Attorneys and Publicists: In Times of Crisis, Let’s Be Friends Instead of Foes
With both the publicist and the attorney in siloed conversations with the client, he is now receiving the exact opposite advice—don’t speak vs. speak fast.
Historically, publicists and attorneys have not been the closest of comrades. When our clients find themselves in a crisis, lawyers generally instruct them to say very little whereas publicists seek to control the conversation—in content and in stage time. Lawyers might instruct their client to remain silent (“wait for your lawyer!”), whereas a good publicist would prioritize churning out a succinct response quickly, as soon as humanly possible. One can imagine how this puts the client in a sticky situation.
With both the publicist and the attorney in siloed conversations with the client, he is now receiving the exact opposite advice—don’t speak vs. speak fast. This adds stress to an already stressful circumstance, and the last thing we both want is a more stressed out client … especially right before a press conference!
Crisis management should always include both the litigation and the communications teams—both pieces are essential to creating a winning strategy. We must come together to ensure our client’s best interests; case closed!
The first problem is that more often than not, the publicist and the lawyer are not in a dialogue with one another. The lack of communication and cohesion here creates a host of problems that take time, energy and resources away from adverting the crisis at hand. Quite simply, we need to talk to one another. Working as a team, together, to develop a crisis communications strategy that is mindful of both legal and reputational risk helps to create a winning game plan for all of us.
Though we often have different instincts and prioritize different concerns, we can pitch our ideas to one another to work through the kinks and cross-check our points of view regarding both possible legal and reputational risk. This will only make our plan of action more bulletproof. Then, and only then, we can come to our client, in unison, with the perfect procedure. Our unity will also give our client a vote of confidence and the assurance that this is, in fact, the best plan.
Our Priorities Are Not Mutually Exclusive
While I understand the instinct to instruct a client to say as little as possible, there are many responses that can be said that usually offer little to zero litigation risk. For example, a client may offer condolences and apologies for an accident caused by his company without taking responsibility for it. We can work in tandem to ensure that this significant difference is understood by our client and translated into his statement to the press.
As a publicist, I will always encourage my client to get out in front of a crisis and to face it with as much dignity and grace as possible. Often, they will feel more comfortable to do so with the blessing of their legal counsel. I encourage my publicists at BoardroomPR to involve their client’s legal team through each stage of developing and implementing the strategy so that everyone is on the same page.
Lawyers do a disservice to their clients when they don’t at least consider proactive communication with the press and the public. When a client hides, they become suspicious. And when a client hides behind their lawyer, they appear compromised.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Attorneys and publicists have much to offer one another. Like any healthy relationship, when we challenge one another we both come out stronger, and our businesses will benefit in turn. Let’s be friends and help ourselves, each other and our clients. It’s a win-win-win.