The Legal Department

Crisis Communication And The Legal Department: Anne Marie Malecha CEO Dezenhall Resources

The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication

What do you do when a crisis hits your organization?  Anne Marie Malecha, CEO of crisis communications firm Dezenhall Resources, shares tips on how to survive. Starting from aligning internally on the key objectives and using those as a north star to align legal and comms to weather the storm. Anne Marie provides concrete advice on establishing crisis objectives, a communications protocol, setting up engagements and also paying attention to self-care in the heat of battle. You won’t want to miss this engaging conversation!

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Crisis Communication And The Legal Department: Anne Marie Malecha CEO Dezenhall Resources

I am Anne Marie Malecha. I’m Chief Executive Officer of Dezenhall Resources, a boutique crisis management, public affairs, and litigation and communications firm that helps clients navigate some of the darkest days of their organization’s histories. A fun fact about me is I have a long-enduring love of baseball hats. At last count, I have 72. What better way to remember some of my travels or events that I’ve been a part of or support the ventures of my friends and families and sometimes my winning teams?

Welcome to the show. On my show, I have someone I worked with many years ago, Anne Marie Malecha, who is the CEO of Dezenhall Resources, which is a crisis communications firm.

It’s great to see you. Thanks for having me.

It is great to see you in these circumstances, I have to say, not in a crisis situation.

It’s a lot more fun when we’re not in the trenches.

You’re one of my first episodes that is not strictly legal-focused. I wanted to do this because so often, especially in this day and age, and you have a little more to say about this, all companies and all organizations are potentially in the cross-hairs for a crisis or what you call an instant scandal. All too often, that has a legal component. The in-house counsel and outside counsel are really set as the foot soldiers to make the situation better, and alongside us are the comms team. This is going to be good for our audience.

Communications is a part of everything that’s happening in business, whether people like it or not. The organizations can use that as an opportunity. I never say a crisis is an opportunity because it isn’t, but knowing that is an important part of the puzzle of getting to the other side is really critical.

I’m saying you coined the phrase instant scandal, but in really reflecting on where we are in this environment, what does that mean?

There are a couple of things. One, when clients come to us, they often think they have a communications problem because something is playing out in the media, even if there’s a legal component to it. The reality is most problems organizations face are conflicts. They’re fundamental conflicts. Someone is against you or for you in whatever the issue is.

It is because of the world we’re in that the world of instant scandal, the media, political, and cultural environment we operate in is highly fractured. Disinformation is everywhere. Everyone wants to receive information the way they want to receive it, and oftentimes, that’s really biased. I believe that it’s fueled by four things. One is trust in institutions. Particularly, the media has eroded. Government agencies are questioned. Judges are questioned. Nobody is believed to be unbiased anymore. That stage is ripe for a classic scandal.

When I started in this business, there were deadlines in decorum. You had three broadcasts that happened at 5:00 and 6:30. Cable news was emerging. Now, everyone has a platform. There are more than 5.3 billion users on the internet, and everyone has access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. There’s no mediator of those sources. It’s all you put it out there and see what happens.

Scientifically, our attention spans are shrinking too, so you don’t have the opportunity to educate people in a meaningful way. You’ve got 250 characters at most to get somebody to pay attention to something or to understand. In the worlds we live in, that’s not often possible. At the end of the day, we like controversy. Controversy’s interesting. You don’t want to read a headline that’s boring and basic. You want something that makes you want to click on it. clickbait exists for a reason.

It’s a real thing.

That’s how the media are getting paid. The industrial complex behind media is something that organizations have to contend with whether they like it or not.

Let’s talk about that piece a little bit. Many of us grew up in a time when journalistic ethics and integrity were a big part of our culture. I had some friends who worked at some big news outlets. They shared that getting eyeballs on the story was their top priority.

Compensation packages are often orchestrated that way, so you need to have a certain number of views of your stories. You’ll see a story that might come out with five different headlines. They’re testing which one gets the most views. The other piece of it outside of the views is you want something that is eye-catching that could potentially get you an award. Pulitzer prizes are still coveted among journalists. That is very real for their own career advancement.


The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication: The other piece of it outside the views is you want something that is eye-catching that could potentially get you an award.

