Bernhard Krumpel: Trendbegriff „Litigation PR“
In addition to “lockdown”, litigation PR also seems to be a trend this year. Whenever secret powers are suspected to be behind a report, the finger-pointing call “Litigation PR” follows. Like in the Middle Ages, when everything inexplicable in fearful delusions was assigned to some supernatural powers. Litigation PR is a very down-to-earth craft.
eXXpress columnist Bernhard Krumpel
The legendary star lawyer Dr. Michael Stern knew very early on the importance of public opinion in criminal and civil law litigation. Back then, clients were still dependent on the media skills of the respective lawyer. Over the years, however, the media support for criminal and civil proceedings has become more professional, and the term “litigation PR” made the rounds.
Professional litigation PR does not attack any institutions
Litigation PR is used before, during and after legal disputes. The official history of litigation PR begins in the United States in the 1980s. Sensational trials such as the 1994 US football star OJ Simpson indictment for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman or the anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft increased media interest in legal proceedings.
In Germany the “Kachelmann Trial” is an example of offensive litigation PR, in Austria the proceedings involving Meinl Bank, Karl Heinz Grasser and Rakhat Aliyev have become famous. Litigation PR only supports the lawyers’ legal strategy. The aim is to accompany the legal dispute and to optimize the client’s position in public.
Litigation PR has now also established itself as a broad discipline in Austria. Litigation PR usually has to be used for years, parallel to the duration of the process. When using litigation PR, the step towards the public must always be made very carefully and well considered. For this reason, information that is used and controlled in a targeted manner is a far better approach to achieving the desired communication goals. These can, for example, be passed on to the appropriate people in the course of background discussions or interviews. One fact is important: it is essentially about making positions clear and under no circumstances attacking institutions or anticipating judgments.
The lawyer sets the strategy
It is therefore clear who sets the strategy for litigation, namely the lawyer. The communication expert accompanies this strategy in ongoing consultation with the lawyer and the client. If the lawyer is not present during discussions with the client, then it is the PR expert’s job to talk to the lawyer before taking action. This lived hierarchical structure prevents misunderstandings and facilitates cooperation as well as the defined division of roles. In many cases it is also advisable for the lawyer to also act as spokesperson for the media. On the other hand, especially in civil disputes, the PR expert is dependent on the lawyer to provide information quickly in order to develop suitable media positions and to be able to address the media precisely.
Expert opinions are intended to support the establishment of the truth
Private appraisals can pursue different goals. If the indictment is foreseeable, the focus of the expert opinion is to present the accused’s point of view to the court or the public. As can be seen from Prof. Lewisch’s statement on the advertising cause dealt with by the WKStA, this is formulated very pointedly.
This is different in the case of private reports that are aimed at the investigating authority, i.e. in this case the WKStA, and are understood as support for their work. By verifying facts are prepared, assumptions are clarified by further verifiable information and initial suspicions are dealt with factually. In that case, the expert works – to put it very simply – to the authority. Accordingly, these reports do not need to be made public, they only need a professional assessment by the authority.
Litigation PR is a special topic
As a former long-time industry representative for public relations, I know: Despite the short history in Austria, there are already some technical mistakes that have been fatal for those affected. Therefore a clarification: Litigation PR is a specialty and requires special knowledge.
The public prosecutors have also professionalized their public relations work over the years. This new media era began in 2010 when the public prosecutor Gerhard Jarosch, also one of the most competent media experts, became president of the Association of Austrian Public Prosecutors. Since then, the representation of interest groups has improved steadily, and today there are regular statements on current topics.
Since 2009, Prof. Hans Mathias Kepplinger, Professor of Empirical Communication Research at the Institute for Journalism at the University of Mainz, has been trying to find out whether litigation PR works at all. He questions (German) judges and public prosecutors and comes to the conclusion that litigation PR is less about the question of guilt or innocence and more about the level of punishment.
There is still a lot to write about, but one thing should be clear now: Litigation PR is not witchcraft, but a craft for experts, based on a specific foundation. Otherwise we would be in dirty or negative campaigning. That is a different area, however. And that shouldn’t be confused.