Litigation PR (continued…)

Litigation PR is still my primary dissertation topic, although not much research has been done since the last post on it. The PRCA has published a “Best Practice Guide” on the topic, which is an interesting read.

This guide separates the practice of Litigation PR into a number of categories:

  • Promoting lawyers;
  • Encouraging early or favourable settlement; and
  • Managing a client’s reputation.

I am far more interested in the second and third categories. Some tips given in this guide include being more helpful to overcome a journalist’s negative attitude when on the side of the less favoured party, making sure that legal and commercial arguments are aligned (so that any victory is not negated by its adverse effects), and, maybe most importantly, making sure that, whatever the outcome, the client is viewed in as favourable a light as possible by the media.

An example of the latter given by the PRCA was Ian Hislop’s statement, after losing a defamation suit. He said “If this is justice then I’m a banana”, and it was this quotation that was included in the newspapers following the conclusion of the trial, and in fact prompted the winner of the suit to reduce her payout by 10%. This is an incredibly important part of Litigation PR, and works both ways – there is no point, as a well-known person, winning a case and then negating all the positive publicity by doing something idiotic or shameful. A case of this was Michael Le Vell dumping his girlfriend by text after being acquitted of child sex abuse charges. Having just been acquitted, the public’s opinion of him was the highest it had been in a while, yet he then took action that defeated it all.

 

This is an important, but overlooked, aspect of legal proceedings, and hopefully there will be a lot to read about from a theoretic and academic point of view. I just have to find it all.

Storytelling

Storytelling in public relations is vital. PR efforts need to make people think and discuss something, for it to linger in their minds. Straight facts and figures, or a boring campaign, won’t have that effect and will be forgotten soon after seeing it. The message must be at the heart of the story, but it must be written in such a way that people want to know the story. They aren’t usually asking to see it, so pushing a message on the public requires that it is at least engaging when they do read it.

However, it is important that the storytelling doesn’t overpower the message. The public will focus too much on the story and not enough on the entire point of broadcasting it, which negates the message entirely. Luke Mackay, associate director at Edelman, said that “the stories created by communication professionals should be thought of as parables – vehicles to convey information. As with all parables, the stories only work if they are delivering a succinct and clear message that can be understood by the target audience”. This is paramount – if the story is too confusing, or embellished, or unrelated to the message, the entire point of it is submerged beneath all the flowery additions. The message is key. Kevin Murray, chairman of the Good Relations Group, said that “Stories are like stealth fighters, they get messages straight to your heart”.

PR is simply about portraying a message, but doing so in a creative and realistic way that makes the public want to listen. An example of storytelling was provided by Bryce Keane, founder and director of Albion Drive, who stated that, as an example, Apple has “reinvent[ed] the concept of a brand narrative over any individual product. Although it wasn’t the first to take this approach, Apple has long since dominated the customer-centric narrative that revolves around ‘beautiful solutions’ to day-to-day problems, cleverly packaged up in a ‘unique identity’ approach for consumers who become fans”.

For me, it’s the use of the word “fans” in the above quotation that indicates the importance of storytelling. If Apple’s PR was simple facts and figures, then people would just read the information and move on. They may remember it. and they may understand it, but they certainly wouldn’t become “fans” of it. However, Apple have ensured that people get truly involved in their campaigns.

Becca Colbaugh, senior director of digital content at Saxum, listed the key factors that should be included when initiating a storytelling PR campaign:

  • Valuable: the brand’s goals must be kept in mind when designing the campaign; there is no point writing it if it is not of any value to the organisation
  • Snackable: it must be short enough to be remembered by the publics that see it
  • Educational: it must teach the audience something
  • Beautiful: simply put, it must look nice; Apple’s campaign and their flawless visuals immediately comes to mind for this factor
  • Optimise: this is in regards to the distribution of the campaign – where and when it is put out must be relevant and logical for the organisation
  • Timely: ideally, the campaign will be related to something that is current and relevant – any ties to current events will ensure people remember it
  • Entertaining: it must keep the public entertained when reading it

From all this, it can be seen that constructing a story from a message is complicated and time-consuming. It is not simply a case of writing something related to the message; the writer must be creative, and must reach this delicate balance between portraying the central message, and embellishing it in such a way as to be interesting and attention-capturing. It seems that this is a discipline in itself..