We’re not dealing with unbiased sources in the media themselves, and I don’t mean that politically, but they have an agenda. They want to do good work or do what’s perceived by their editors as good work and want to move themselves up.  There still are some journalists who are ethical and believe in the relationship between reporters and sources in a meaningful way. The problem is everybody’s moving so fast that they don’t have a choice but to keep churning. It used to be that you could take a week to put a story together. Now, if you’re ten minutes late, you’ve been scooped.

It’s about moving quickly. Honestly, in a crisis, as you know all too well, it can take a long time to get your arms around the facts.

There’s nothing more uninteresting than, “We’re reviewing that.” Something that more traditional PR and marketing folks are likely to say is, “We have to say something right away.” You do have to say something fairly quickly. This idea that you’re going to be able to give the world everything when you’ve been served with the lawsuit five hours earlier is impossible.

I see companies trip up where they try and say too much too soon or they try and make promises they can’t keep. One of my favorites in that regard is, “We’re going to be transparent. We’re going to release the report. We’re going to give everybody everything.” I have yet to see that be something that an organization is able to do. It can’t.

Let’s talk about that. Having been in one of these tsunamis myself a couple of times, the immediate instinct is, “Make this go away. How do we get it to stop?” That’s where you get that pressure to get something out. You’re like, “Get it out.” It is very difficult, if not impossible to be able to get that right at the moment.

From the legal perspective, lawyers and in-house counsel in particular are going to be cautious about saying too much or especially early when you may not know something. Comms is in the crosshairs. They want you to have that statement done the minute the story comes out. How do we work together to manage the client around those expectations?

The first thing that has to happen in a crisis situation despite the fact that you’re moving fast is determining what the objective is. If everybody’s not on the same page about what the objective is, you can’t be rowing in the same direction. It’s impossible. Generally, the objective is to make it as less bad as we possibly can as quickly as possible, but there are often players involved where you’ve got a CEO that might be concerned. Their job is on the line. Are they the messenger? Is it the GC that’s the messenger? That sends a signal in and of itself. Is it your standard regular comms person who puts things out to the media?

If everybody's not on the same page about what the objective is, you can't be rowing in the same direction. Share on X

The reality is you have to say something. We always focus on communicating the progress of what’s possible and making sure that you’re setting the tone for what you think may be coming next. Your first shot across the bow with that immediate response is really important because it’s going to be what is in the press and lives into perpetuity forever, but it is not the only tactic and not the only thing that’s going to be there. Making sure that you’re setting yourself up for what the next couple of steps are is one of the most important pieces, in my opinion, of the initial statement. The exact words will be examined by everyone. It doesn’t matter who they are. They’re going to say you did a bad job. Those are the most perfect words in the world that everybody loves.

The fact that something happened or the fact that there was an adverse story or whatever is gospel, in my experience. I like what you said about setting the objective. In my experience, when you are on the receiving end, so you’re not coming out first, you’re on the receiving end of a narrative that is already baked in. I don’t know if you have experienced and you’ve been able to flip that narrative, but it feels like it’s impossible. It feels like those headlines and whatever flashy clickbait words they use become what the story is.

It’s a very hard mountain to climb. When the narrative is set, that’s going to be what goes quickly because that’s what’s there. Unfortunately, things on the internet live forever. It is not impossible, but it is a long road. The expectation that you can change the conversation quickly or flip the script with a new narrative is, in my experience, not generally something that happens right away. You can do it over time. That’s why that objective piece is so important because that’s really what you need to think about moving towards.

We write a lot of counter-narratives that come in every shape, size, and form imaginable, but there are a lot of things when you’re in a litigation situation that you as an organization cannot say. Who matters? Who can be the messenger for you? The other thing is who’s your audience? If you’re a publicly traded company, you’ve got a very different audience to consider than if you’re in higher education. If you are dealing with shareholders or a regulatory matter where you could have an SEC investigation, a Department of Justice investigation, or a congressional inquiry, there are different ways to step that.

While everybody thinks, “The general public is our core audience,” that’s not true. That’s something that we really push our clients to focus on is who matters here for the ultimate objective. If the ultimate objective is for us to get out of this as quickly as possible, we need to focus on the people that are going to make that a reality.


The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication: Everybody thinks the general public is our core audience. That’s not true.

