Does Your Firm Have a Reputation Management Strategy?

To be effective, reputation management needs to be proactive, not just reactive. That means your law firm has to do more than just defend itself after being criticized online.

Anticipating areas where you may be vulnerable and implementing systems to catch problems before they start will help you control the narrative about your organization.

Without a strategy in place, your firm could unwittingly find itself struggling to manage a crisis that could have been avoided.

recent article by marketing consultant Scott Baradell offers 38 tips for managing your reputation. Here are some highlights most relevant to law firms:

Hire a PR Firm Before a Crisis Happens

You wouldn’t wait until you get sick to buy health insurance. Well, the same is true with keeping your firm’s reputation healthy. It’s important to have a team in place that you can rely on before the storm comes. That’s why it makes sense to research and retain the right PR representation when things are going well. After all, it isn’t a matter of if a crisis will occur — it’s a matter of when.

Implement a Content Review System

Many crises start with a leaked internal document that includes clumsy, revealing or plain offensive language. But this sloppiness can be prevented by putting a process in place to review what goes out the door and what gets circulated internally. That involves identifying folks who will review material and also creating a culture where every employee drafts every email assuming it will be printed in The New York Times.

Put Spokespersons Through Media Training

Many firms fail to choose who will speak for them in a crisis. Or they let this role fall to the firm’s founder by default, even when he/she may not be best suited to that role. That’s why it’s crucial to line up media training to coach this person. Over time, they’ll learn how to effectively speak to the press, craft public apologies or statements, and handle difficult questions.

Establish a Chain of Command

Different situations call for different people to be involved in crafting a response. Depending on the crisis, HR heads, CMOs or managing partners may each have a role to play. So it’s important to consider the following:

1) Who is the first person someone should call when they learn about a possible crisis?

2) Who has the final say on statements and responses?

3) Does everyone in leadership know about and accept this plan?

Run a Simulation

Firms are superstitious about talking through worst-case scenarios. But brainstorming how an embarrassing crisis might unfold can help you pinpoint ways to prepare. It gives you a perfect opportunity to assess areas of vulnerability. Consider a committee to answer the following:

1) What are your weaknesses and strengths?

2) What would you do if x, y, or z happened?

3) What would make it better?

4) What would make it worse?

5) Do you have any weak links on the team who need to be better prepared?

Generate Positive Media Coverage in Advance

Good press can vaccinate you against bad. A good PR team will constantly look for ways to promote your firm’s strengths. Plus, they’ll have a handle on the broader societal conversation around sensitive issues. So they can serve as a guardrail and a cheerleader. This will help your reputation. It will also help you develop positive working relationships with reporters during the good times, which may help you when a crisis hits. Those connections may show you favor in terms of how they shape coverage and how hard they work to give you a chance to tell your side of the story. 

It’s not enough to hide in the shadows and cross your fingers hoping a crisis won’t come. At some point, every firm will face a PR crisis. But implementing these tips can help your firm develop a solid reputation management strategy and successfully manage any crisis.