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S3 E4: PR and Legal Counsel: A Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Management with Dominique Biquard
Episode 424th August 2023 • PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network • Public Relations Global Network
00:00:00 00:19:31

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One of the key roles PR professionals play is that of a counselor, advising clients and offering suggestions on how they should approach various communication challenges. However, PR practitioners are not the only counselors that clients have available. Attorneys also provide counsel to clients, especially in times of crisis.

Dominique Biquard discusses how the collaboration between PR and legal counsel is essential in guiding clients through crisis situations. The future of this collaboration lies in continued communication and understanding between the two parties. PR practitioners must educate lawyers on the importance of real-time communication and the impact of media on legal proceedings. Similarly, lawyers should recognize the value of PR practitioners' expertise in managing public perception. By fostering this partnership, clients will benefit from a holistic approach to communication challenges, ensuring their reputation remains intact even in times of crisis.

When a crisis arises, it is essential for PR practitioners and lawyers to work together and coordinate their efforts. By sitting at the same table and sharing their expertise, they can provide comprehensive counsel, address legal considerations, and shape public opinion to achieve the best possible outcome for their clients.

Key Takeaways

  1. Collaboration between PR and legal teams during crises maximizes results and minimizes liability.
  2. Crafting public opinion is crucial, as media and social media can impact the outcome of legal trials.
  3. Lawyers often focus on long-term legal implications, while PR professionals address immediate communication needs.
  4. Building goodwill and addressing issues proactively can help mitigate the impact of future crises.
  5. Lawyers can benefit from PR training to effectively communicate in crisis situations.

About the Guest

Dominique Biquard is a founding partner at Identia PR, Argentinian firm that specializes in corporate communications, strategic thinking, reputation, crisis, and issue management. For 20 years, Identia PR has advised clients such as Argentinian Bar Association, BCG, Disney, Excelerate Energy, PwC, Rappi, Roche, Siemens, and Templeton, among others national and international firms in different fields, business and non-profit, industrial and the service chain, including the most prominent law firms in Argentina.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Dominique Biquard:

Hi, I'm Dominique Biquard. I'm a partner at Identia PR. We are the proud member of PRGN based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We work a lot with national and international companies, and we do lots of work with lawyers, which we enjoy very much. So I'm very pleased to be here today.

Abbie Fink:

One of the roles that I feel public relations practitioners play is as a counselor. We advise, and we recommend, and we offer suggestions on how clients should approach certain things.

Another important counselor that many of our clients have in their in their parcel of knowledge experts are attorneys, lawyers, who also offer counsel. And sometimes PR practitioners and lawyers have to work together.

And I know, Dominique, you have quite a lot of experience in that relationship, in that you work with lawyers and oftentimes in crisis situations. So I really want to dive in a little bit about the roles that both of us play, PR practitioners and lawyers, in guiding our clients through communications challenges, whether that's a particular crisis or just advising them on business services.

Dominique Biquard:

That's exactly as it is, Abbie. Our clients have multiple partners and legal counsel, accountants, PR people. We know there are critical issues. So when a crisis is on, or when we think it might be, having a coordination and sitting at the same table, maximizes every result we can take.

Fortunately, in Buenos Aires, we've worked with the most important legal firms from Buenos Aires and also from Uruguay and Paraguay. We've coordinated with legal firms in France, in America, and it is always very, very interesting.

Regarding the difference of how we think, generally lawyers, of course, they try to keep the liability of the clients as low as possible, and regarding that, they give as little information as they can. They are thinking of the long-term, the trial that will take place in a year, two years, it depends on the country.

And although we also look at the long term, we know that you can be fried in social media or in media today. Once the lawyers understand this, it is much easier to work because when the trial is about to take place, the jury and the judges, they also read social media, newspapers, listen to the radio. So being able to craft the public opinion is really, really, very, very good.

And I'm not talking of crafting it with artificial things. But I mean, we just received a client some time ago who had a problem in its facility, and its voice was not in any article. So just adding their version of what happened, at least, and there are plenty of journalists and of influencers who will willingly put both sides of the story. We don't always have to think that they want to go against the company or the organization. I mean, many times it is just that they don't have it. And we know that when you need to publish something, you will get the information you need by any means. I mean, with the company's voice or without it.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and I think that's the key right there, right? A solid journalist, an ethical journalist is going to seek out the answers to make a fair and balanced story. And if they're not getting it from you directly they will find another place to get that information.

One of the things we always do when we're in that situation where we share a client with a law firm that is facing a crisis—the client is facing a crisis—is we up-front talk about our philosophy about working with the press. Meaning, we will be available, we will be accessible, doesn't mean we're always going to respond as in give them a comment, but we are always going to be accessible.

And if we feel like, much like you said, that partnership, that synergy that happens between client and their PR person, the client and their attorney, and then all of us together with the media can really help shape what the narrative looks like. So we set that expectation up front that we are going to approach this as an open policy. We want to be accessible and available. And sometimes that's challenging for all those parties involved.

So, I want to step back a minute from the work that happens during the crisis and talk about what happens before that, like what kind of conversations are happening between these partners and the counselors, the PR practitioners and the legal teams, to talk about how we will work together and how you approach that to sort of set the groundwork in advance of really needing to worry about it in the in the face of a crisis.

Dominique Biquard:

We are lucky that we have a good credibility and relations well built with quite a number of lawyers. And for example, I remember very well a case of a mining company in Patagonia, a Chinese company, and the lawyers gave us a call: “Dominique, it's madness what's happening there. Nobody speaks to anybody. There's no communication, the risk of having a very bad inner climate is high. We would like you to meet our client and speak to them.” So that's how we work together.