It sounds like you’re the voice of reason. They’re like, “There’s chaos. Make it go away. Let’s get something out.” It sounds like part of your role is to help people pull up and see, “Who do we really care about here? What are we trying to accomplish?”

One of the titles we have in our position structure is counselor. That’s the way I look at it. We are counseling our clients as part of a team to say what’s the most advisable thing given all of the facts that are on the table and all of the facts that are not on the table yet that we may know about in the future. That’s where there’s a real similarity between lawyers and communications. You’re also counselors

Some of the best lawyers I’ve worked with have seen what I call the PR legal continuum. We’re on a spectrum of one decision that might be more valuable for brand reputation. On the PR side and legal, it might not be their first choice, but we go that route because it’s best for our overall objective. Secondarily, there might be something that I want to have out there as soon as possible, but we need to wait three weeks for a filing that’s really important. Having that ability to work together and see how the comms and legal can be helpful to one another is the experience I’ve seen more over the last handful of years. That counselor piece of it is at the core for both roles.

I like finding common ground in what we each do. There could be a tendency to be in your corner like, “I’m trying to get the message out,” and me, as the lawyer, I’m saying, “I’m trying to make sure we don’t lose the company in litigation.” If lawyers and in-house counsel are not so evolved to understand that PR legal continuum, do you have suggestions or tips on how folks in my chair can best work with you and your team?

Absolutely. In every legal situation, there’s the court of public opinion and then there’s the actual courtroom. You and I both know we often don’t ever get to the courtroom or it’s a really long process to get there. In the meantime, the court of public opinion can drive the bus. Going back to what I said about the objective, if you’re not on the same page of what your objective is, it’s difficult to have a symbiotic relationship with anybody that’s on the crisis team because you’re all moving and there’s no coordinated effort.

In every legal situation, there's the court of public opinion and then there's the actual courtroom. Share on X

Generally, the objective is to limit liability as much as possible. That’s financial. That’s reputational. No lawyer and no comms person wants to get called by their client and hear, “We look bad. We’re not getting where we want to go.” If you have the plan and strategy in place and everybody’s working on that together, you can have each of those pieces of the puzzle playing towards that same common goal.

It’s also about listening. It’s important for me to read through all of the legal materials that exist because I have a different lens than legal does. It’s important for legal to read through all of the detailed materials my team puts together because you have a different view than we do. It is, in some cases, a negotiation. It’s also about having that long game view of, “These pieces have to go together in sequential order because that’s the best we have.”

People don’t realize that whatever crisis you’re in, you’re picking the best of bad options always. There is no perfect scenario that’s going to get everybody out of this, keep everybody’s job, and have no impact on the bottom line. It’s about survival. Survival is wholly possible in a crisis, but reframing what is realistically possible is critical.

It sounds like that counselor role, you play that more than you would think, right?

Absolutely. It’s a role I cherish. It’s really important. It’s one that I learned from a lot of the legal teams I work with and my clients, too, as to how you help them come along from being in this frenetic place to getting to a more strategic, “Let’s focus on what’s practical and what we can do here to make this as less bad as we can.”

For the lawyers, i t is, “Let’s make sure we’re all aligned on the objective.” If we are aligned on the objective, then what we’re doing in the room, the war room, so to speak, is we’re bringing our perspective on how to reach that objective as opposed to getting into a tug of war between legal and comms about where we’re trying to go.

It does not have to be an adversarial relationship at all. Ensuring that you are all coalescing around that common objective is critical. I work with a lot of lawyers who have been involved in a case longer than I have. I’m coming to figure out what’s going on and it might be at the eleventh hour. That’s my least favorite type of engagement because I have very little ability to make an impact.

The narrative’s done.

The narrative is set. All the filings are out there. I don’t have any real mechanism to shift things towards where they may want to go. Starting early is great. I know that in a crisis, nobody knows exactly what they’re doing and it’s never the same each time. The earlier comms and legal can come together to form a strategy that’s cohesive and not one-sided, the better off the organization is throughout the entire crisis.

In a crisis, there's nobody who knows exactly what they're doing, and it's never the same each time. Share on X

Let me ask more of a tactical question. I had Diana Feinstein from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in one of my early episodes talking about privilege and we talked a little bit about engaging the comms team and PR through counsel. Do you have thoughts about that? I don’t know if it matters to you or not, but does that change maybe your view of who’s in charge or how to work with the lawyers?

