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What is litigation PR?

What is litigation PR?

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We all know the importance of having a public relations (PR) team for brands and even noteworthy individuals, but have you heard of its lesser-known but equally important sister, litigation PR?

Litigation PR refers to the strategic management of communication and public perception during legal disputes or litigation processes. It involves creating and disseminating information to various stakeholders, including the media, clients, investors, employees, and the general public, to shape public opinion, mitigate reputational risks, and protect the interests of the involved parties.

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With litigation PR still being relatively unknown, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE decided to sit down with Cho Pei Lin, managing director at APRW who specialises in litigation PR having once been a legal associate at Harry Elias Partnership and graduating with a law degree. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Can you break down and explain what exactly litigation PR is? Why is litigation PR important for someone going through a court case?

Litigation PR has been a dynamic addition to the litigation scene in Singapore. It involves more than just answering a reporter’s questions at the door of the Supreme Court or giving a television interview on the steps of the State Courts. Litigation PR goes beyond all that and begins before all that. 

There are many benefits of a well-thought-out litigation PR strategy. Bad publicity may cause the share price of a listed company to dive; a boycott of the litigant’s goods and services; or skew public perception of an individual's character, which may affect an individual's professional and personal life subsequently.

Good publicity, on the other hand, may drum up public support, which in turn may help avoid negative price-related spillovers or even boost prices and sales figures, and leave an individual's public image and persona intact, regardless of the trial’s outcome.

It would be a mistake to contemplate litigation PR only when a case "blows up” and receives negative press, or only when it goes to trial.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How did you personally get into litigation PR?

I studied law at NUS and was called to the bar after graduation. I went on to do litigation work and had the privilege of working with some of the top litigation lawyers in civil, criminal and family law.

The first media release I drafted was when I was a lawyer. A client had priced their product wrongly online and millions of products were purchased based on the wrong price. Clients came to the law firm immediately after the error was discovered and we had to prepare a defence for a possible civil suit that may come their way.

However, that same day, before a writ was received, the media was requesting a response on whether they planned to honour the transactions. The client’s comms team were not sure what they could say without impacting a possible impending court case. That was when I had to learn what a media release was, and I managed to assist the clients in drafting a statement.

Over the years, clients and legal teams have appreciated working with us because of my legal background and understanding of the litigation process. Whilst it is not compulsory to have a legal background to do litigation PR, it is very helpful. The rest of my team are comms trained and not legally trained. They rely and leverage on my legal knowledge to deliver the best advice and strategies to clients. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What is one of the most misunderstood aspects of litigation PR?

Litigation PR involves much more than simply dealing with the media. First of all, besides handling traditional forms of media such as newspapers, television and radio stations, there is now a growing need to address PR via the huge range of social media platforms today – from official Facebook pages, YouTube, to X and various online websites.

Second, the communications process can also call for specific strategies to communicate with specific target groups, such as customers, employees, investors, shareholders and other stakeholders of the litigant. Communication management also involves dealing with issues such as when to speak to the media and/or public, how much to divulge, what vehicles it should be divulged through, and techniques on how to frame the message.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What is the process like with litigation PR and what is your role in a court case?

“Trial by (social) media” is now a common phenomenon and litigants can no longer avoid advocating their case in the court of public opinion as well as the traditional courtroom. From managing the media to formulating messaging and providing media training, our role as litigation communications professionals involves delivering proven and effective media strategies, and providing practical, considered and tactical advice addressing the most confidential and sensitive information and subjects.

We can serve as a centralised resource for reporters, broadcast journalists and online influencers throughout the case’s milestones. We can also help manage and secure media and online coverage before, during and after the litigation. We monitor print, digital and social media so that those involved in litigation know what their audience is saying about their case.

Our involvement begins pre-litigation, when the writ is filed or when charges are made in court (if the matter is criminal in nature), throughout pre-trial stages to the eventual trial stage (if it reaches the trial stage). We work very closely with the legal team to ensure there is alignment with the legal strategy and together with clients, decide what to communicate to which stakeholders at different stages.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Who are your clients typically and have you seen an increase in cases over the last few years?

We have been involved in data breach matters including cross-border data breaches, data breaches involving personal data of more than 800,000 and a global ransom of business information.

We have also consulted and advised various organisations in response to criminal investigations and prosecution in the areas of corruption charges, workplace safety offences and white-collar crime matters. In civil litigation matters, we have handled shareholder disputes and suits taken against former employees for non-competition clauses, insurance matters and more.

We have also taken cases to the “court of public opinion” on behalf of companies, for example, in the area of being wrongly accused of anti-competition; or intentionally drawing media and public attention to litigation by a small corporation against prominent businesses.

We started seeing a steady growth in the area of litigation PR work about 10 years ago and anticipate that this area of work will continue to grow in terms of demand.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Can you share one story or incident that has stayed with you in your line of work?

In one case, clients sued a group of former employees who started a competitor company and were “passing off” as their former employers. After more than a year of legal proceedings, the clients were almost at the end of the trial and winning. They came to us because despite almost winning, they had not achieved their objectives – to warn their customers and their industry that their former employees were in the wrong and passing off as them.

They wanted publicity to ensure that people knew that their former employees were up to no good. This is a very good example that winning in the court of law is, sometimes, not enough.

Join us this coming 24 - 25 April for #Content360, a two-day extravaganza centered around four core thematic pillars: Explore with AI; Insight-powered strategies; Content as an experience; and Embrace the future. Immerse yourself in learning to curate content with creativity, critical thinking, and confidence with us at Content360!

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