The Reed Smith brand has been in play. The plan to merge with Pepper Hamilton was derailed. Partners had been exiting. And there had been layoffs.
Jones Day became the subject of intense media scrutiny when The Washington Post outed that it was representing the Donald Trump Make America Great Again campaign.
Now that it's known that Wachtell Lipton has been the first law firm to break the $6 million annual PPP, will clients re-check their bills? And prospects do price comparisons before hiring that law firm?
Therefore, law firm rainmakers have to be the spear carriers on having the organization address the crisis. And the new playbook on that, being developed in real time by kglobal public relations partner, Gene Grabowski, is this: Strategy and tactics have to be in-place in the first 24 hours.
This is not new in itself. When Lucky Strike pulled the account from the fictional ad agency in "Mad Men," Don Draper leapt into action. That evening he wrote a letter, which is placed in The New York Times, announcing that he is relieved not to be associated with tobacco. That develops business among the emerging anti-tobacco NGOs.
What is new is the urgency of being in front of the crisis. With the 24-hour news cycle, the fierce competition among both establishment publications and social media for traffic, and an angry, jaded public, organizations have to take charge of their brand. Otherwise, others will do that for them.
For example, law firms have the influence to place their opinion-editorials in establishment media such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Why didn't the Washington D.C. office of Jones Day do that from the get-go? The macro message could have been: We are on the front lines of the right to a defense. The micro message: Our mission is ensuring diverse points of view in commercial conversations. And politics is a business.
Another emerging best practice in crisis communications is the creativity to position and package whatever in common sense. For example, in an interview on the controversial matter of company wellness programs, Grabowski explained how the policy can be framed as an employee choice.
Law firms in crisis can't just fall back on platitudes. Law firms such as Motley Rice are known for that kind of imagination in approaching legal matters. Classic now is its leveraging of the concept of public nuisance to product liability. An example is "People of California v. ARCO." All law firms must bring that same kind of breakthrough thinking to managing crisis.
A crisis puts the spotlight on the organization. If it is smart, it can leverage that attention as a brand enhancer. And sales tool.
Iconic was Johnson & Johnson's handling of the tampering crisis. More recently has been Theranos. It seems to be winning in the court of public opinion. Its message is that its technology, despite some problems, is a game-changer. Superlawyer David Boies is on the Theranos board.
Clearly the takeaway is that this is the era in which members of the media make the filters through which behavior and values are viewed. If law firms don't go on the offense with their own messaging, they could lose everything.