News coverage unfavorable? Can’t tell your story because the media no longer cares?
File suit. That’s an effective way of getting the attention not only of the other side — but also of the media and public.
Why? Because that’s the battlefield on which disputes are frequently fought. Reporters give more credence to arguments made in litigation.
The suit itself is protected against defamation by litigation privilege. So are news releases you issue and statements you make that accurately report on the litigation, as long as they’re carefully attributed.
Even if a suit is ultimately withdrawn, privilege still protects the initial allegations, as long as you don’t continue to make them.
Case in point: A lawsuit filed this week by “junk-bond king” Bill Gross against PIMCO, the investment company he co-founded in 1971 and was forced out of a year ago. In the suit, he paints a dark picture of being ousted amid an environment of intrigue, backstabbing, and greed.
The media loved it. Suddenly the story of Gross’ ouster was back in the news, and PIMCO was on the defensive.
It’s a common tactic for those in Crisis & Reputation Management. Consider these two clients. Different problems utilizing similar tactics.
- A prominent company fired three executives who, an internal investigation found, had been pilfering funds. The employees sued, claiming they’d done nothing wrong, The media sided with the “wronged” employees. (The underlying assumption being that employers are inherently untrustworthy.)
- After an internal feud, a non-profit split into two hostile groups, both competing to serve the same audience. One side was quick to tell its story to the media, and that became the accepted version. The other side was frustrated at routinely being depicted as the bad guy.
Both the company and the frustrated non-profit needed to turn around public perception, fast.
The solution? Strategically insert language into their legal filings to make allegations, clarify events, and redefine rationale and goals. Next comes the fun part. You become a reporter’s new BFF. How? By giving them an offer they can’t refuse. A package that highlights important details in the suit and provides off-the-record insight. You also provide them fresh angles (as long as it benefits your client, of course).
The outcome? Exactly as hoped. We succeeded in shifting the tone of news coverage going forward. The other side lost their momentum and soap box, and they soon tossed in the towel.
The lesson? Before filing a legal complaint, think about not only what would benefit your client in a court of law, but also in the court of public opinion. You’re not just making legal arguments. You’re telling your story on your terms to alter public perception.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up for our blog, Insights on High-Stakes PR.
For a deeper glimpse into our world, see our book on Amazon, “A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR: Protecting Your Clients In & From the Media.”
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net