Quote of the Day - My chances of racing in this year's Tour de France are slim to none. That's what got me out of bed every morning.
When the Court of Public Opinion turns its harsh light on you, how do you respond when you're in crisis mode? Let's take the doping charges facing cyclist Floyd Landis. Public relations wonks recommend immediate and full disclosure, along with a mea culpa, if appropriate. That advice makes stomachs of business lawyers do somersaults, especially when the Court of Public Opinion transforms into a court of law.
Right now, Mr. Landis steadfastly denies using any illegal substances that may have elevated his testosterone levels. Unless he's prepared to give up the title, he really can't say much else. If he issues a mea culpa, not only will he immediately drop out of the news, but he will also lose his victory. He doesn't have too many choices. It's defend or die. The Court of Public Opinion, however, may not be so harsh to businesses. But how do you communicate to your audience?
You can expect to hear those statements later in trial; there's no privilege that applies to exclude them from evidence. Then again, most cases settle, so should you even worry? Isn't the Court of Public Opinion more important? That depends on your audience, and how you want to be remembered. In Mr. Landis' case, his court trial will come quickly. Testing will be done immediately and evaluated by the officials at the Tour de France. In business, that trial won't come for a year or more, if ever.
But Mr. Landis' audience isn't the Tour de France. Or is it? Without the winner's title, there is no Court of Public Opinion. The second link in this post points to an Associated Press story that advises Mr. Landis to get a good - in fact a great - attorney. Should the AP's advice really advise Mr. Landis to get a good - in fact a great - public relations consultant instead?
MIPTC thinks perhaps both is best. The general advice of a PR consultant is to over-communicate extensively and consistently - both within and outside the company. At the same time, however, just prior to offering that extensive and consistent communication, check with your lawyer who can provide counsel about the effect of your statements down the road when you get to the court trial, if the crisis turns into litigation.
How would you handle Mr. Landis? What spin would you give the doping scandal? Who should speak - Landis or his lawyer? Like most, MIPTC believes Landis should speak to the public and his lawyer should speak to the Tour officials, and probably with a medical expert on testosterone.
Whatever the outcome, this situation presents a good case study on how businesses can handle the Court of Public Opinion, and the circus that comes with it.