The dangers of a strictly ‘legal’ brief in Crisis Management

Recent high profile incidents involving international PLCs have provided us with a range of different approaches to incident management, and an equally marked range of public and shareholder responses to those respective incidents. What is increasingly clear across all cases however, is that a crisis response plan which focusses on getting the just the legalities right, can fail to properly protect the wider commercial interests of a business.

In the bullet points below, we look at what should also be considered when planning and reacting to a crisis to help ensure you come out the other side with your business and reputation intact.

  1. Ensure that experts are involved from an early stage – and that you have the right people for the job
    Whilst internal communications teams can act as an effective and expeditious means of responding to a crisis, ensure that a clear brief is determined and that PR considerations feed into all stages of decision making, and are not just reactive. Specialist PR advice, commensurate to the serious of the incident being faced, can be one of the most important investments at the outset of a crisis.
  2. Timing is everything 
    Always try, where possible, to anticipate the direction of proceedings with a view to being on the front foot for any developments. Proper consideration of the likely stages of regulatory investigations/enforcement actions, which can continue in some instances for many years, serves as a means to identify likely ‘flash points’ in media coverage.
  3. Ensure that all stakeholders are involved in (or at least aware of) your planned response 
    A coherent, well-planned response requires the involvement of key stakeholders. A crisis response team that includes key stakeholders such as PR staff and insurers, should be better informed, have better situational awareness and ideally present a united, coherent response. Often, following incidents high profile incidents, there are related civil and criminal investigations, all needing to be coordinated so as not to undermine any element of the response.
  4. Challenge all decisions from all angles
    By identifying a clear company brief and identifying organisational concerns, you can ensure that all decisions move you towards what is defined as ‘success’ from the company’s perspective; this factors in that a legal win is not always an organisational win.
  5. Make a real apology (if appropriate)
    Whilst an apology should always be considered, where this is likely to stop short of what is viewed as appropriate in the circumstances, the decision may be taken to say nothing at all. Our previous Alder Media article “Art of an Apology” contains a helpful guide and is essential reading for any crisis management team members.
  6. Be proactive 
    Remember, the audience listening to or watching your earnings webcast will not necessarily be the same audience that buys your products or engages your professional services. In the same way that you would when marketing your products/services, tailor you incident response to those audiences, not just the legal forum.

With reputational threats increasingly common and severe in their impact, organisations are becoming more attuned to the need to revisit areas of potential risk and, where necessary, redefine organisational aims and strategy to achieve this.

Our award winning crisis response service can help you prepare for any crisis situation, please see our crisis response product page for more information ›


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This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.