It’s always my preference to be engaged through outside counsel. Asserting privilege over the work I do is not always possible, but giving our clients and their attorneys the option is something I would always like to try and push for. There is some legal and legislative action happening out there that we’re all keeping an eye on in that regard.

Say more. I don’t know this.

There’s a case before the Supreme Court. The name is escaping me. It’s questioning whether the privilege of a consultant is valid. I’m not sure they’re going to take it up. My hope is that they don’t.

When you say consultant, is it a comms consultant?

Yes.

That’s one to watch.

It’s a comms consultant and a couple of paid experts.

I’m making notes on that.

Having privilege is important. That being said, being cautious in anything that’s in writing is also important. That’s trying to not have multiple drafts going back and forth or setting up protocols that everybody can be comfortable with. I use my phone still more than anybody else my age does to pick up the phone and call.

Do you mean the telephone, not the text?

I mean dialing a phone number.

I got to tell you. In the heat of battle at one point in my career, my younger daughter was three years old and she said, “No more calls.” It is as you’re saying. You don’t want to minimize the paper and email out there. It’s not editing commas and changing out adjectives. There is a major strategic component that goes into the communications side.

When new information comes available that’s from an investigative side or we learned this because we had a deposition that occurred, you don’t want any of that, to me, in writing or have a trail of my questions. My questions aren’t nefarious. They’re there to get to the bottom of the piece I need to have, but y ou don’t want that to become public in discovery. It’s not helpful. It might not be damaging but it’s not helpful. The more we can minimize that, the better. Fortunately, technology has made things easier. Almost every law firm has its own Dropbox-style file-sharing platform. I have accounts on every single one of them depending on who my clients are working with.


The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication: Fortunately, technology has made things easier.

Let’s talk about some tactics. Part of the goal of the show is to give in-house counsel some real practical tips for dealing with different issues. Using the phone versus email and engaging through counsel, what are some other protocol items that you try to have in place to minimize the damage after the fact?

A very clear and tight crisis team. It’s easy to have 25 people at the table in these situations because you’ve got multiple functions in an organization. Everybody thinks that they might need a seat at the table, but the reality is you have to be able to move fast. Whether you’re physically in a war room or on the phone working from different places, I always suggest that the crisis team is small. It should be 1 or 2 lawyers and 1 or 2 comms folks. Usually, that’s an outside firm as opposed to an inside. You need maybe one inside comms person.

If you’ve got a government affairs component or this is an operational problem and you need ops or whoever, the fewer the people, the faster you can make decisions, the less likely there are to be leaks, whether intentional or accidental, which I’ve seen both, and the more you can really control how the team is moving the ball forward as quickly as possible and information sharing.

Much of what happens in a crisis is when somebody gets a call, they learn something that’s important for the whole team to know. The whole team doesn’t know it but they’re operating with that piece of information. It is being clear about speaking regularly when we’re in the heat of battle. I’m on the phone almost every day with a client. Usually, we have a morning call of, “What do we need to know? What are the updates?” We all go to work and stay in touch as much as we can. Setting those protocols up in the beginning is important because getting siloed doesn’t serve anyone.

I’ve had that before where you set standing calls throughout the day so that you get people updated. I really want to emphasize how important this is. It’s chaotic anyway, but if you don’t know who’s on first, you don’t know who’s on the team, and there’s no protocol for people to get information, you can create another mini-crisis inside your company while you’re trying to fight the external bad guys, so to speak.

I couldn’t have said it better. That’s the thing that we try to keep our clients from doing to themselves. Often, they’ve already started that process since we’ve gotten there. Riding that ship right away is really important. It’s not because you don’t want people to be in the know or you don’t want them to be involved. It’s setting those parameters so that everybody knows, “At 12:00 PM and 5:00 PM, I can expect that I’m going to have an update.” It also avoids going to people when there’s not an urgent update that needs to happen.  That can be such a critical piece when everybody is trying to balance the crisis with the other day-to-day things that are happening. The world doesn’t stop around you as this is occurring.


