Crisis Management: Know When It’s Time to Talk to Legal

Crisis Management: Know When It’s Time to Talk to Legal

Meltwater
14 September 2016

Marketers sometimes feel that legal would like for us to simply not say anything—ever. And this might (justifiably) be the case during a lawsuit. But an experienced lawyer knows that marketing’s job is to promote the businesses, and during times of crisis, this means safeguarding its reputation.

Working with counsel during a brand crisis will help you find the best way to ensure that your audience feels heard and that you are taking responsibility for the problem at hand without opening yourself up to a lawsuit as a result of your PR and marketing activities.

Don’t Be Shy, Get to Know Your Legal Advisors

You’ll want to build a bridge with your legal team as part of business as usual, so you know each other and don’t have to start from scratch when things get hectic. While we generally associate lawyers with trouble, getting to know your legal team during times of relative calm can lead to interesting (and even fun) conversations about questions that marketers sometimes struggle with. For instance, “What’s the difference between defamation and someone just having an opinion?” Try it, it’s a great icebreaker.

Crisis Management: Know When to Go to Legal

Here are some guidelines for when to consult legal, whether you’re in crisis management mode or just trying to make sure that nothing you say or do will cause one. Go to legal when:

  • Your company has been accused of doing something illegal.
  • You believe that your company could be accused of doing something illegal very soon. Remember, any statement you make about events or circumstances relating to this legal action (including internal emails) could be used in a lawsuit.
  • Your communications are directly targeting a competitor and shedding negative light on them.
  • You are making claims about your product’s functionality or the breadth of your services. For instance, while describing how great your product is would typically be construed as opinion (and therefore not a legal liability), if you’re listing product features, counsel may want to cross-reference what you’re saying with any contracts customers sign to ensure the lists match.
  • You are making factual claims about your product that you know are difficult to prove.

Choose Your Words Wisely

As tempting as they may be, using certain words can open you up to unwanted scrutiny. They can also bring the threat of legal action. Here are some examples of words to avoid: always, guaranteed, unlimited, proven, 100%, and never fails. As marketers, we can find creative ways for touting our products without making factual claims we can’t actually prove.