Posts Tagged ‘Litigation PR’

Corporate and Litigation PR Must Sing in Tune

April 8th, 2011

Anyone who doubts high-stakes lawsuits require smart litigation PR should ready our post today, where we (continue to) deconstruct the awful media narrative of the music industry self-immolating on its tried and true, counter-productive PR strategy.

Mashable has a great post today about the music industry’s looming trial against LimeWire, the file distribution service they accuse of illegally distributing digital music.  When you have a lawsuit with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, it’s no longer a matter of “if” but “when” the proceedings will get heavy media attention.

We’ve written here and here about how tone deaf the music industry’s PR strategy is.  Not only do the heavy-handed statements alienate consumers, they also show incredible contempt for technological advancement, a trend the music industry has famously ignored at its own collective peril.

But, even if the music industry understood the power of positive and persuasive PR, can we assume that their publicists are coordinating messaging with their legal teams?  Probably not, as the Mashable article shows.  The plaintiffs’ prime argument basically amounts to “technology is evil.”  The best comment to the article so far is this:

Corporate titans and captains of industry, know this – if your media team and legal team aren’t coordinating, and litigation PR doesn’t have a special place in your set of business priorities, you’re only hurting your bottom-line.

Big Record Labels Ready to Rain on Amazon’s Cloud

March 30th, 2011

Once again, technology has improved consumer options for music listening.  And, once again, sadly, the music industry is predictably blowing the dust off its “Obtuse PR Tactics” textbook.

Litigation PR plays a big role in the school of obtuse PR, and offers perspective in understanding what’s about to unfold.  When major corporate entities file lawsuits, smart public statements help advance the case in the court of public opinion.  Not-so-smart public statements, conversely, can hamper public attitudes.

We’ve written before about how record labels are, ahem, tone deaf to consumer sentiment and public perception of mindless business practices.  And they’re about to step in it all over again.

Background: Amazon has stolen the fickle tech spotlight by announcing its new cloud drive music service.  Basically, people can now store digital music on an account and stream songs to integrated devices.  This allows potentially limitless music storage, compared to the hard drive confines of a computer or portable music player.

In truth, Amazon’s move isn’t revolutionary technology; rather, it’s a smart assessment of consumer preferences and leverage of wireless bandwidth.  We’d argue that the shift from cassettes to CDs was way more important, as that transition represented a dramatic boost in enjoying audio quality.

Regardless, the music industry seems ready to fight tooth and nail against advancements and technological trends.  Here are choice music executive quotes on Amazon’s cloud:

“Keeping legal options open.”

“The locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by Sony Music.”

“It sounds like legalized murder to me.” (Seriously?!?)

In other words, the record labels seem ready to bellow: “We will sue Amazon, as scorched-earth litigation PR is in our collective genome.”  Instead of such statements, what if the RIAA, on behalf of the record labels, simply said:

“Cloud music is an interesting technology development.  We’ll keep our eye on it.”

See that?  Framing the industry’s official position as passively interested in no way compromises litigation potential.  Such a statement certainly helps avoid negative headlines and mistaken context as the cloud music media narrative gains momentum.  Better to be a bit mysterious and noncommittal in this case, as opposed to playing the oppressive tactic of “let’s sue ‘em into oblivion.”

Taco No-No: Taco Bell’s Crash & Burn Litigation PR Strategy

January 25th, 2011

Many of us continue to crack jokes about mystery meat from childhood memories.  Others keep the dream alive as adults, and sue alleged offenders – to them goes the glory!

If you haven’t heard yet, Taco Bell Corp. has been sued for false advertising, with claims that its products are not “seasoned beef” as advertised.  The point of contention is that Taco Bell uses “meat filling” to flesh out its tasty delights, which does not consist of approved USDA standards for food labeling.

Litigation PR counsels that a business have a holding statement in place should lawsuits arise in likely scenarios.  We can’t really say whether Taco Bell saw this one coming though, as they issued quite an angry statement in response to the lawsuit.  Here are some quick reasons why Taco Bell needs better litigation public relations counsel:

Man, that statement is evasive! Taco Bell’s rant essentially states that it does serve 100% USDA beef.  That’s fine and all, except that the statement does nothing to address the core of the complaint.  Take a look at the filings, which argue that Taco Bell products contain additional filler ingredients besides beef.

Never let them see you sweat.  A holding statement is not the time or place to attack opposing counsel.  Stick to the issue at hand, and use the statement to buy time for your PR pushback.

Speak, and speak consistently.  If your company issues a holding statement, get it across all your platforms at the same time.  Taco Bell’s Facebook and Twitter pages ignore the situation completely, leaving a big gap in communications.

Given these mistakes, Taco Bell needs to revise its crisis management and litigation PR strategy quickly, if it plans to avoid a big corporate black-eye as lawsuit discovery charts its inevitable course.

Stay for the Credits – They’re Better than the Feature!

