More than ever, it is essential for public relations (PR) professionals and lawyers representing any company to work together to protect the company’s reputation during a crisis. Proper reputation management is more critical than ever due to social media, which allows the public to get information faster and pass it on quickly – whether that information is correct or not.
“Traditionally, there has been conflict between a PR department and a legal department that both represent the same organization. This is primarily due to the fact that the language each uses is different. PR ‘language’ works well for stakeholders, employees and consumers. However, this language will not always aid the legal side of the case. Words have different shades of meaning. The language used by lawyers is indispensable in a courtroom, but the general public may have a hard time actually understanding it. When an in-house lawyer reads what a PR officer considers to be an ideal statement, he or she will often disapprove of it because it lacks specific legal terminology.
This has led to conflict between the two departments. Sometimes it gets to the point where a PR team is not brought into the situation until it is too late for them to make a difference. This can be viewed as a failure on their part, which makes the legal department even less willing to call them during the next crisis. If even a seemingly minor negative story about the company emerges, the company will be pounced on by the media and the public, making the situation a lot worse than it should be. Early utilization of the PR department can prevent this.”
“Rather than shunning their colleagues, the legal department needs to work with PR to put out the sparks – so to speak – before they become a raging inferno. This should begin before there is even a problem. Collaboration is essential during the crisis, but if certain protocols are put into place beforehand, there will at least be a guide available so that everyone understands who should do what and when it should be done. Such protocols can even determine whether there is a risk of damage to the company’s reputation, how big the risk is and if a small risk is likely to elevate into a larger one.
These protocols can be used to regulate the actions of the PR and legal department so that they can work together to form and encourage the best overall reaction to the situation; one that will not damage the reputation of the company. They need to form a plan that will limit the damage so that it does not become uncontrollable. After all, both departments have the same goal and are working for the same company. They both want to see that the reputation of the company remains intact.”
“When the PR department meets with the legal department during a company publicity crisis, the situation is intense, to the point of being out of control. Time is of the essence if they wish to contain the damage. However, often an agreement on wording is not reached and this causes delays when there is no time for it. It would be much more efficient for the two departments to work together before the situation gets out of hand, or even before it arises at all. They must get on the same page quickly. Ideally, the legal team will alert the PR team and provide them with the kind of words and phrases that could lead the organization to legal hot water.
One way to improve the relationship between the two departments would be to create a hypothetical situation, giving them a chance to work on their language before a real crisis demands their attention. Once the legal department and the PR department work together properly, trust can be established. Then, when a crisis does strike, the PR team will have will not make any mistakes with the legal wording in their media statements, and the reports that are sent to stakeholders and others will be greatly improved.”
Since a tattered reputation can cost a company even more than any litigation can, it is essential for the two departments to work together. Both sides must establish trust and transparency, two things that are necessary for any group to work together successfully. In doing so, they will ensure that the company they represent will prevail during a crisis.