A sudden crisis can cause permanent harm to a business’s reputation if it is not handled properly. Many attorneys that counsel businesses lack the resources needed to navigate critical situations, though, and do not know what measures they should employ to protect their clients. The steps an attorney can take to defuse the impact of a catastrophic event was the topic of the webinar Crisis Management for Attorneys and Their Clients, presented by Bruce Hennes, CEO of Hennes Communications, presented during MSBA’s Legal Excellence Week.
Mr. Hennes explained that a number of incidents could result in an attorney receiving an onslaught of questions about a client from reporters, such as allegations of sexual misconduct or fiscal mismanagement, data breaches, and catastrophic accidents. He then gave an example of a crisis faced by one of his clients that arose out of a ferry accident, and the seemingly endless calls the client’s general counsel received in the hour following the accident. Mr. Hennes explained that controversies are often resolved in the court of public opinion and that managing the public’s opinion of a business following a crisis is essential to avoid irreparable reputational harm.
Mr. Hennes provided insight into the damage control strategy he employs for clients faced with crises, which centers around telling the truth. First, he directs clients to be honest when fielding questions regarding a problematic situation. As the party that initially discusses a controversial event controls the trajectory of the story, Mr. Hennes stated it is critical for a business to express its version of events before another party has a chance to control the narrative. He also feels that it is essential for businesses facing a crisis to fully disclose any information that can be released within the confines of ethical, legal, and moral considerations. Next, he directs businesses to disclose the truth quickly, which he believes can minimize reporting on a situation.
Mr. Hennes then discussed how the media filters stories, which greatly affects the public’s perception of an event. Thus, he believes it is essential to bypass the media outlets to directly address sub-audiences via the internet, town hall meetings, billboards, and the United States mail. The intended effect of these measures is to allow a business to control the narrative of a crisis, rather than allowing the media to influence how it should be perceived. The press also uses frameworks when developing stories, and typically stories arising out of devastating events involve a victim, a villain, and vindication. As the media is quick to disregard facts that don’t fit within a framework, Mr. Hennes explained the importance of responding to reporters’ inquiries quickly and appropriately to avoid being portrayed as villains.