Follow these six pillars of legal communications in order to prevent any
damage to your brand’s, or company’s, good name.
Litigation in the health-products space is commonplace—contesting patents, questioning product safety or concern for marketing practices—and often used as a strategic tool to distract competitors. In the courtroom, as in business relationships, a good name is essential. Solid reputation retains talented colleagues, a physician’s willingness to listen to your fi eld force, patients’ commitment to adherence and Beltway staffers’ open-minded perspective before jumping to policy conclusions.
During legal disputes, be sure to set a place for public relations practitioners at the strategy table—especially when litigation is at hand. Their role in aligning opinions, marshaling efforts with advocacy, lobbying and media/reputation management is what enables clients to guard their hard-earned reputation and, if possible, avoid going to court.
Should a PR agency determine legal strategy? No, facts and legal strategy drive communication and, in turn, communication influences strategy. These six pillars of legal communications offer a framework for understanding and managing the flow of the dynamic.
The first step is to differentiate assumptions and feelings from fact: For example, in liability situations, why were there no cases at dozens of other area hospitals that had also received the same product? How was the product received, stored, handled and administered? Did the hospital in question have a record of safety problems? With patient safety paramount, these questions set the tone for ensuring that people stop pointing fingers and begin to think about how to guard against immediate risks.
Always get the facts right, and then move fast to disseminate. One company worked diligently to guard its reputation by using the media to show its transparency, and by working carefully to ensure access to care and cost sensitivity in accordance with U.S. patent law.
Once answers to those questions are determined, communicators must be in agreement. Ensure that everyone in the company’s legal, management, R&D, marketing, and sales teams convey the same truths whenever and wherever they interface with customers.
After core messaging has been established, ally with experts who share and can amplify those truths. Cultivate and leverage third-party support, ideally before there is an issue. Always remember that whether they agree with your position or have their own point of view, advocacy groups will be called upon to comment. If they have no background, they are apt to play it safe even at your expense.
During a trial, it is vital to monitor in real time for litigation-related news. In all legal cases, assessing the mainstream and social media horizon 24/7, preparing and updating standby statements and making executives available for media inquiries is imperative.
Think about the endgame—not the struggle! A rule of thumb: Do not panic every time you see unfavorable coverage or blog posts. But do not stand idly by either. Make sure key bloggers and reporters have the right information and connect with them to explain complex legalese. Aligning opinions requires that people have accurate information, so act when information is incorrect.
PR professionals should work with legal colleagues toward achieving resolution of the dispute, using the client’s company mission statement as a guide (e.g., putting patients first). PR and policy experts must ensure that not just shareholders, but also patients, healthcare professionals, policymakers, employees and payers trust a client’s actions. They may not all agree; however, there should be no doubt that what you are saying is true and therefore, you are providing the other side of a complete story.