Lawyers and public relations professionals can and should work more closely together on risk and crisis

Law and PR – what’s the link?

Yesterday I was speaking at the annual Commercial Law Network Conference and the theme was risk and reputation. In preparation for the event, I was doing some research on what corporate firms were saying they already did around risk and reputation.

My observations were around accountancy and law firms stating they are business advisors and management consultants as well as accountants and lawyers. The language they used was interesting and something we’re seeing senior practitioners in PR turning to.

Secondly, many talk about how they can help with risk, but NONE talk about communication. This opened up the perfect opportunity for me to talk about PR’s role in risk and reputation.

law and pr

Modern public relations

I started my presentation with the CIPR’s description of what PR is and asked the audience if any of them would have said that… no-one respond. I suggested that their perception of PR was press releases and parties and I got a few smirky looks back!

I talked about the PESO model and how we work with integrated thinking, trying to achieve authority and ultimately influence. Many were surprised that public relations covered such a broad spectrum and I made sure to explain that not every practitioner does all of that work.

We talked about who determines reputation and who is responsible for it. Everyone who comes into contact and has an interest in a brand will have a perception and it’s those perceptions which form opinions and in turn a reputation. Equally, everyone is responsible for an organisation’s reputation – those who work for the brand in particular, as they are ambassadors. But, when it comes to a responsible person or department to manage reputation, this firmly has to sit with public relations.

Making public relations relevant

The person who spoke before me, from an accountancy firm, was talking about cyber security. I had of course included this within my presentation as it’s something we’ve had to consider for the last few years, as when attacks hit, we have to know protocol and how and when we communicate with stakeholders, particularly if they are affected, for example if data is being held to ransom or stolen. This element of the presentation was a bit of a lightbulb moment for some, as they started to realise that public relations was indeed more strategic than they thought and did work across the business.

I then went on to talk about the disconnect between departments and the fact there was little knowledge of how issues arise and often lack of skills to deal with the situation e.g. as little importance has been placed on public relations, there is no alignment of communication with planning.

Law and PR – need to be honest and ethical

So, I talked through the process we have to determine risks, develop a risk register, red flags, issues management and then onto crisis management and how communication was a key part of the management process. I made a very slow and long point about being 100% honest, authentic and to mean what you saw and follow it up with action. I mentioned a few examples of unethical behaviour and said this wasn’t the trait of a Chartered PR practitioner and if they did indeed work with unethical practitioners, they should consider that being a big risk in itself!

law and pr presentation

That 360 degree view only PRs are privy to (or should be)

I placed public relations right in the picture with messages, channels, the war room, monitoring, advising, reacting and basically being in any crisis situation from start to finish. Our job isn’t done until the recovery process has finished!

We then went onto to talk about trust and the results of the Edelman Trust Barometer. This pointed out the essential engagement between an organisation and its workforce. “Globally, 75% of people trust “my employer” to do what is right…” This is huge. Staff expect a lot of their companies, even more so nowadays with social impact being high on the agenda. But in basics, doing the right thing is a fair human expectation.

I talked about the opportunity we had. PR practitioners need to be confident leaders, empowering and inspiring. Put it this way, what happens if we DON’T communicate??

I finished the presentation by giving some examples of client work I had been involved in where working alongside a lawyer was important, (in fact, it turned out to be me that ended up leading the strategy…) mergers/acquisitions, defamation, employment tribunal and business failure. In all of these situations the same process applied and the same 100% fact checking was required, as well as anticipation, being risk aware and plans in place depending on different scenarios.

Law and PR – the opportunity to work more closely

At first I was a bit nervous speaking to 70 lawyers but it turns out when you’re passionate about your own work and professionalism, you’ve worked in it for almost 20 years, and you’re confident in your own leadership and advisory role, you could talk about it all day long.

The feedback was very positive and I’m pleased further activity has already materialised as a result. One gentleman said to me after “you know, it’s surprising that for so long we just get on with our own jobs and don’t consider anything like what you’ve talked about. Just think what might have been possible if I had heard that presentation 30 years ago…”. WOW! That made the whole preparation, nerves and situation so worth it.

Thanks again for asking me to present, Bellwether Green. If you’d like me to come and speak at your conference or if you’re interested in discussing how I can add value to your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.