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By Erin Carney D’Angelo of DLA Piper
Take your cue from two leading ladies of television—fictional characters Olivia Pope (Scandal, ABC News®) and Liz Garvey (Babylon, SundanceTV™). In a world of instantaneous communication and open access to information, Liv and Liz are masters of crisis management.
The New York Times® recently outlined how electronic court filings (especially in harassment or whistleblower cases) go viral and create a public relations nightmare: “More and more, the first court filings in gender-related suits, often allegations that inspire indignation, are winning wide readerships online before anyone steps foot in a courtroom.” The New York Times (Lawsuits’ Lurid Details Draw an Online Crowd) (Feb. 22 2015)
If anything, that article understates the problem that many companies face in today’s world of instant access. Alan Dershowitz’s lament from the op ed page of the The Wall Street Journal® on January 15 emphasizes the “nightmare” from the perspective of the person falsely accused. Although lawyers (including retired Harvard Law professors like Dershowitz) are great at legal denials, Liv and Liz understand that mere denial is lame.
Indeed, in the 21st century, bare denials sound too much like the next verse of the epic 20th century song, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman—Miss Lewinsky.…” Liz Garvey opens the first episode of Babylon with an important ground rule: “The age of information control is over.” Thus, the basic premise must be that a pro forma denial, standing alone, is never the right answer. Neither is “no comment” or “it is company policy not to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”
Once upon a time, ducking worked. For professional journalists, stories deprived of new information die like a fire without oxygen. Yet, the 21st century is the generation of the amateur journalists. Silence is no longer the answer: the debate is no longer limited to plaintiff and defendant but now has multiple fronts as the whole world comments via social media and the Internet. Damn bloggers!
Another Olivia Pope fan has been kind enough to summarize the Olivia Pope canon for crisis management. Here are some key points that Liz and Liv can both endorse:
Jennifer Connelly, CEO of JCPR Inc., a public relations agency, 5 Crisis Management Tips Olivia Pope Would Endorse(Dec. 14, 2014)
Now, come back to the core problem identified in The New York Times article: viral publication of the complaint’s allegations in a sexual harassment case. What’s the counter message? What’s the strategy?
In sum, get out in front of the story as soon as it hits the wire – don’t wait for social media to be the judge and jury.