2008 Legal PR Awards


Attached is a special issue of PR News profiling the winners of the Legal PR Awards. These awards honor the most outstanding crisis communications efforts among corporations and agencies, and the top PR campaigns among law firms. Legal PR Blog Winner: Ford Harrison LLP & Hellerman Baretz Communications Campaign: Must SUE TV: Using Humor and Pop Culture to Communicate and Connect Litigation just might be the ultimate aphrodisiac for lawyers. Every slip on the sidewalk, fender bender in traffic or off-the-cuff remark made at a company Christmas party is a potential lawsuit, and rarely are legal connoisseurs hesitant to cash in. With that legal perspective in mind, anyone familiar with the hit sitcom "The Office" can imagine the thrill of watching Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), branch manager of a fictitious paper company, commit every workplace infraction in the book--sexual harassment, inappropriate comments involving race and sexual orientation, and allowing (actually, encouraging) workers to drink on the job, just to name a few. That is exactly what executives at Ford & Harrison did, only it wasn't merely for sport; it was for publicity and, in turn, serious professional gain. Bringing Sexy Back As Ford & Harrison rapidly expanded, it needed a marketing strategy to differentiate itself from its competitors, and client newsletters and networking events were not the "big ideas" these execs had in mind. That's where "The Office" comes in. Since Ford & Harrison specializes in labor and employee law, the scenes that play out on the show are of particular relevance to the firm's target audience. Every episode is centered on Michael's management foible of the moment, be it outing a gay employee or insisting that two employees act out a lesbian love scene during anti-harassment training. Recognizing a pop culture connection ripe for the picking, the law firm's executives tapped Hellerman Baretz Communications (HBC) to turn a brilliant idea into an even more brilliant reality: They made employee law sexy and interesting to the masses--a formidable accomplishment--by creating a blog, "That's What She Said" (hrheroblogs.com/thatswhatshesaid), in where one of the firm's lawyers, Julie Elgar (with occasional commentary from others in the firm), analyzes the amount of litigation exposure in each episode. She even quantifies the approximate dollar amount of the potential liability. The blog has three targets: legal professionals, human resources professionals and those who follow the entertainment industry. That's What She Said The unique approach to democratizing employee law via a digital platform and a pop culture hook set Ford & Harrison miles apart from its competition. With HBC's help, they landed a place on hrhero.com, a well trafficked site owned by HR leader M. Lee Smith Publishers. This prime real estate, coupled with media outreach to inform journalists of the blog's unique hook, secured its place in the spotlight. And, though the writer's strike was a minor bump in the blog's ascent to fame (it garnered coverage in national mainstream media and in the blogosphere), Elgar maintained the blog by posting frequent updates on the show's actors and the strike itself. With Elgar at the helm and, finally, a settlement between writers and producers, all bets are off as to how much "business" the firm will rack up next season. Best Spokesperson During Litigation Winner: Mark Chandler, Cisco Campaign: Cisco iPhone Debate iPod, iBook, iTunes ... the strategically placed "i" in front of these generic words immediately brings to mind computer giant Apple. That's why many people might be surprised to hear that the iPhone label was actually trademarked by Cisco in 2000, meaning that the 2007 debut of Apple's anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better mobile phone at the Macworld Conference and Expo was, in effect, in violation of the law. Cisco's legal team quickly filed a lawsuit in response to Apple's disregard of the trademark. Apples and Oranges In the month's leading up to the iPhone's debut, Cisco executives were in negotiation with Apple to craft a mutual agreement where the two companies could share the iPhone trademark. When these communications ceased on the eve of the Macworld Conference, Cisco's communications team kicked into high gear, seeking a spokesperson to initiate and maintain a public dialogue about the lawsuit. The team found the ideal representative in Mark Chandler, the SVP and general counsel of Cisco's legal department. His legal background, coupled with his understanding of the industry and stakeholder concerns, enabled him to boil the legal jargon down to laymen's terms. Once key messages surrounding the trademark violation were established, Mark spearheaded an outreach effort that hinged on new media platforms--a brilliant strategy considering the digerati audience Cisco wanted to reach. Through his blog, Cisco's online newsroom and outreach to bloggers, he kept stakeholders informed not only of the legal proceedings, but of the reasoning behind them. How the West Was Won Chandler's open approach to communicating information surrounding the lawsuit was integral in gaining the support--or at least the understanding--of reporters, bloggers, customers, investors, analysts, employees and competitors. After all, Apple is a household name, so taking it on in a public perception war was a gutsy move, not to mention a monumental challenge. But, between Chandler's frequent blog posts, media interviews and online newsroom updates, the showdown ultimately ended peaceably. On February 21, 2007-- fewer than two months after the lawsuit was filed--the companies agreed to share the iPhone trademark--the result Cisco had been seeking all