The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication: When everybody is trying to balance the crisis with all the other day-to-day things that are happening, the world doesn’t stop around you as this is occurring.

That is almost the worst part because you get a new job that is 24/7 demanding, and then you have your existing job with deadlines. People who are not in that inner circle who have read whatever they’ve seen, headlines or whatever, are like, “Why are you involved in that?” I can’t even tell you how many times people are like, “What do you even have to do?” It’s like, “That’s my life right now. I’m  doing my best to get your contract done, but I’ve got other things to worry about.”

There are things that have deadlines that are a little bit more serious and priorities. It is about prioritizing, and that’s not an easy thing to do. Having a call at 8:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 5:00 PM giving you 3 to 4-hour blocks of work in between is a really valuable thing for everybody that’s involved because there is hands-on-the-keyboard work that needs to be happening in the meantime in addition to the strategy setting, updating, and keeping track of everything.

I  want to stay on that topic because there is part of this that is not blocking and tackling the crisis. I wonder. Since you live this, do you have tips or advice for people for self-care and surviving this kind of situation? Even as we’re talking about it, you’re so calm and I’m already getting worked up. You must be like a marathoner with this kind of stuff. Do you have any tips on how to not go crazy?

Being calm under pressure is a prerequisite to being a crisis manager. I’ve seen it all and I’m not surprised when there’s something new that I haven’t seen that comes about. It’s twofold. One, you cannot get into the minutiae of not eating, not hydrating, and not taking time to go for a walk. When I can take calls and walk, it’s amazing. You think better. There’s clarity. You’re getting outside of yourself, which is really valuable. That self-care is important. I probably didn’t practice that until the last handful of years and realized how critical it is.

Being a calming presence is something that you should have in your crisis team. If you have folks that, by personality, cannot take a breath and everything is a five-alarm fire, that’s not helpful because you have to think through the long game of everything. If you’re in that heightened state, you’re not thinking clearly. Take deep breaths.

As silly as that sounds, taking a step back and thinking about how everything you’re doing comes back to your ultimate goal is the grounding force for me in these crises. Also, my clients, I want to see them do well and help them get to the point of doing well. Part of that is their own personalities and how they handle it internally and with their role. Guiding people as much as I possibly can to calmly move forward is important.

Back to that counselor role, I can see you being that calming force and giving people this advice. It can be all-consuming. It’s hard to be like, “Let me take my step out of the battlefield to go for a walk, meditate, or whatever,” because it doesn’t go away. That’s the thing.

It’s going to be there when you get back.

Unfortunately.

The reality is you’re trying to get to the other side as quickly as possible but you’re also being realistic that if you go get a coffee for twenty minutes, it’s not really going to change. I’m not suggesting that I am laissez-faire by any means. I’m about as hands in the trenches, like, “Let’s move as fast as we can,” kind of personality that exists. I have been called aggressive from time to time. The reality is it will all still be there. If you move 5 minutes faster or 5 minutes slower, most people aren’t going to know the difference. The folks that are thinking like that are not thinking about the broader crisis management of the whole situation.

That’s why having an experienced crisis team is really important. You need somebody who has been through it and can tell you, “This is likely to come.” Let’s say you get a class-action lawsuit or something. That lawsuit involves something that affects the public, and then you have a regulatory agency that shows up, “The DA is going to start an investigation. There are protests.” It can snowball if you do not have a counselor or somebody like you who’s been there and done that can say, “We need a narrative for your complaint, but you need to be looking ahead at all these different constituencies that are going to come for you.”

We operate like campaign operatives. Most of us come from a political background, and I don’t mean left, right, red, or blue being the campaign piece you need to think about. It’s, “Who’s for you? Who’s against yoU? who matters right now? Who’s going to matter in 3 months or 6 months? What happens if X scenario occurs? Let’s say the DA starts an investigation. How does that impact whether there becomes a policy action at the state capitol?” It is hedging for all of those things and trying to keep it as contained as possible. When outside consultants come in, that can often be scary for those who are in the job day-to-day. The reality is we’re there to help because most people shouldn’t have the training and experience I have as a communicator. It’s a real advantage to them if that’s the case.

