Why Your Law Firm’s Clients Need Public Relations in A Crisis

It is sometimes too easy to let crisis communications fall by the wayside, taking a back seat to the rigors and constant challenges of the day-to-day operations of a business. And, the absolute worst moment for a business to come up with a crisis response plan is in the 60 seconds after a reporter calls for a statement. We have seen (and worked with) many organizations whose failure to plan ahead in this regard has “bitten them,” from chemical plants to food manufacturers. We have also worked with attorneys who are hesitant to engage a public relations firm in the early stages of their client’s crisis. A legal response is frequently not the only response required in a crisis. What if customers stop buying from your client while you work through the appropriate legal process? Public relations is not just a cosmetic clean-up; in reality, it can equate to customer confidence and retention, which keeps a business in business while you keep them legally protected. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” comes to mind when we think of a crisis. There is no doubt that almost every business will experience some sort of crisis, frequently unforeseen that they need to be prepared for, such as:
• An on-the-job employee injury or death.

• A product recall or other product or food safety issue.

• A workplace safety violation.

• A natural disaster or power outage that shuts the facility.

• A supply chain issue that slows or halts production.

• An employee strike.

• A global pandemic!
In our firm’s work as communications professionals, we strongly advise getting on the same page with attorneys prior to a crisis possibly occurring. For instance: • Review the crisis communications plan with attorneys representing the organization • Determine respective roles. • Understand potential legal liabilities and build those into the communications plan on the front end. • Reach agreement on appropriate responses (other than “no comment!”) which both protect the company legally and provide as much transparency as appropriate.
• What are the types of serious crises which could impact your organization?

• What are the basic elements of a plan that will protect your organization’s business, employees and reputation?

• Who in your organization should be in charge of what in the event of a crisis?

• What training is required to execute a solid, well-thought-out plan, and how can you build in periodic practice sessions and updates to your plan, as needed?

• Who are the key audiences you need to communicate with, and what levels and types of communication will be most appropriate?

• Do you have an updated list of media outlets and contact people?

• Who will your spokespeople be, and have they been properly trained to play these roles in a crisis? Another important area of consideration is how a client’s operations, communications and legal representatives interact with each other in various crisis scenarios.
Following the creation and approval of a crisis communications plan, it is important to not just “put it on the shelf.” Your client’s organization should rehearse your response to possible crisis situations according to a pre-determined schedule. Enact various scenarios with staff and advisors in “real time,” and periodically trigger events that will test their plan.
Social media, of course, plays an increasingly important role in how businesses deal with crises, so be sure you have the digital expertise to support your clients in order to respond quickly to misinformation and accusations on social media platform.

While it is impossible to create a crisis communications plan for every possible scenario and to address every possible audience or critic, it is possible to look seriously at your clients’ most likely risk factors and put an overall plan in place for how their organization will behave and communicate during a crisis.
Ackermann has 38 years of experience responding to crises on behalf of companies like Honeywell, Bush Brothers & Company, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We partner with law firms when customer-oriented expertise is a must. We also prefer to get ahead of problems. Here is our approach:
Vulnerabilities audit
While we have a deep understanding of the types of crises in multiple industries such as healthcare and manufacturing—from an employee diagnosed with COVID-19 to allegations of abuse by an employee —arming businesses with a comprehensive preparedness program also requires being aware of past issues that may pose an ongoing risk.

Crisis Communications
Plan We build an actionable, effective crisis communications plan, including scenarios comprised of elements ranging from protocols for response, media statements, reminders to staff, key contacts, crisis response templates, and a communication matrix.

Spokesperson support
Ackermann’s expert media trainers will be available to counsel spokespersons in advance of interviews to ensure they are goal-oriented, message-focused, and anticipating the media’s approaches.

Media and social media monitoring
Ackermann monitors every channel at our disposal—from both traditional and social media channels to various internal and external publications—to ensure we are alerting you to items of interest whenever necessary. Almost every business experiences a crisis in one form or another. In addition to your counsel, public relations plays a supplemental, yet critical, role in additional risk mitigation and customer retention.