The Power of the PR / Legal Relationship in Crisis Situations

PRO Sports Communications CEO Melinda Travis led a webinar for PRSA last week addressing the relationship between the PR and legal teams in high-profile crisis situations. Here are five key takeaways:

1. PR and lEgal can be A Powerful Partnership

  • The partnership between the legal strategy (court of law) and the communications strategy (court of public opinion) is a powerful one and, with the right tactics, can be incredibly influential. The legal strategy should always take precedence and shape the backbone of the communications plan.

2. UNDERSTAND the Difference between Facts vs. Perception

  • The court of law deals in facts

  • The court of public opinion deals in perception

  • Problems arise because facts can be incorrectly perceived as a consequence of how they are communicated to the media

3. Create a Game Plan 

  • Manage the media

  • Communicate the facts and complex legal issues

  • Correct false information / “kill” stories that are incorrect

  • Be the counsel’s eyes and ears in the media

  • Balance the story

4. Information is valuable

The strategic communications teams acts as the middleman between the lawyers and the media in which information and access are currency traded both ways.

5. Know your Tools of the Trade

  • Negotiation

  • Exclusives

  • Surrogates

  • “Off the record” - “On the background” - “On deep background” conversations

  • Statements

  • Press conferences

  • Digital media

Desired Outcome:

The goal of a strategic communications team should always be to achieve the lawyer's primary legal objectives. In doing so, the story should shift sentiment over time (from negative to neutral or neutral to positive), affect public perception and influence the jury pool.  

The full webinar can be accessed through PRSA's online database, which is free to members and can be found here

Melinda Travis is the CEO of PRO Sports Communications, an LA-based full service communications agency.  A sports industry veteran, Travis has experience on both sides of the media equation, as a reporter and PR professional. With previous posts in the NBA and MLB, Travis has worked with a variety of athletes and organizations at the professional, Olympic and collegiate levels. Her firm has been involved in a number of high profile matters, including Penn State and the case against Lance Armstrong, representing key witness Tyler Hamilton. Travis holds a journalism degree from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.