Deploying New Digital Tools Amidst Corporate Legal Battle

By Akeem Anderson and Ian Campbell


In a previous post, we discussed the need to consider digital as part of your overall litigation communications strategy. While each legal situation presents unique challenges, we see three core scenarios, each of which calls upon different tools from the digital toolbox.


Brewing but Not Bubbling


First, how do you employ digital if litigation is on the horizon, but not yet active or public? The key objective here should be to fortify your position, doing all you can to ensure there are no vulnerabilities in search or social related to likely litigation.  These vulnerabilities often surface through keywords on search, so a search ad campaign can help ensure top page results point to company-owned media. Real-time monitoring of social conversations is an important safeguard, capturing conversation about you in the eco-system, and can be influenced by having up-to-date links, profile information, bios and pinned content.


From Simmering to Boiling


Second, how does the role of digital change when litigation is about to become public? Unless both your legal and your reputational strategies are to ensure the lowest possible profile, this may be the time to mount a concerted effort to dial up content output. For example, a landing page with a vanity URL attached to a corporate website can help outflank law firms targeting class action site traffic.  Such a site can specifically reinforce your company’s formal legal position when that step is ripe.  LinkedIn and Twitter (if you already use them) can be redeployed to showcase company leadership or to affirm the “public good” you do. These needn’t directly reference pending litigation but can help create positive surround sound to counteract potentially negative noise.


Also consider updating website content for an organic push on search or a paid search ad campaign. A willingness to bid aggressively for keywords related to the issues in the litigation will help ensure that when stakeholders search for litigation-related content, your company’s affirmative storyline leads the conversation.


When It’s Hard to Get Out of the Kitchen


Third, how can digital help in long-running legal warfare? Confronting a long, drawn out, and noisy legal battle – whether it’s driven by class action lawyers, state Attorneys General, federal regulators, or a deep-pocketed direct competitor – requires discipline and sustained commitment to being strategically smart. Think of it as a campaign.


If you are on offense, you may wish to ensure a steady pulse of messages underscoring the other side’s wrong-headedness, all consistent with the legal strategies, of course. 


It’s often smart to amplify the campaign at critical moments using paid digital media, serving more specific messages to key stakeholders such as customers, employees, and lawmakers, offering them key information that protects the company’s reputation.


With a long-running battle on one’s hands, this requires being able to generate lots of “good fors.” What’s a “good for?” All the ways your company is good for its key audiences and the public interest: emphasizing these ensure that while the litigation campaign is waged successfully, your over-arching business value proposition doesn’t get lost.


And finally, Do No Harm!


To borrow from the medical model, the last thing any business or business litigator wants is to find the pursuit of winning litigation leading to a damaged business reputation. Communications strategies to support litigation must be tailored less to making noise in all circumstances and more to the right strategy for each situation. We’ve seen potentially explosive litigation averted by taking a conversation offline and handling it in person. We’ve also seen strategies to starve social-digital dialogue or mainstream news media attention help companies on defend successfully.  And we’ve seen active, strategically aggressive digital campaigns help secure legal and reputational success. 


Whatever your litigation challenge, digital should be a core part of your communications arsenal.


Akeem Anderson leads Abernathy’s digital practice. He counsels clients on forward-leaning integrated digital communications planning and execution across special situations, corporate reputation, public affairs, and internal communications campaigns.


Ian Campbell is Vice Chairman of the firm and founded Abernathy MacGregor’s offices in the West. He focuses on crisis communications, mergers and acquisitions, investor relations, financial PR and issues management across a broad range of industries.

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