The era of fluffy public relations, thankfully, is all but extinct. PR is a serious business. It is a long-term, strategic discipline that should be embraced at the highest level of corporate planning. This is never truer than when looking at how important corporate communications is when your company is involved in the courts.
Let’s be blunt about it, lawyers and PR practitioners do not generally share many common traits. One is focused on the courts of law and the other the court of public opinion. PR people are renowned for seeing the big picture, whereas lawyers can so often deflate this view, puncturing it with the cold minutiae of legal fact.
The business environment we operate in is in constant flux. Regulatory and legal implications impinge on every business. New laws, many of which emanate from Europe, can have a significant impact on companies operating here and abroad. No surprise that the legal world is a quagmire for most businesses.
While the press release and photo call still serve the public relations industry well, most PR takes place at boardroom level where a company’s communications and public interface strategy is plotted at the highest level. And as corporate communications has moved up the value chain in the corporate world, so too has the legal implications of the decisions it is involved in.
The fundamental problem for PR professionals in managing corporate communications when their client is involved in legal disputes and court cases is the inevitable sluggish pace of the legal process while the media moves rapidly in the 24/7 news cycle. Add to this the fact that public relations activity can have a bearing on legal outcomes and it is clear to see why companies need to be careful. One only need to look at the recent issues with Elon Musk, Tesla and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to back up this point.
Our firm has over 25 years of experience in dealing with corporate communications around sensitive legal matters. As a PR professional, the key is to ensure that you have a good relationship with the lawyers involved and listen to their advice very carefully, supporting and engaging with their legal strategy rather than contradicting it. Another crucial link in the chain is to have strong working relationships with legal journalists and court reporters, balancing an understanding of their need to write the story with what they don’t need to know.
However, it is hugely important to remember the potential legal relationship that may exist between a PR agency and their client and the legal obligations that may flow from this. There is an untold number of potential impacts on a case where PR executives are working on behalf of their client. Therefore, when the solicitors are involved, you need to ensure that you have an experienced hand managing your corporate communications output.
Unfortunately, public relations advice is crucial if your company is involved in legal action. For example, should you issue a press release and what are the restrictions on what you can issue?
In a world where defamation, privacy, employment law, contracts, data protection and copyright are issues that are encountered on a frequent basis, PR is an excellent addition to the armoury needed to successfully guide a client through the choppy waters of modern corporate communications.
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