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The Legality of Crisis Communication: How To Work With Legal And Compliance Teams In Crisis Communication

Working with legal and compliance teams can sometimes turn out to be a tricky operation when handling a crisis. When coming up with a public response to a crisis, does the frustrating phrase “no comment.” sound familiar? The answer is probably yes. However, you need to remember that litigation is of the utmost importance when withering a storm. The key is finding the balance between communicating a meaningful message, true to your brand, without drowning it in legalese. 

So how can you ensure that the communication goes smoothly? Do not worry, here are a few sectors to focus on in order to make this partnership work.

1. The Implication Of Social Media

Times are changing, meaning that the rules are changing as well. What once used to be acceptable is now disreputable. In the past, legal teams would often address a situation by not addressing it at all. This is where the “No comment.” comes in. It was their way of protecting the company and ensuring the trust of their stakeholders.

You can’t blame them, their job is to protect you. They are trained to avoid/minimize any form of legal risk that may threaten you. The issue at hand is that sometimes taking a legalistic approach to the crisis can worsen the situation. 

Indeed, while recovering from a financial, physical, or operational crisis is possible, a reputational crisis can take years, if ever, to recover from. How do you avoid this? By taking responsibility for the situation. 

With the rise of social media, the crisis communication landscape is no longer what it used to be. Burying a story is essentially impossible. It is very difficult to regain control over the narrative. In addition, the digital age has paved the way for new legal issues. People are instantly forming opinions and claims before you even have a chance to respond. 

For this reason, it has never been so important for the legal and communication team to work together in order to resolve crises. As a team, you need to account for social media, viral news stories, digital brand reputation, and the public sentiment. 

2. Timing Of Disclosure

Once the crisis has happened you have two priorities: determining which message you want to deliver and when. Your statement needs to be legally sturdy while maintaining a friendly and sensitive tone. Responding in a timely fashion is important in terms of fitting strict media timescales, respect, duty of care, and industry regulations. Reputational damage is intensified if another party or publication makes a claim about your organization’s crisis.

So take the lead, steal the thunder, and write your own story – before somebody catches you up to the lead.

3. Accuracy Of Statements

Ensuring the accuracy of your brand’s statement is crucial to your reputation. If you do not choose your words right, you may face not only scrutiny in the public eye but also new lawsuits. By disclosing relevant, useful, honest, and most importantly accurate information, you once again are able to control the storyline in the media. 

For example, LinkedIn faced a crisis when 6.5 million of its users had been hacked and their passwords were stolen. They immediately reached out through their social media channels and while they didn’t have all the information yet, instead of creating false statements to the public, they reassured them with the facts that they had at hand.

4. Attorney-client privilege

As an organization, you need to be very careful in maintaining attorney-client privilege. This may seem like an obvious statement, but in the heat of the moment when everything is falling apart, confidential information can accidentally end up in public statements. In litigation matters, this can be extremely damaging to your company’s reputation. You risk facing additional lawsuits and issues that will only worsen the crisis. 

When legal and crisis communication teams are collaborating, they must proceed with caution because this partnership and exchange of information are what can lead to this potentially fatal mistake of releasing confidential information. 

However, there are ways to secure communication between your crisis and legal team when discussing privileged information. According to communications consultant, Robert Windoncommunication with non-legal professionals may be protected when the retention of those professionals is to give advice that assists the attorneys. A crisis plan must be structured at the outset to ensure it extends privilege and the team must understand how to protect privilege.” 

To sum it up...

We’ve now established how important it is that the communication between crisis and legal teams flow swiftly. It is imperative that you reflect on these guidelines to ensure that the partnership works, seeing as if there are issues, you risk worsening the circumstances. 

If you are interested in more tips on crisis communication check out our blog for great articles like “What Absolutely Not To Do In Times Of Crisis”. 

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