Communications is a little conflicting sometimes because public relations and crisis management are on two separate sides of the spectrum. Crisis management is a containment discipline and public relations is the exact opposite. You have to turn that model on its head when you’re in these types of things. We call it war gaming or scenario planning if you want to be a little less aggressive. I have to think through all of those possibilities and how the things we might do today might impact all of that. If you’re not, you’re going to end up in trouble.


The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication: Communications is a little conflicting sometimes because public relations and crisis management are on two separate sides of the spectrum.

Let’s go back to that point of the objective and having your narrative or your story you’re trying to tell as opposed to you getting into a position where you’re reacting and everything’s a one-off. I had a friend who was at another big institution that had a major scandal. She was saying they came up with guiding principles. At the outset, they took a breath and said, “These are the three things of how we’re going to approach this crisis throughout.” She said it was a game-changer for them.

I love that. I always say it’s about running your own race. There’s going to be a race running around you whether you like it or not. T he strategy might change. There might be information that comes. I’m not saying it’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing, but if you’re running your own race and you know what your finish line is, a lot of those ups and downs in between become not less relevant but less urgent.

They don’t rock you as much. You’re in your own race a lot actually. Back to when we started off about the instant scandal, you can get sucked into what is the next hot thing and what everybody else is doing. Having your own goal and your own race is really important for a lot of parts of life.

When you’re running your own race, you can also let some of those outside impacts roll off your back, but you can also use them to your advantage. One thing that we often do in my role is create fires elsewhere or stoke fires elsewhere to remove some of the attention. If you’re focused on what your ultimate goal is, that allows you to see the forest through the trees and play on that chess board a little bit more.

That’s great. I want to pivot a little bit. I know this is coming through in the conversation for our audience, but you have a really nice style. I’ve worked with a lot of different PR folks and crisis folks. You’re like a tell-it-like-it-is kind of person and not playing to the audience necessarily. I know we’ve talked a little bit about your approach. I think you were referring to the book Radical Candor.

Thank you for saying that because it’s really important to me. Often, when I come into a situation, I have to be the facts-of-life person. I don’t see the world through rose-colored glasses. I see them through very practical, often ugly, and great lenses. Radical Candor is a book that I read ages ago. It’s about having tough, honest conversations as quickly as possible with as little fanfare and context as necessary. I find that doing so with clients respectfully because I’m not going to run in and start screaming at them and being honest about what their chances are or what the realities are is really important.

There are a lot of clients that come to us that we don’t take on because we would call them a suicide mission. We’re like, “There’s no winning. There’s no way to help you. You’re going to be mad at me at the end of the day because I won’t have been able to deliver on something that was impossible to begin with.” Setting those realistic expectations is something lawyers are really good about. It is like, “We’re going to be in this for five years.” Nobody wants to hear that from a communicator.

Something that’s important to me is I’m always trying to get fired from the job. It’s not because I did a bad job but because we won. We reached the objective we wanted to get to. Sometimes, that takes six weeks. Sometimes, that takes six years. It comes in different shapes and sizes for everybody. S tart with that honest assessment of, “This is where you are,” and give clients the reality outside of their bubble. For most organizations, something bad happens and it’s, “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone anywhere ever,” but at the same time, there might be a war happening.

This feels like the worst to you. Your world gets really small in those situations. You think, “Everybody must know about this,” and, “People are judging me,” and all that. It’s hard to see the forest in those situations.

That’s natural. That’s why it’s incumbent upon people in the role like me to zoom out and be like, “Let’s see where we’re at with all of this. How much attention is being paid to it?” That’s why I always want to focus on the audience that matters most. There is going to be an audience that an organization has or a stakeholder group that is really important and is focused on that. It’s more important that whatever we do strategically plays to that than to Joe Schmo in their basement in Missouri. It does change the game when you’re thinking about it in the context of the world.

The other thing is I’d rather be lucky than good. There are times when a client has had the biggest issue. The headline was terrible. Two days later, the headline was so much beyond for somebody else that what we were dealing with receded into the background. That’s a win. We take that and run with it. Knowing what’s happening around you is really important because that is 9/10 of the battle. You’re not in a vacuum.

The theme going through here has been a little bit of litigation. Specifically, what can crisis comms or a firm like yours do to help without thinking about the rest of the parade of horribles that can happen? How can something like Dezenhall help a law firm or in-house counsel gain an advantage in litigation?

