It’s the rare communicator who hasn’t run into challenges working with their legal counterparts at a crucial time, perhaps a crisis or a product launch. When it is crunch time, chances are you’ll see a PR person and a lawyer huddled in the corner of some war room, press release in hand, pens poised. For a long time, pop culture and conventional wisdom have fueled a “lawyers vs. PR” dynamic creating a perception that the two just don’t mix. Today, it is even more pronounced against the backdrop of an unrelenting, 24/7 conversation populated by increasingly vocal stakeholder groups who demand answers in real time.
We all know the drill: lawyers cringe at our use of adjectives and descriptors because those vague claims leave our company exposed. We become equally - if not more - frustrated at the legal team’s use of redlining; striking what we feel are the best brand attributes. Let’s take a second look, though. The two functions have a lot more in common than it may seem. If each party spent a few minutes understanding the other’s motivation, it would be a much more productive dialogue.
Ultimately, a solid working relationship between legal and PR professionals is one long negotiation. Before you begin, lay the groundwork for a successful one.
First: Understand Them
There is a reason why many lawyers are risk averse: they are trained to think that way, and paid to protect an organization whether negotiating a contract, closing a deal, developing a litigation strategy or writing a settlement. It is an essential part of their training. This mindset saves companies a lot of money, time and potential exposure.
Particularly, in the midst of a crisis, it can be frustrating to watch our messaging become dissected and eventually, diluted. Message development can oftentimes be infused with emotion and stress. So, the next time it happens, instead of viewing it as an obstacle, consider the legal review an important checkpoint that safeguards your organization.
Next: Understand Your Organization
Know your organization’s business, and not just from the marketing and communications standpoint. Know what your legal team is doing on behalf of the company. It can be tempting in proactive news cycles and feel-good marketing campaigns to ignore the legal and compliance issues that lurk beneath. However, keeping someone on the communications team informed and engaged with that business function will pay dividends later if you allow the legal process to inform your communications strategy.
Then: It’s in the Details
Don’t overlook the opportunity to break down silos as you go about your daily business. There are a number of things that can accelerate the approval process for an approach and messaging and even over time, secure the legal team as a bona fide fan of your communications team. Here’s how:
- Try to identify “hot-button” issues before crunch time and flag words or phrases that you just can’t agree upon. Talk through your true deal-breakers during the course of everyday business, not the two hours before the product goes live.
- Make it more personal than transactional during down times. Share your views on how you each contribute to the business strategy. Discuss trends in your respective industries. It is a lot easier to negotiate with someone you know as a person.
- Take time to learn their industry. Knowing what a term sheet is or what actually happens during the discovery phase of litigation can go a long way toward building a relationship. Speak their language occasionally. Become knowledgeable about the whole business and not just what you do in it.
- Comply with the legal team’s requests too. Is there a request for documents in litigation discovery? Remember, sometimes legal issues take priority in an organization. Be as prompt with your responses as you would want in return.
And remember: at the end of the day, you and your legal counterparts are both there to enhance and protect your organization’s reputation… just from a different vantage point.Tags: Wait A Minute
Posted by Wait A Minute on June 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM