
In today’s media saturated environment, where we can share pictures or Tweets from our phone instantaneously with the world, that may even end up on CNN or FOX News, many clients will turn to their lawyer for advice, counsel and a response. So lawyers should have a basic understanding of interacting with the media, on line and off.
Balancing advocacy for clients and legal ethics
The Bar is concerned that attorneys often speak with authority and that whatever they say can help shape public opinion. As a result, a good rule of thumb in talking to the press or in any public arena is to stick to discussing the facts or explaining the process. In making statements to the media during or in anticipation of trial, a lawyer, or their client’s spokesperson, should avoid making any statement that would "have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding."
In other words, “don’t say anything you couldn’t or wouldn’t say in court.” This includes speculations on a criminal defendant’s guilt or innocence, opinions on any participant’s credibility and character, conjecture on why a participant would not submit to examination, and, generally, any information that is not likely to be admissible – Just stick to the facts. For example:
- The claim, offense or defense involved
- Information contained in a public record
- That an investigation of a matter is in progress
- The scheduling or result of any steps in litigation
- Undisputable facts
- A request for assistance in obtaining evidence and information necessary of the investigation
- A warning of danger concerning the behavior of a person involved.
A lawyer, however, may make statements that may be required to protect a client from substantial undue prejudicial effect of recent publicity not initiated by the lawyer or the lawyer’s client. A statement should be limited to such information that is necessary to mitigate the recent adverse publicity.
Crisis + Litigation Communications
The sands have shifted in the practice of law. Gone are the days when clients were only concerned about the legal ramifications of a lawsuit or legal quagmire. Today, clients are often also concerned with how they are judged in the public eye and perceived by their customers, vendors and by their own families.
A litigation communications plan, blends both legal expertise and media savvy, by helping to frame messages during the litigation to help preserve, protect and enhance the reputation of the parties. It also helps to monitor what others are saying about the case and the company and works to control the message, address concerns and build relationships to help the company emerge from the litigation with its reputation intact. An effective litigations communications strategy, works to enhance legal efforts by providing clarity on complex legal issues, before and after litigation. However, the process should start long before a matter goes to trial and even before the firs documents are filed. The goal of litigation communications is to guarantee that the client's public image is completely aligned with the legal team's efforts and strategy, while ensuring the company's message is understood outside the courtroom. As a result, communications experts should be retained early on in the process, to monitor the media, craft the messages for key audiences, respond where and when appropriate and otherwise be involved.
In retaining a public relations professional, it is important that you find someone who understands the interplay between the law and legal process on one side, and the media and public opinion on the other. Managing these complex communications in a timely and efficient manner can play a vital role in the cost-effective mitigation of a crisis or legal matter.
Tips for dealing with the Media
Despite certain rules imposed on lawyers, reporters, journalists and bloggers may contact you based on a case that you are working on or a client that you represent, or perhaps even the issue areas you work in everyday. Alternatively, you may contact them, to help position your client in the public eye or to promote yourself as an expert on an issue that is receiving a lot of attention in the news. Regardless of how a reporter comes to you, in dealing with the media it is important to understand what they want and how you can best work with them.
The media is interested in a story that others want to read, watch or listen to. News is something that is:
- Relevant, and
- Sometimes entertaining.
Reporters will most likely report on stories that are:
- Unusual or unique
- Involve celebrities, kids or dogs and
- General human-interest stories.
When the reporter asks you if he or she can ask you a few questions, try to get a little more information from them. Find out what the reporter wants to know. Depending on when they call, they are most likely on deadline and looking for a quick sound-bite. If you need to, ask if you can call them back and think about what you want to say. Then call them back in a timely manner.
Here are a few more tips in terms of working with the media:
Know why you want to talk to the media -- What do you hope to achieve in talking to the media? Before you talk with a reporter, know what you want to accomplish, even if they catch you by surprise.
Know your audience -- Then understand who your audience is. This will help you craft the appropriate messages that resonate with the right audience.
Know what you want to say – Once you know why you want to approach the media, and who the audience is, know what you want to say. Have a few key messages written out that you want to convey to the reporter and think of a few questions they may ask -- and be ready to respond.
Do your homework – Know what the reporter writes about and covers. Be familiar with their latest story and angle. Go on their website, perhaps they have a blog or check them out on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.
What not to do with the Media:
Never say “No Comment” or “Because a lawsuit was filed we cannot comment on active litigation.” Instead say something more general and stick to your messages, or “I can’t tell you that now, but what I can tell you is..."