along. Media Coverage Winner: Weber Shandwick & NGE Campaign: Majority Voting in Director Elections Study: Corporate Governance in a New Age of Transparency Corporate governance has been all the rage in recent years, what with increased shareholder activism--not to mention heightened public scrutiny--in the wake of scandals like Enron. In light of this, Claudia Allen, chair of the corporate governance practice group at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg (NGE), caught wind of an emerging trend in 2006: rather than following the usual practice of electing board of directors members by plurality votes, more and more public companies were enacting bylaws on majority voting. She initiated a study to analyze companies' response to the majority vote movement. Analyze This It may not sound like required reading material, but Allen's insights put NGE in position to be a thought leader in what was becoming a major issue with broad business implications. The firm's PR agency, Weber Shandwick, recognized the potential presented by Allen's period studies and their findings--namely, that more than 66% of the S&P 500 had adopted majority voting standards by November 2007, in contrast to 16% in February 2006. Granted, corporate governance and majority voting policies aren't sexy to most media, so the communications team had its work cut out for it. It overcame the "so what?" factor by packaging the lengthy study results into easily digestible documents for the media, spelling out its newsworthiness in no uncertain terms. By identifying NGE as the engine behind this analysis, the team created opportunities for the lawyers--especially Allen--to be the go-to experts for media interviews, especially in the context of the issue's impact on the business marketplace. This in turn created awareness of NGE among key audiences and positioned it as a thought leader in corporate governance. Not surprisingly, the campaign's success is spelled out in simple stats: 34 mainstream media placements, 30 trade placements and more than 100 online mentions. The icing atop the cake? A killer platform for establishing NGE's Corporate Board Services Practice Group, which launched in October 2007. Client Newsletter Winner: Duane Morris Campaign: Diversity of Duane Morris Creative, snappy, dynamic writing and legal documents don't usually go hand-in-hand--unless, of course, you are talking about Duane Morris LLP's client newsletter, Diversity at Duane Morris. The publication shirks precedent in favor of forward-thinking communications, both in terms of its visual approach and content. Case in point: Many still see the legal industry as an old boy's club, overlooking the huge strides made in diverse recruitment during the past decade. Duane Morris' client newsletter takes this diversity theme--one that is central to legal industry--and personalizes it. Dry "lawyer speak" is replaced with stories of attorneys in action and sincere testimonials from diversity leaders outside the firm. "I've always believed that nothing resonates more with an audience than someone else singing your praises," says Thom Davies, senior communications manager at Duane Morris. "The words of people who respect you carry farther than anything you could ever say about yourself." But it's the overall effect of the magazine-style newsletter that speaks volumes, and helps achieve the newsletter's goals: aligning with clients to demonstrate how the firm supports diversity, and attracting diverse talent to become part of the Duane Morris team. Communications executives work hard to make it "more 'Facebook' than 'report."" The Newsletter That Launched A Thousand Partnerships Well, maybe not 1,000, but it was instrumental in at least one, between the Diversity Committee and the Women's Initiative. Neither internal department had worked together in a marketing capacity, but their appearance in the newsletter lead to what is now an ongoing collaboration, which is the best measure of success for any diversity initiative. Crisis Management/Crisis Response Winner: Levick Strategic Communications/PFI Campaign: Pet Food Recall Response Made in China. It's a common epithet attached to millions of products sold worldwide, but recent crises have called into question the safety of everything that is manufactured in the country, which ranks among the world's biggest exporters. This reality hit close to home in spring 2007, when a wave of pet food recalls prompted concerns for animal safety to skyrocket. Further complicating the recall was a high- profile investigation by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to uncover the cause of the contamination--not to mention the pressure from millions of pet owners throughout the U.S. who were sent into a panic with the news that their animal's health could be in danger. Enter Levick Strategic Communications. The firm stepped up to represent the Pet Food Institute--the organization representing U.S. pet food manufacturers--in its effort to ease the concerns of pet owners; navigate through the high-profile FDA investigation; and limit the liability of pet food manufacturers facing litigation. Fear and Loathing The first and perhaps greatest challenge faced by the communications team was fear of the unknown. With the cause of the contamination still unidentified in the early stages of the crisis, Pet Food Institute spokespeople were flying blind when addressing public concerns. Levick execs overcame this by implementing a blitzkrieg of tactics, the center of which was the formation of the National Pet Food Commission--a group of scientific, industry and government leaders dedicated to finding the root of the problem, and issuing reports and recommendations. With the credibility of the Commission behind it, the Pet Food