December 20th, 2010

Since the dawn of the first (and now annoying) chime of “you’ve got mail,” content copyright battles between mom-and-pops and mega-behemoth titans rage on predictably.  More often than not, the default outcome is the titan unleashing litigation, at considerable cost and embarrassment.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see Warner Brothers apply a dose of PR common sense in a recent skirmish over its newest film release “Yogi Bear” (now the negative film reviews, that’s another issue entirely).  Edmund Earle, a young animator and apparent fan of the decades old characters, made his own digital parody with Yogi and Boo Boo based on another film, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

Say what you want about Earle’s unusual taste in story telling, but give your real kudos to Warner Brother’s PR team.  No doubt the studio was set to, err, pull the trigger and litigate the video into non-existence.  Instead, somewhere along the way the PR and legal minds met at the table and everyone took a deep breath.  Knowing how costly it would have been to fight this battle, and appreciating the reality that once a video goes online it never truly disappears, the Warner Brothers team did the sensible thing.  They contacted Earle, requested that he add a disclaimer in his clip’s credits, and poof… the story got little to no traction.

Now imagine if this play-by-play were replaced with scorched-earth litigation.  Not only would the video have bounced around Facebook status updates and Twitter, but other animators would have rushed to Earle’s defense and probably have produced other parodies that skewered the studio.

As much as litigation PR is about telling your client’s side of the story, it’s also about appreciating the likely outcomes of a lawsuit and knowing that a small lump here and there beats a costly legal battle any day of the week.

How Litigation Actually Helps Your Company Improve Its PR Capabilities

June 16th, 2010

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 Mexicoseriously?)

• 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.

How to Control the Rules of the Court of Public Opinion, Step 1

May 1st, 2010

In crisis management and crisis PR, *the* most precious commodity is time.  Events happen so rapidly that you don’t have to time to determine if you have the upper hand.  One day your business is coasting along, but the next day you’re causing a mega-environmental disaster, accused of bribing regulators, facing allegations of financial crimes, or trying to figure out if an opponent is more bark than bite.

Staring down the barrel of a lawsuit?  What’s your litigation PR strategy?  Better be more than hoping for limited liability.  Your business may be at the mercy of civil procedure rules and a trier of fact, but don’t forget that the rules of the court of public opinion are totally different.

To leverage those circumstances in your favor, your business must take steps before you face litigation.  Your public relations counsel should conduct a thorough risk assessment and identify all weak spots of potential negative publicity.  Still, effective risk assessment is more than scanning your business operations – the analysis must connect with messaging, otherwise you’re wasting your money on ineffective consultants.

That’s why your business must be armed with a holding statement that can be aimed at each potential publicity hit or reporter inquiry.  Nothing appears worse (or more guilty) than inaction or “no comment.”   Ask yourself, who are your stakeholders – customers, regulators, business partners, activists, employees, maybe others?  If they suspect being cheated somehow by your business, what will you say when the microphones are in your face?

Specific holding statements can address initial concerns and buy you time to regroup, take a deep breath and implement the extended PR strategy.  Don’t assume that your folksy charm, steel spine or other character trait will woo rabid press into submission.  Speaking on the fly only reinforces the image of being unprofessional, and worse, indifferent to the crisis.

Appreciate the importance of prior planning, finalize your holding statement and be patient – by doing so you’ve already made a strong opening statement in the court of public opinion.

Litigation PR: Lindsay Lawsuit Is the Best Press Possible for E*TRADE

March 9th, 2010

“Never interrupt your enemy when [she] is making a mistake.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“Bizarre Media Aesthetic” seems a more appropriate category than “Litigation Public Relations” for this blog article: today delusional personality celebrity Lindsay Lohan sued E*TRADE, the online financial transaction powerhouse, for $100 million in damages.  Here’s the miserable play-by-play:

E*TRADE’s current ad campaign showcases its mascot, a wise-cracking baby who brags about the company in simulated video chats.  In the most recent ad the E*TRADE baby chats with a girl his age, who accuses him of flirting with another baby girl named “Lindsay” who has a compulsive milk-drinking habit.  As the E*TRADE baby attempts to deny this, baby Lindsay’s face appears and interrupts the chat.  Hilarity ensues.

Lohan’s lawsuit claims that E*TRADE purposely included her “name, characterization and personality” in the ad, that she has not “given her consent” for such usage, thus violating her “right of privacy … causing injury” and entitling her to $100 million.  Hilarity ensues.

• Um, wow…

Normally when a company is involved in a high-stakes lawsuit, they seek litigation public relations support.  A common step such companies often forget (or ignore) is placing a prominent statement on their website to stop the press and others from drawing any conclusions.  As of today, E*TRADE hasn’t taken that step.  But, maybe this is the best move by E*TRADE.

First, we don’t even need to get into the merits of the lawsuit.  The Blog Aesthetic will go out on a limb and predict outright dismissal, not to mention the possibility of ethics sanctions against Lohan’s lawyers for filing frivolous litigation.  The more important thing is that celebrity media is probably the loudest, highest-profile, social-media saturated platform that exists.  As Lohan’s antics frequently vault her to the bottom top of this heap, the lawsuit will shove E*TRADE into glaring headlines for at least the next few days.

However, given the absurdity of the lawsuit, E*TRADE should simply heed Napoleon’s advice as Lohan’s own statements will likely destroy any shred of credibility behind her allegations.  This will direct any and all sympathy toward E*TRADE as the sensible party, and the company then can relax and bask in the glow of millions of dollars of free publicity, courtesy of an errant actress and ethically-compromised attorneys.