LMA's PR SIG Compiles Best Practices for Handling Crises
Death, taxes and crisis — every business will face each during its existence. What elevates a successful business from others is an ability to handle crises well.
Here, we will focus on what legal marketing professionals should do when facing a crisis. A crisis can strike at any time and in any place within an organization. Your ability to gain control of the situation, communicate in a timely and effective manner, and mitigate the damage is imperative.
I spoke with Doug Gold (CFO and CMO, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP), Cari Brunelle (Founding Partner, Baretz+Brunelle) and Elizabeth Lampert (President, Elizabeth Lampert PR) on behalf of LMA’s PR SIG. We placed ourselves at the center of a crisis, and they shared their best tips and tricks to plan, prepare and execute.
What's the first action you take when facing a crisis?
- Do not panic. A clear head and calm demeanor are persuasive ways to ensure similar behavior from those inside an organization facing a crisis.
- Have your team in place and begin triage immediately. The team should gather quickly, assess the situation and enact its crisis plan. Obviously, if you fail to plan, you will face an uphill battle that will foster confusion and rumor.
- Ask, “What is your worst case scenario?” and discuss how the organization will handle that scenario.
How does this first action control the situation and mitigate the impact?
- You should have planned for the items you know are inevitable. Identifying the team and assigning roles immediately serves to gain control as the team works to minimize the impact. Including the PR professionals (in-house or from an agency), the team may also invite the managing partner, general counsel, CMO and IT professionals. All must be trained on how to respond and demonstrate superior leadership skills.
- Remember to execute your crisis communications plan for external and internal communications. This enables the organization to gain ground and get out ahead of a widening event.
What advice would you give to law firm leadership when the firm is facing issues of corporate consciousness?
- It’s never wrong to do the right thing. Remember, firms and organizations are run by people, so you must take into account the human element. There is rarely a one-size-fits-all to these types of situations. You must account for how current events are unfolding and what that means to your organization’s culture.
- Know what is important to your firm and make sure your actions match up with those values. Do not simply pay lip service to a societal issue. Your firm will stand out if you speak up on those issues that are critical to the firm’s culture and core values.
- Consider the diverse opinions of the firm’s clients. Consider these situations on a case-by-case basis and determine if it is appropriate for the firm to take a stance on a matter of broader public interest.
- Do not speak out only in an effort to gain publicity. Consider your motives.
What are the steps you would take once the crisis has passed?
- Ask, “What did we learn from this?” during the debrief with your crisis response team.
- Discuss surprises the team faced during the crisis: Understand what went right and wrong and how you can do better in the future.
- Take a process-oriented approach and speak candidly.
What are the key takeaways from our conversation that you'd like to leave for law firm marketers and PR pros?
- Plan for different types of crises and have a plan in place for each scenario. Make sure you can quickly mobilize the team.
- Crisis simulation training is a great way to stay prepared. This prevents crisis plans from being left on the shelf. The crisis team remains sharp and can respond quickly when, inevitably, a crisis strikes.
- Know all of the facts, especially the bad ones.
- Keep your crisis teams small. Decisions by committee are disastrous in a crisis situation.
- Stick with your crisis plan and execute it.
There's much more to the conversation with Doug Gold, Cari Brunelle and Elizabeth Lampert. I encourage you to take a deeper dive by listening to the LMA podcast “Prepare for Impact.”
LMA's PR SIG is a resource for professionals and marketers who fulfill the public relations duties within their firms. Join your colleagues, those serving in-house roles and in agency settings, to collaborate, provide tips, share best practices, ask questions and, as PR folks love to do, tell stories.
Ryan King is the director of communications for Ogletree Deakins, leading the public relations, media relations, communications, content marketing, social media and accolades programs at the firm. He has worked in-house in an Am Law 100 firm, in the media and in a PR agency setting. Ryan is actively involved with LMA, serving as the co-chair for the PR SIG and chair of the Atlanta Local Steering Committee.