Institute was elevated to a position of authority and thought leadership during a time when consumers were eager for answers. The Levick team developed a plan for the PFI board to address the recall and FDA investigation; counseled execs on how to modify the Web site during a time of increased visibility; built an issues advertising campaign for national publications; and trained PFI executives to handle media interviews, and to get face-time with congressional committees. A Healthy Prognosis By the time the cause of the contamination--a tainted melamine ingredient--was established, the Pet Food Institute was out in front of the crisis as a leader. Using the now- known cause of contamination as a "teachable moment," the team shifted into overdrive with messages to reassure customers that the crisis was contained, thus allowing pet food companies to come out of hiding and renew their marketing efforts. Levick's multifaceted communications strategy couldn't rectify the damage caused by the tainted food, but it made huge strides in mitigating the crisis and establishing the Pet Food Institute as a leader during a time when one was desperately needed. QUICK TIP When coordinating communications strategies during a crisis, always look for a "teachable moment"--?a development that can be used as a platform for getting out in front of audiences and establishing authority. In-House PR Professional Winner: Melanie Hillis, Bracewell & Giuliani Campaign: Melanie Hillis: In the Eye of the Storm How's this for a challenge: Your law firm opens a new office in New York City and wants to recover the $20 million investment within three years. Your firm's Web site hasn't been updated in four years and is essentially worthless. There is no PR infrastructure. To top things off, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was just added as a name partner, basically guaranteeing media scrutiny. It's your job to "fix it." Oh, and you are only 29 years old. That's the abbreviated version of the situation that public relations specialist Melanie Hillis faced in 2006. Her firm Bracewell & Giuliani named the former mayor partner under the auspice of his political liability, as talk of his potential run for president of 2008 was already percolating. Plus, the firm's rapid growth demanded a serious revamping of internal and external efforts. Taking the Reins Hillis didn't waste any time. Upon her arrival at the firm in April 2006, she began crafting a PR strategy that would address each of the firm's challenges at once; she: Formalized a firm-wide PR infrastructure by instituting a press clipping service, an online news service and a wire service, and by hiring an external agency to assist in launching a media campaign to promote the firm's most profitable practice areas; Served as the key architect for the firm's new Web site, specifically an online newsroom that would allow clients and the media to stay abreast of firm news; Garnered success stories about Bracewell's partnership with Giuliani by linking the firm's growth to the former mayor's new role; Developed a media relations strategy to continually raise the firm's profile in the energy/finance space, which included e-mail marketing, third-party expert commentary and conferences featuring cameo remarks from Giuliani himself; and, Redirected investigative or slanted media inquiries into positive outcomes by acting as the firm spokeswomen during conflicts. Even this list of accomplishments doesn't do Hillis justice. She successfully navigated each of the aforementioned communications challenges by building one all-encompassing PR strategy and infrastructure that would carry the firm through thick and thin. Best Litigation Communications Winner: Levick Strategic Communications Campaign: Broadening the Fight--Taking on the Department of Justice. And Winning. Public trust in the government has seen better days. Case in point: According to the 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 39% of surveyed respondents in North America trust the government to do what's right--that's 18 percentage points behind trust in business. It may sound like nothing more than statistics, but these numbers had a major influence on executives at Levick Strategic Communications, who were charged with representing Norway-based transportation provider Stolt-Nielsen SA in an Antitrust Amnesty Agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) gone awry. Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire So how did abysmal levels of public trust in the government benefit Levick and its client? Here's how it went down in laymen's terms: In November 2002, the DOJ offered Stolt- Nielsen amnesty (meaning the company would be exempt from prosecution) if its executives agreed to turn over documents containing incriminating evidence of a price-fixing cartel in the parcel tanker industry. The cartel involved Stolt, but the DOJ's focus was on two other co-conspirators; the amnesty agreement would protect Stolt execs from fines or jail time if they agreed to cooperate. As it turns out, the cooperation ended up being one-sided. Stolt turned over documents, and DOJ lawyers subsequently revoked the amnesty agreement based on claims from the very companies that had just been convicted. Legal jargon aside, the crux of the matter was simple: The DOJ lied, putting Stolt at risk for one of the largest fines ever sought in an antitrust matter--not to mention jail time for execs. David Vs. Goliath Levick executives worked with Stolt's legal team from White & Case to shape their counterattack against the DOJ around the issue of amnesty revocation; the government had gone back on its word, and the team intended to do something about it while at the same time restoring the client's reputation and