Communications and PR for law firms during the coronavirus crisis
PR is always about moulding how you are perceived and that is never more true than in a time of crisis. Unfortunately, if you get this wrong then the damage done to your brand can be long lasting.
Away from the legal sector is anybody likely to forget how Sports Direct and Wetherspoons have handled their PR during the current crisis? Making people go to work the day after the Prime Minister told us to stay at home for the former and refusing to pay staff for the latter. I won’t for one.
The first lesson from this is if you get things wrong from a PR perspective and how you act towards others at a time of heightened anxiety, then things can go really wrong and damage your brand forever.
All of us in the industry know that PR isn’t rocket science, but is about putting out the right message at the appropriate time. It’s about knowing how the message you are conveying will be perceived and whether or not there will be a positive reaction to it.
During the current turbulent times we all need a bit of a hug. Some support from those around us to get through a time none of us thought we would ever see. In a nutshell we all feel a bit more vulnerable and are concerned for our loved ones.
As a result, your PR and communications needs to have the human touch, be empathetic, offer understanding and guidance. What it shouldn’t do is grate or annoy people who are already anxious. Now is not the time to put out press releases gloating about bumper profits, it’s not a good look. If you aren’t sure, ask yourself the question: ‘Is this appropriate in the current time of national crisis?’ If in doubt, don’t do it.
The fact is you may put out something without the intention of offending – most organisations don’t intentionally offend – but remember these are stressful times and we need to be really careful about the messages we put out. There have been multiple law firms who have put out the story that divorces are likely to rise as a result of the pandemic. While this is most likely true, when people are particularly sensitive, this might not be the best message to put out. It could be perceived that lawyers are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect, even though this may not be the case. Again, before you send out a press release or comment pause to think, is this appropriate?
A lot of firms undertake clinical negligence work, fighting for justice for people who have suffered terrible injuries or died as a result of negligence. I have spoken to many victims over the years and put out their stories to give them a voice and raise awareness of what they went through to try and prevent it happening again. But in a time of national emergency in which the NHS is valiantly trying to protect us all, is this the time to put out stories criticising health care professionals, even if they have acted negligently? I think you know the answer to that one.
So, when putting out press releases or comment just pause and think whether your message is appropriate. You don’t want to be the organisation that people remember for putting out something inadvertently offensive in a time of national crisis. My advice would be if in doubt, don’t send it out.