We always talk about the courtroom or the courtroom versus the court of public opinion. One of the things that has become so important is how information gets out into the world. Having comms folks at the outset before any answer to a complaint happens or countersuit or any sort of filing is really important. There’s so much from a narrative perspective that if it is in a filing, it is public information. It can be something that becomes interesting to reporters or other stakeholder groups whereas opposed to it behind closed doors and something that you try to get others interested in. That’s a practical piece and one of the reasons why it’s so much more effective for our clients when we’re involved early.


The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication: One of the things that has become so important is how information gets out into the world and having comms Folks at the outset before any answer to a complaint happens or a countersuit or any sort of filing.

I don’t want to change your legal arguments. That’s not the point. If you look at how lawsuits are written, there is a narrative included in it, whether it’s an intro or everything else that goes with it afterward. That is so critical to setting the tone for what our counter-narrative is going to be or how we want to shape things going forward.

Comm’s involved as the complaints are being drafted or responded to.

Also, the perspective of that, too. Sometimes, if you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with protected classes or groups where folks may pay attention a little bit more, it’s a little bit more controversial. Thinking about the lens in which information is received. I hate to bring up the congressional testimony of university presidents, but their language was like they were in a deposition and it was all thought in the context of having a good legal answer. That doesn’t play in the court of public opinion. If you might not reach the courtroom for two years using the vehicles, the court of public opinion is essential.

What about more tactics that your firm could employ to help gain approval for a class action settlement? The judge has to approve that. You have to minimize objectors and hopefully, if it’s an opt-in, get people to opt in or if you don’t want to opt out. What about some tactics around that?

We call it keeping it sold. One of the things that’s unique in settlements is you need to have people think that this is going to be their best option for getting relief and “justice”. Feeling like they’ve seen an outcome that works for them. That can be done in a number of ways. One is how you frame the settlement to begin with. Every plaintiff’s lawyer is always going to say, “The settlement’s not enough. They deserve more. That’s natural.” It is anticipating all of the things that come with that, whether it’s a monetary judgment.


The Legal Department | Anne Marie Malecha | Crisis Communication
Crisis Communication: You need to have people think that this is going to be their best option for getting relief and justice.

In bringing other people into the conversation, we call them surrogates or bringing in grassroots groups. For example, if you have a settlement that impacts veterans, having someone that’s in the veteran community say, “This is the right way to go. It’s going to get you where you want to go faster,” as opposed to ten years of litigation is really valuable. It’s a lot more valuable than if you as the organization are saying that. That’s a big piece of it.

Also, it is making sure there’s really clear information that’s available for plaintiffs to get because you know the plaintiff’s attorneys are spinning it to whatever works for them. It is making sure that you’re getting in front of them. You can do that in a direct way now with digital ads, finding the right audience, and making sure they’re seeing those messages repeatedly throughout that process.

Opposition research is one that people don’t often like to think of, but this is a very political tactic. Knowing what people think about you and what’s out there and also knowing what your opponents have as far as skeletons in their closet can be useful. You probably won’t use it publicly, but it might be important for a negotiation tactic. It might be important for how we’re thinking strategically about a certain decision.

It also, from a reputation perspective, makes it a lot harder for you to be surprised by something that pops up along the way. That stuff takes a little time. When you’re in the heat of battle, people don’t often think of it. We generally try and start at the minute where you’re in an engagement with a client to say, “Let’s get that running in the background because that’s going to be really valuable to us. If you’ve got an executive that might have some skeletons in their closet, I need to know that that’s not the person we want to make at the forefront of this.”

We could talk for a long time. We didn’t talk about this when we did the self-care, but one of the things I did and continue to do is rely on music to flip my mood or get me pumped up. I ask all guests this because I’m always looking for other songs. What is your pump-up song?

Little Wayne’s Right Above It. I t’s got a good beat. It’s so energetic and makes me feel like I’m ready to run out of the shoot onto the basketball court. That’s what a pump-up song should be.

That’s awesome. That’s what a pump-up song should be. Thanks so much. This has been great. It’s fun to walk down memory lane with you. I appreciate you coming to the show.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate you tolerating the little line of PTSD we had to walk to have this conversation. It has been fun.

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