vindicating its executives. Rather than focus on the nuances of Stolt's situation, the team upped the ante to a debate about policy. This approach piqued the interest of traditional business, legal and Washington-policy media, not to mention key bloggers who were influential in the online space. With the focus shifted to policy, third-party speakers--especially conservative ones whose views were trusted within the Department of Justice and the Bush administration-- became integral to proving that the government overstepped its authority by refusing to honor its agreement. This tactic, coupled with using new media to monitor and update authoritative blogs; threatening retaliation by the European Union; and barraging the shipping trade press to reverse perceptions of Stolt from perpetrator to victim, had a powerful outcome: On November 30, 2007, Judge Bruce W. Kauffman dismissed pending indictments against the company and two of its executives. The first trading day after Kauffman's decision was announced, Stolt's stock rose 16%, a sure-fire measure that confidence in the company had been restored. Perhaps most significant, though, is the fact that the marketplace currently views Stolt as an industry leader that had the guts to beat the Department of Justice at its own game--proof that nice guys don't always have to ?finish last. QUICK TIP To get support from a wider audience during a litigation situation, it is better to elevate the conversation to one about policy rather than get bogged down by the nuances of a single case. Stakeholders are more likely to listen if they can see the big picture implications and understand what it means for them. Media Relations During a Crisis Winner: Crawford PR & XO Communications Campaign: Mission Impossible: XO Defeats Verizon Talk about a David versus Goliath situation: In December 2007, telecom behemoth Verizon was expected to win FCC approval for regulatory forbearance from pricing rules in six East Coast markets, which would allow it to manipulaterates and make it difficult for smaller companies to remain competitive. While others might have resigned themselves to the virtual impossibility of defeating Verizon, XO Communications, with the support of Crawford Public Relations, chose to fight. Mission: Improbable? To have any chance of affecting the FCC's approval of the regulatory forbearance, the team would have to rally multiple stakeholders and convey their concern via the media. But the odds weren't in their favor: The policy fight centered on an obscure regulatory forbearance statute that seemed arcane; Verizon appeared to be an invincible opponent; the FCC had already approved a similar petition in Nebraska, thus establishing legal precedent; and there was a 90-day deadline to make headway. Done and Done In terms of tactical execution, the team attracted favorable media attention by pointing out that Verizon's legal argument hinged on a spurious premise--that rate deregulation was justified due to strong, irreversible competition in the six markets--despite market share data that proved the opposite. Then, the team commissioned an economic impact study showing that Verizon's petition would raiseconsumer costs. Finally, they rallied bipartisan support from Congress to build a strong opposition. With such a solid outreach strategy, the media jumped on the story. On December 4, the FCC returned a unanimous 5-0 vote denying Verizon's petition, giving XO Communications the perfect opportunity to issue a simple statement: "Can you hear me now?" Media Event Winner: Duane Morris Campaign: Duane Morris Leadership Awards Stigmas attached to the legal profession don't lead one to see it as a leader in charitable corporate citizenship--but don't tell the folks at Duane Morris. In 2005, the team, led by director of media Relations Joshua Peck, developed the Duane Morris Leadership Awards, an annual project to recognize and award a community leader whose activities are based in a city in which the firm has an office. While the program admittedly would publicly demonstrate the law firm's commitment to being a responsible corporate citizen, looking beyond that outcome was an integral part of the program's success--and, in turn, the media's warm reception to it. "The main thing that made the Leadership Awards work is not going into it primarily to expand our own visibility," Peck says. "It was our goal to find the perfect recipient to receive the honor, who would then be able to do more of what [they] were already doing." With the parameters set (an award given with a contribution of $25,000 to the charity of the recipient's choice), it was time to find the perfect community leader in Boston, the first of many locations. The team found it in Rev. Dr. Gloria White-Hammond, an inner-city pediatrician and pastor who leads social outreach programs. Bestowing White-Hammond with the honor was the focal point of the October 25 event, but Peck's team wanted media presence. By developing a PR strategy to inform local and national media of the Leadership Awards --with additional emphasis on White-Hammond's chosen charity, My Sister's Keeper, a humanitarian women's group she co-founded to help build a girl's school in the Sudanese village Akon--the ceremony was well-attended, to say the least. Media, including the Boston Globe, turned out to cover it, boosting the effort of one woman to improve communities at home and abroad. Duane Morris reaped benefits as well, securing new business as a result of the coverage and establishing key relationships within the greater Boston ?community. "It was our hope to give back to a business and a general community that has been good to us since our opening there," Peck says. Mission accomplished.

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