Lawyers often manage high-risk, emotionally charged situations for their organizations and clients. This has been especially true in 2020 as businesses navigate the impacts of a global pandemic, economic crisis, social justice issues and natural disasters. How can strategic communication help lawyers in these and other high-stakes legal situations? We asked two experts to share their thoughts on the role of communication and how to best find a trusted partner.
Meet the Experts:
- Lisa Beth Lentini Walker, CEO & Founder, Lumen Worldwide Endeavors
- Brenna Mann, Executive Vice President of Business Services and Chief Legal Officer, Adolfson & Peterson Construction
Q1. Why should lawyers seek PR/communication support?
(Lisa Beth) Lawyers have so many skills and are adept at using persuasive writing within the profession. However, PR and communication professionals understand how to connect that thinking with different stakeholders in a way that drives changes in behaviors and perceptions. Strategic communication does not follow a one-size-fits-all approach. An effective partner can help achieve desired outcomes through thoughtful messaging and delivery. Great lawyers know it’s best to always play to your strengths, which includes seeking trusted expert resources.
(Brenna) Communication professionals can help counsel achieve better outcomes through their expertise in connection-building and by providing a neutral, third-party perspective. This is especially valuable in a crisis situation where there is potential for negative attention and business risk. In those situations, a strong communication partner brings an objective point of view to guide the strategy and ground the support needed when an effective, timely response is most critical.
Q2. Why is communication important in your specific work and areas of focus?
(Brenna) As Chief Legal Counsel of a corporation, I need to effectively communicate with many different stakeholders, especially in the event of a crisis or high-stakes situation. The key to successfully managing a crisis is to have a thorough communication strategy and team in place that can be immediately activated.
(Lisa Beth) In the areas of legal, compliance and risk where I have worked, I have experienced first-hand how crucial culture and values are to guiding behavior change. Communication powers that change forward. Creating those behavior and culture shifts is like steering a sailboat – it takes a lot of effort, the results of which may not immediately be realized. Communication is the wind in the sails which is critical to moving you ahead.
Q3. What should leaders in the legal field look for in a PR or strategic communication partner?
(Lisa Beth) Picking the right strategic communication partner is a pivotal decision. Anyone can put out a message, but connecting the right message in the right way to achieve the intended impact is an art. I suggest looking for a partner with great listening skills who knows how to create emotional connection when communicating thoughts and ideas. People receive messages in different ways and knowing how to honor those differences is so important. I look for emotionally intelligent experts who demonstrate understanding of the content, my audiences and how to connect the dots in between.
(Brenna) I think it’s important to seek out a strategic communication partner with a proven track record of success. Look at a firm’s case studies and talk with their client references to better understand experience and outcomes. I also suggest looking for a partner with the ability to quickly understand your organization’s culture and its dynamics. High-stakes situations require flexibility and the ability to pivot in real-time, which makes that speed to understanding so critical.
Q4. What are common misconceptions lawyers have about public relations?
(Brenna) There is a misconception that PR consultants will go rouge, not play team ball or that they will simply rubber stamp the client’s desires. In reality, a strong communication partner brings objective thinking and ideas in a way that complements and supports the legal strategy. When grounded in trust, a relationship with a PR firm can feel like an extension of your internal team.
(Lisa Beth) The biggest myth out there is that PR is all show and no substance, but that couldn’t be further from the truth when working with a trusted expert. As lawyers, we are trained to win arguments, but experienced communicators know how to win hearts and minds to shift behavior. Partnering in a way that lets us each focus on the areas in which we excel makes us all better.
Q5. How can communication firms best earn trust, especially in high-stakes situations?
(Lisa Beth) Trust is built over time but can be eroded in moments. For me, there are four factors to earning trust in a partnership: (1) demonstrating deep, authentic empathy, (2) speaking the language of other party/parties, (3) connecting to common goals and ideals, and; (4) following through with consistent and reliable actions.
(Brenna) Communication firms can earn trust in a few key ways, starting with active listening of the organization, its leaders and its team. I also think taking time to understand the dynamics of the relationship and long-term goals of counsel and the broader business is incredibly important. Lastly, a partner who is candid, willing to speak up and confidently make recommendations is well-positioned to earn trust quickly.
Beehive Strategic Communication is proud to have been ranked as a top public relations firm in Minneapolis/St. Paul by the readers of Finance & Commerce and Minnesota Lawyer. Download our Crisis Management Guide to learn how your organization can use the power of communication to maintain business continuity when the stakes are high. Get in touch with Beehive to learn how we can partner with your organization.