Public relations professionals know all too well the power of social media and the impact that negative online reviews can have. While social media can be an incredibly valuable tool for generating awareness and exposure, at times it may feel more like a necessary evil we must endure for the sake of transparency and real-time engagement.
But for the Windemere Cay apartment complex in Winter Garden, this lack of control seemed too much to bear — and as a result, decided to incorporate a social media addendum into its lease contracts, imposing a $10,000 fine for residents caught writing a bad review.
One would have to assume they ran this clause past their legal team, but from a PR standpoint, an act like this seems inconceivable. That’s because while the apartment complex may have had the legal authority to institute such a clause, by managing to subvert a couple of negative reviews, it in turn captured national media attention with coverage blasting its behavior in news reports ranging from the Huffington Post and CBS News to the Orlando Sentinel and beyond.
While a legal recommendation might hold up in court, it won’t necessarily hold up in the court of public opinion, which is why PR professionals and legal counsel are at their best when working together. A unified legal and PR strategy not only ensures that what is said or done is legally permissible but also presents a likable corporate brand image.
For the past decade, we have worked with a number of law firms and in-house legal counsel on issues ranging from crisis management issues to litigation support. Here are some of the most critical lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Having A Seat At The Table
The legal team is generally involved in important decisions by default, but PR professionals can also act as a crucial sounding board in the decision-making process.
Too often we are engaged at the 11th hour, cleaning up a mess rather than preventing or at least mitigating it in the first place. By having a seat at the table from the very beginning, public relations can play a valuable role in shaping strategy as opposed to simply reacting to it.
Prepare For The Worst
Crisis communications and issue management involves planning for the worst- and best-case scenarios with appropriate contingency plans in place. This is exactly what your legal team is doing as well.
Yet so often the two operate in a vacuum with no knowledge of the other’s existence or the implications they can bring. By working together, PR and legal can not only ensure alignment but also help augment or support each other in achieving the broader business objectives. For example, a company about to undergo a wave of layoffs can protect itself against potential wrongful dismissal claims while also preserving its reputation in the public domain.
Begin With What You Want To Say
PR professionals love to make bold statements. After all, we think and speak in headlines. But sometimes, what we want to say can create potential liabilities for our clients. At the same time, when we run our statement past legal, it often comes returned to us in the form of a redline version filled with ambiguity and jargon. Through open discussion and collaboration we can often find a happy medium that protects against liability without diluting the message.