Let’s talk about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Heard sacked her PR team mid-trial, reeling from bad press with hashtags like #JusticeforJohnnyDepp racking up 3 billion views on TikTok. The Court of Public Opinion had firmly turned against her, and the case is a perfect example of the growing importance of litigation communications in the digital world. Not all cases occupy the tabloids quite like the ‘Wagatha Christie’ libel trial or Depp vs. Heard, however, personal, financial, and corporate litigation can easily make the headlines, propagate on social media, and leave a long-lasting damaging digital footprint.
Monitoring and managing what is said about the client is therefore critical and this is where Litigation PR comes in. Litigation public relations is the management of the communication process during the course of any legal dispute so as to affect the outcome or its impact on the client’s overall reputation. Litigants and Law Firms have always used the media to get their side of the story across and the practice of Litigation PR originally evolved out of crisis communications.
Litigation PR is a specialised practice in that the aim is tied to supporting a legal dispute and any communication about the case can have legal implications, given the sensitive rules around disclosure during courts proceedings. Litigation communications and reputation management can be necessary for cases across all practice areas. Generally, the two parties have important interests to defend that expand way beyond the legal case. Negative publicity about a company or individual can cause damage to the overall reputation that even a courtroom win may never salvage.
A Litigation PR expert who understands the court process and legal strategy will guide the client on communication and develop the appropriate strategy, both in terms of the case, and the publicity that comes with it. For many cases the goal is to keep any mention of the case out of the press altogether. Litigation PR can even be an effective tool in bringing the other side to the table to settle a dispute to avoid negative publicity.
Although the practice of PR involves far more than just media communication, Litigation PR remains dependent on the media. At a time when society is growing more litigious, the media focuses and in fact seeks out publicly filed lawsuits. It is important your Litigation PR Practitioner knows how to pre-empt adverse publicity that could impact the entire strategy of a legal case. Clients need to know whether there will be news coverage of their case, how to tell their story to correct any misleading impressions, protect their business interests, the share price of their company, and even ability to access finance.
Because typical public relations campaign strategies and tactics may not be appropriate and may even be harmful at certain times during a lawsuit, the strategy must follow due legal process. Litigation PR is more regulated so as not to prejudice the legal process. Whatever the practice area and nature of the case, the Litigation PR practitioner will conduct a reputation risk analysis with a comprehensive media and online audit, and background research exercise. This provides insight into any likely source of negativity to be involved, what they might say, what online assets exist, what the social media footprint is like, and who the interested parties are.
Depending on the finding of the reputation risk analysis, the communications and Litigation PR strategy for every case will be different. If a case is already out in the public domain there is the need to take control and have a say in the way a case is reported. Other times it may be better to sit it out and only speak out if the need arises. In all instances, being prepared and responsive in real time is always in the client’s best interests.
Litigation PR is highly strategic and requires experience, knowledge of the legal process and a close working relationship with the client’s legal team. Lack of co-operation and communication can lead to the most solid case derailing which will ultimately be costly for the client and may lose them their business and reputation. Litigation PR should be seen as part of sound brand management in protecting underlying brand value for the long term.
(photo source: Mauro Gigli/Unsplash)
by Sabine Raabe
PR Specialist, Enlightened PR
Collaboration Partner – The Brooke Consultancy