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.

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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..

Hashtags vs engagement…

Simply Measured wrote a blog post entitled 5 Effective Tactics for Facebook Hashtags. The content of this post really struck me – they stated that “hashtags are not yet driving additional engagement overall”. Perhaps this is because people are equally as likely to search for a term as they are to click on a hashtag, or perhaps because organisations are fundamentally using hashtags in a way that doesn’t prompt as much interaction as they would like.

The examples provided by Simply Measured include the American Express #PassionProject and Credit Suisse’s use of #Wimbledon. These examples are clearly associating the brands with other topics and events. This use of hashtags ensures that people that follow American Express or Credit Suisse on Twitter have instant access to these collaborations. Rather than a useless hashtag that nobody would bother clicking, these directly nudge people towards the linked project.

I think hashtags are best used in this context: when a brand is promoting themselves as linked to an ongoing campaign or event. It means the public can easily access that event through Twitter and discuss it with others. Perhaps this is why it doesn’t seem that brands itself are gaining engagement through hashtags, rather they are associating themselves with other people. This is an incredible generalisation and so obviously isn’t the case all the time, but considering hashtags are not as prolific across Twitter as I originally thought, and these examples were two of the most powerful uses of hashtags focused on by Simply Measured, I feel it is a fair conclusion to come to. So perhaps what brands need to do now is use hashtags to promote their internal campaigns and aspects of their own organisations more, to prompt people to discuss them and consequently engage with the brand itself.

Litigation PR

Litigation PR is something I’ve come across quite recently. My academic background is in Law, and I’ve always found the litigation side of the subject more fast-paced and dramatic. I think I’m drawn to the subject by the convergence of Law and the media, and the careful management of the relationship between the two.

I have to admit that currently I don’t know much about the subject, but what I have read has intrigued me.

Haggerty (2003) defined litigation PR as the management of the communication process prior to and during the course of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing so as to affect the outcome or its impact on the client’s overall reputation. Furthermore, Watson (2002) stated that there is a responsibility upon the lawyers involved in a case to balance any news coverage in favour of their clients, as the prosecutors in a case tend to use the media to shape public opinion in their favour – against the client.

There are two basic concepts of litigation PR. The first concept, outlined by Haggerty (2003), is that the outcome of the court case is influenced. This is done through encouraging early or favourable settlement, or by pressuring the prosecution into bringing lesser, or no, charges. The second concept, introduced by Haywood (2002), is the purpose of litigation PR in protecting the client’s reputation both before and during the trial; it is used in a similar manner to reputation management, and its intention is to manage the public’s perception and attitude of the organisation or individual in question. The relevant issue is this individual’s reputation, not knowledge itself.

Fitzpatrick (1996) listed six objectives of litigation PR:

  1. Counteracting any negative publicity that has arisen
  2. Making a client’s viewpoint on the matter known to everybody
  3. Ensuring that the media coverage of the case is balanced
  4. Helping the public, through the media, to understand any complex legal issues involved in the case
  5. Defusing any hostile environments
  6. Helping to resolve the conflict that the case is based upon

The way in which the PR ought to go about this was outlined in Fitzpatrick (1996), Haggerty (2003), and Reber, Gower & Robinson (2006). Firstly, the PR’s credibility with the media, as an information source, must be established. This is vital in order for the media to take the information that they convey seriously. Secondly, the flow of information to the media must be controlled in order that the correct message is put forward. Finally, this message must support the client’s position, and it must actually be transmitted to the media and then onto the public.

This article contains a quotation by Stephen Lock, who said that litigation PR “mixes the fun of consumer PR with the intellectual demands of financial”. Both of these are things that I am looking for in a career; I want something that is consumer-centric, and involves interacting with the public, but also something that poses a challenge.

There are further reasons that I am keen to follow this particular genre of PR. As emphasised by Gibson (1998), it is heavily dependent on relations with the media. Lukaszewski (1997) and Schweitzer (2003) stated that the usual PR strategies and tactics might not be appropriate, and may even be harmful, in the case of litigation PR. Taking this into account, the legal strategy must always take precedence. Seeing as I have a grounding in Law, this is an aspect of the industry in which I will have a fundamental knowledge and understanding that I wish to apply to my work. Gibson (1998) further outlined the regulations put upon litigation PR due to the potential to prejudice the case in question, and the heavily one-way and asymmetrical communication nature. Finally, Reber, Gower, & Robinson (2006) claimed that the goal of litigation PR is to reinforce the legal strategy and theory of the case, and to ensure a win and reduce any damage to the individual’s credibility and reputation.

All the above has led me to the conclusion that this is a subject I’m keen to learn more about. It’s a potential subject for my dissertation, but I still have a vast amount to read!