In this case, it was amazing. We arrived in Patagonia in a certain locality, we did our research, we did some service, we spoke with quite a number of people. And we saw that, for example, Argentine workers and Chinese workers went to the mine in two different buses. They had two different turns to lunch. They hardly had any activity in common, but the company did not promote it.

So we said, “Look, you have to try and build something together. Why don't you make a football field, and try to get them to play football together? And make them go in only one bus, and have a party for their national dates where everybody can participate.” I mean, they were not $1 million things to resolve their problems.

And the lawyers were very, very, very pleased with it. They understood that this was not regarding what press would do, but creating an ambience that would make things easier.

And a year later, they had, unfortunately, they had an accident and a man died at the mine. And what they told us, because our work had finished, it was like a project, that they felt they had lots of goodwill from their community because of the work they had done before. So the liability of the company was much smaller, and they could go through this sad situation quite easier.

Abbie Fink:

That's a perfect example of how the role that both organizations play, the public relations folks and the lawyers, can work to the benefit of the particular client. And in this case, with a law firm that really understands the impact that we can make on an organization, that's not always the case, I would imagine.

So what are some of the things that challenge you from a PR perspective working with attorneys and helping them to understand the role that we can play, how PR practitioners can work with attorneys on behalf of the similar clients to help set the playing stage a little bit more level?

Dominique Biquard:

Well, at the end of the day, it's the client's decision, the company's decision. I mean, what's important is to show both sides. Yes, of course, lawyers many times don't want to say anything or want to have the perfect, perfect answer.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the International Bar Association of Litigation, which took place in Buenos Aires like two months ago. I was on a panel with four lawyers. And it was really interesting because one of the things I asked was, “how many of you can draft a one and a half page?”

Everybody lifted their hand. “And how many of you can do that in one hour?” Hands still up. “How many of you can have that approved by 10 persons in three hours’ time?” Whoops, all the hands went down.

So, I mean, that's why it is very important for a company to know that they have to get their team to know together. And the best way to do that is try to imagine or to survey in every, or in the biggest areas of the company, which are the two or three issues that might blow into a crisis.

When you identify them, and this is crisis management, we all know that, but when you identify them, there's surely issues that have to be addressed from the PR side and from the legal side. So that's like an opportunity of starting interacting with lawyers and gaining their trust. Because of course they think, “Well, I know how to write. Why should I rely on a PR consultant to tell me how to how to write something?”

Many times I'm asked if lawyers, for example, are good spokesperson of the company. And this is typical, I was asked that there. And what we say is, if they are an in-house lawyer, that might be. If they are an outside, that's not the best thing. Why?

In the same direction that we as PR people, we can perfectly well address something. But we are not the best spokesperson. Why?

Because in a crisis, what you need is to show, as you said at first, Abbie, that you are available. You want to give information if needed. They can reach you.

And if you put somebody between the company and the journalist or the NGO or the government, such as a lawyer or a PR counsel, that shows you'd rather keep them far. It's the wrong message to give.

Regarding when they have to speak, the lawyer on behalf of the company, they appreciate very much our training because they speak very well. Lawyers in general write very well, at least in Argentina they do, but sometimes they miss being short, straight to the point, understanding that in a three minute call of a radio, you need to address one or two things and not more. So in our experience, when we train them, they feel that they grow as professionals, not only for this client or this issue, but in general.

Abbie Fink:

You got to a few of the questions I was going to ask, which is whether or not attorneys are good spokespeople or whether or not they even should be. But, and I wholeheartedly agree that there's a role for that in a crisis, but a spokesperson really needs to be—in a crisis in particular—someone within the organization with authority to speak, being advised by the others that might assist in terms of the types of information that they're sharing.

But I would really like to think a little bit, you know, again, down the line, perhaps, and you know, there are the crisis that is happening at the moment. It is playing out potentially in traditional media. It might be on social media. There's a lot of conversations that happen that we may or may not need to be interacting in.

But what would be some of your advice on, you know... When is it appropriate to speak? When is social media, if a crisis plays out on social media, should clients be responding? Should it be with the similar types of spokesperson language if they were doing an interview? And when might the time be where a non-answer, not a “no comment,” but an answer that says, “we can't give you more information” be most appropriate?

Dominique Biquard:

Bueno. They must always pay attention and be active. That doesn't mean you have to respond immediately. Today you have very good tools, social listening tools or monitoring tools to know if a post or an article in traditional media, if it's really important, if there is engagement, if there is a conversation, if it's being shared or just liked. I mean, before answering, you have to know what you are answering to and who are you answering to.

We had a case some time ago, a client was attacked, but he was attacked by somebody who had already been shown as a person from the Secret Service who's always getting wrong information and fake news. So once you know that, you don't need to respond, but you have to make sure you know who it is and to keep monitoring and to draft a response just in case so that you can have 10 people approve your response in no time.

Abbie Fink:

And thinking about our role again as PR practitioners, if you could think about maybe three reasons that you want to make sure that your PR counsel and your legal counsel are part of your business team, your business partners, what might those be?

Dominique Biquard:

Three recommendations. Well, yes. First, working together decreases the liability and makes it easier for you to be prepared. And we all know that preparation is key.

Second, when you work together, you have double the number of contacts, of relations, of way to get to somebody. And you know very well that in PR, it's not that, oh, I'm the owner of this contact, you can reach it only through me. No, what you want is to know, if you need to speak to such person, you can get into calls to him. So when you work together, that is much better.

And third, I go to the first one, it's preparation, preparation. And when you work together with lawyers, and you interchange information with them, it's so rich, their way of thinking and how it helps to PR. Look, we had not thought of this. So how do we address it? How do we put this idea down in two or three lines?

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.