Surprise – your widget-making mom-and-pop/mid-sized business/global corporate behemoth has been sued! Apparently Timmy Goodkid Thompson tried to eat a decidedly non-edible product your business sells, and hurt himself quite amazingly in that effort. Did we mention it’s your flagship widget, the one that drives 99% of your revenue?
The Thompson family – farmer father, teacher mother, rambunctious and adorable Timmy – have hired a media-friendly law firm, one that has perfected the art of PR stagecraft. The firm has called a press conference to publicize the lawsuit. All the 24/7 networks will be there, not to mention local reporters your neighbors know and trust. Since the scrum will be streamed live, product safety bloggers are all over this one, riding a high-wave of backlash against corporate malfeasance. Someone (the law firm?) has launched a fake Twitter account in your company’s name, a parody that sarcastically communicates abject, tone-deaf insensitivity with tweets like “next time blend the widget, it’ll digest more easily.”
Your company isn’t sweating, though, because you’re confident your product was not the cause of injury, and that your customers likely will understand this. More importantly, long ago you hired a smart crisis management PR firm to draw up a crisis response playbook… right? You did an inventory of interested media, have a holding statement in place, along with a grid that anticipates an escalating public relations meltdown… right?
Ok, enough about the PR nightmare, let’s shift to reality. Litigation PR makes any company nervous. No matter how small a lawsuit, the potential for media attention is limitless. Yet in a way, that’s the beauty of litigation PR – in anticipating lawsuit scenarios, business leaders must identify every stakeholder, and that includes everyone in your company hierarchy. Imagine the human resources involved in the widget lawsuit:
• Are the front office staff prepared to answer initial phone inquiries, do they have talking points?
• Have the interns been told to stay quiet and report inquiries to supervisors?
• Has the communications office reviewed and updated crisis PR procedures to ensure relevancy? (Note: Big Oil – walruses in the Gulf of Mexico – seriously?)
• Has building security been consulted regarding protestors who may show up at the front door?
• Has a point-of-contact been designated to oversee the entire crisis PR response?
• Has legal counsel examined your supply chain to identify each choke point of liability, and in turn relayed that information to your communications staff so they have statements and talking points ready to address each vulnerability?
• Are the IT staff ready to update the company website immediately with relevant messaging? Do you have a dark site in waiting for this special occasion?
• Has everyone signed a NDA regarding trade secrets and the relevant aspects of litigation?
Such thorough preparation is essential in litigation PR. As the company head, you can only achieve this level of care by engaging every tier of staff within your business operations. That’s why an effective crisis playbook fundamentally requires looking inward, and in doing so your company encourages discipline amongst the ranks and knowledge of the situation.
Nothing looks worse than an erratic or empty media response to a lawsuit, so embrace the possibility of litigation and run the traps to get all employees on the same page.