For the enterprise, reputation is perhaps the most honest valuation of success. Market capitalization and annual revenue are subject to fluctuations in the market, but the respect, loyalty and brand recognition of a solid reputation are priceless. It is for that reason that the threat of litigation mired in public exposure and media coverage is the kind of risk that keeps corporate lawyers up at night.
There is, generally speaking, no better way to deflate a solid reputation than with a widely publicized lawsuit involving accidental death or injury. Regardless of how anecdotal, misreported or unfounded those reports may be, just having your company’s name attached to such an incident can quickly develop into a public relations nightmare with astronomical costs and timelines attached. Even more frustrating, efforts to rectify mistakes will seldom gain you the same level of exposure as the actual misdeed. It is for that reason that a media strategy is essential to mitigating the effects of a very public court battle.
“If you’re doing any kind of recall, or anything else that’s public, you need to anticipate that there is going to be publicity and it’s going to be negative publicity…. The plaintiffs’ bar now is so in synch and coordinated in getting media attention that it’s hard, even if you’re prepared to be able to address all the different streams of media that are coming at you,” adds Alana Bassin, co-managing partner at Bowman and Brooke.
Bassin was the lead defense lawyer on a case concerning alcohol prep pad manufacturer Triad Group. Following a recall of alcoholic prep pad products, which were allegedly contaminated with the bacteria bacillus cereus, a number of wrongful death suits cropped up. The lawsuits and the media circus surrounding the deaths resulted in recalls from other prep pad manufacturers, campaigns seeking additional plaintiffs and the eventual closing of Triad.
Getting out in front
The key to maintaining poise through a mass tort case or other difficult lawsuit is to develop and implement an ongoing campaign to foster good will towards your company, explains Gene Grabowski, vice president at public relations firm LEVICK and expert on crisis reputation management. “That way, when there is an attack or a lawsuit, the consumers, shareholders or even the news media look at it and say, ‘wait a minute this isn’t the company that I know…maybe I need to investigate further before attacking.’”