Maintaining reputation during litigation

How the right PR can benefit your brand during a lawsuit

In today’s business world, litigation between companies is a regular occurrence. Intellectual property suits (IP), fraud, and breach of contract cases are behind many of these.

With our fast-evolving technologies, IP litigation often results from more than one company developing similar tech. For example, many of us remember the fight between Apple and Microsoft over the similar look and feel of the original Mac user interface and Microsoft Windows.

Just like the Apple/Microsoft case did in the 90s, pending and in-process litigation between companies make for uncertainties for investors and customers. How long will the suit last? Will the CEO step down? Could the company be forced to stop manufacturing a product?

As these lawsuits drag on, the risks to the business’s profitability increase.

At Repute, we’re often asked to provide counsel on pending lawsuits, both by start-ups and large national corporations. And building a positive story around a lawsuit is tough. But with the right strategy in place, it can be done.

The media doesn’t always like reporting on lawsuits because much of mainstream media is owned by large corporations that might have a stake in the suit. This creates the potential for libel. In addition, today’s fast-moving news cycle doesn’t much support in-depth analysis of legal issues.

“No Comment”

When a company becomes the defendant or plaintiff in a lawsuit, its legal counsel will usually recommend that the company not comment on anything related to the case until it is settled. This “no comment” policy will apply to all employees because any public statement can be used as evidence in the case.

Despite this approach, there is room for a company or brand to push forward an opinion or stand up against false statements. Brief statements can be made if they provide limited information that mitigates adverse publicity.

Balancing public statements with discretion

When deciding to go beyond a simple “no comment” during a lawsuit, a company must carefully consider the good and bad consequences. It helps to have a substantial budget for legal counsel AND public relations in these cases.

Balance must be created between outbound communications and discretion. There must be precise crisis communications planning, including separate strategies for whether the case is won or lost.

Proactive PR

Lawsuits are a stressful experience for even the most well-established of businesses. The litigation’s outcome can affect a company’s profitability and very existence. With such high stakes, an expert and, as stated above, balanced public relations campaign is necessary.

Proactive public relations is critical. Thoughtful, responsive, transparent, and forward-thinking communications will put stakeholders, customers, and employees at ease. Tactics like creating carefully worded (and carefully placed) op-eds to advocate broadly without attacking the opposition will go a long way towards preserving a company’s brand and reputation.

During this legal crisis, reporters should be referred to the company’s legal counsel for all media relations. Publicly available filings will also limit questions from reporters and get the words out that the company wants to be heard. Any interviews should be supervised by the company’s legal counsel and its public relations team to ensure accuracy and prevent any unwanted disclosures. This way, the media gets what it wants, the public is prevented from panicking, and the company can preserve its reputation.

A measured and not overly aggressive PR approach like this allows businesses facing litigation to continue to project an image of safety and stability. By following the guidelines outlined above, a company’s value in the marketplace remains intact, despite the legal crisis.

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