- Don’t repeat a negative question or phrase
- Stop using jargon or technical lingo
- Try not to go “off the record”
- Never lie
- Don’t attack competitors or sell yourself
During the interview – Think of it as a debate not a conversation, unless you are talking to Stephen Colbert:
- A reporter is using it to gather information or to find a story
- Know your objectives and stick to your key message
- If the reporter gets off message, bridge back to your key message
- Answer only the question asked
- Stick to your messages
Don’t hide anything you don’t want them to find later. When speaking to the media be concise and thorough and tell them everything that you can with in reason. You do not want them finding out information on their own and then confronting you when you are not prepared to answer their questions.
If you don’t know, don’t tell and don’t worry – Don’t panic if you are asked a question during an interview that you do not know the answer to. Be honest and tell them that you do not know the answer but that you would be happy to look into it and get back to them. Never attempt to make something up.
Silence. When being interviewed, once you have made your point do not be intimidated by silence. Silence is not a bad thing during an interview, it’s a tactic used by reporters to get you to talk, in the hopes of getting you to say something that you shouldn’t have.
“Off the record” or “For background only” – As a general rule, if you don’t want it in print then don’t say it. However, an ethical reporter will respect what you are trying to say and will work with to make sure what your saying is accurate. It helps to know the reporters covering the issues you are working on and have a good working relationship with them. It also helps to not be confrontational and to respect them for having a job to do and that you want to work with them in preparing their story.
Timing – Just as a lawyer sticks to deadlines prescribed by the court, reporters have deadlines to keep and times they need to either file stories or air them. You will develop better relationships with a reporter if you are sensitive to their deadlines.
Preparing for an ambush – If a reporter catches you by surprise, stop in your tracks, address the reporters questions (you can be vague if you want), then let them know that you have another commitment and that you will get back to them by their deadline. If a reporter calls by phone take their message, find out what they want and when their deadline is, and get back to them in a timely manner.
Working with the media – It is about relationships.
Corrections -- Don’t be afraid to correct the reporter or ask them to revise their story to be accurate.
Monitor the media – Know what is being said about you, your clients, your firm and your industry.
Anything else? – This is always the last question in any interview, so be prepared to summarize your key messages; say anything that you forgot to say before; or clarify any statement that needs further explanation. s not deserve to be tried.”2
Social Media Tips
Social media is becoming more than a tool for us to stay in touch with our friends or family, it is becoming a new area to look out for our client’s interests and/or a new medium to promote our practice. It also is our opportunity to control the message and to clarify misinformation. However, interacting with those using social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or YouTube, is a little different than working with the traditional media.
Know the influentials – There are millions of people using a variety of social media sites that it is important to know who the influential people are. There are a number of social media sites that you can use to track the influentials.
Monitor the chatter – Once you know who to follow you should monitor the chatter. Listen to the tone of the comments and questions and participate where appropriate. A good way to monitor the media is to create Google Alerts, Twitter feeds or Facebook updates. Even if you don’t join the conversation, be aware of what people are saying about your company on different social media platforms.
Engage the community – Once you are able to gain an understanding of social media and how it works, go ahead and begin to engage the community. However, in using social media one’s credibility is gained through transparency, honesty, relevance and value.
If a crisis ensues, you may not have the time to monitor social media sites and find the right time to engage people on line. Should that be the case, you should be more proactive, reserve the various domain names with your name, your companies name and variations thereof so should something happen, you can go on line and communicate directly to the masses.
The documents you file in court are public documents and subject to FOIA. Don’t be surprised if you see the language from your depositions, motions or others in an article or even on a graphic on television. So, if a reporter asks for a document, it will go along way if you just give it to them but feel free to redact sensitive or privileged information.
Hiring PR Counsel
Lawyers need to understand what is news and how to best communicate that news to the public. If attorneys will not provide such services, then they should build strategic partnerships with public relations firms to help them. To meet the needs of today’s businesses, lawyers will need skilled advice regarding how to position their clients before the media, while legally protecting their clients. Seeking PR counsel is an important aspect of any legal strategy. Even if the issue is a small matter, there is no way we can tell how public opinion can or will shape the outcome of a case. Therefore, in engaging public relations counsel:
- Have the lawyer retain the PR firm as opposed to your client directly, to try to preserve attorney-client privilege.
- The public relations counsel should consult with both the client and attorney at every step of the process.
Once a public relations firm is engaged, they will, depending on the strategy: help with messaging and identify the appropriate media to communicate those messages or even act as your client’s spokesperson. They also should monitor the media and find ways to enhance, protect and further your client’s reputation.