5 Communication Strategies for High Profile Disputes and Litigation

Stacy Bettison, Lawyer and PR Expert
Stacy Bettison, attorney and PR expert, writes about the top considerations in managing high profile issues.

By Stacy Lynn Bettison, Attorney and PR Expert

High profile = high stakes = high risk

Whether the matter is big or small, when it becomes to anything high profile, the stakes are high. Managing the situation can become its own high-risk endeavor. For fast moving crisis situations, time is of the essence. Quick action is needed. Other times, an issue has been brewing for some time. 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 from a high-stakes situation – which often includes litigation — but there are certain critical things that MUST be done.

Communication strategies to protect your organization

Here are the five (5) most critical things that should be done to protect your organization and manage deftly through your client’s high profile moment:

First, determine your objectives.

There are usually several moving pieces to deal with in a high profile matter. 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 and what you must attend to first. Consider your highest priorities and most important objectives, and then plan to protect and take care of them:

  • 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

Second, be prepared for social media.

Social media is it’s own beast and can make even the most contained sitautions spin out of control. 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. Remember, social media is:

  • Fast moving
  • Anyone has a voice
  • Difficult to control
  • Incomplete platform, one-sided
  • Lots of information – often irrelevant

Third, be careful disclosing 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 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.

Fourth, be empathetic.

What we see companies missing a lot in high stakes matters 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 – will we be subject to a government investigation, will we be fined, what is this going to cost us? — the focus must always first be on those impacted by the issue. Ask:

  • 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?

Fifth, 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.