Monday, November 24, 2014

Bill Cosby Accusers Redefining Comedian's Legacy

Showbiz fixers weigh in on the comedian's PR disaster, and say silence is golden
Bill Cosby‘s latest PR nightmare is no laughing matter. Just one day after the iconic comedian refused to answer questions about multiple sexual allegations during an interview with NPR, another victim has come forward.

So far the comedian has only issued a statement through his attorney denying the allegations. Is Cosby's strategy working so far?

According to president and CEO of Centurion Strategies Michael Bilello, “When he did the NPR interview and literally said ‘no’ to making a comment it's interpreted as stonewalling, and guilt is associated with that tactic. The public assumes you're hiding something. That is the worst thing you can do.”

The sexual allegations against Cosby were reignited after a social media stunt soliciting memes with the comedian's picture went terribly wrong. Cosby's Twitter account was soon flooded with user-generated memes, but not the kind the comedian was hoping for.

“My two favorite things are Jello and Rape,” said one follower. Another asked, “Someone really thought #CosbyMeme was a good idea?”

But snark may be the least of Cosby's problems. “There's the court of public opinion and then there's the court of law,” said Bragman.

The allegations picked up steam last week after actress Barbara Bowman claimed that Cosby raped her in an essay in the Washington Post. Then another woman, a publicist by the name of Joan Tarshis, came forward with similar claims.

Recent comments about the scandal made by comedian Hannibal Buress during a standup routine in Philadelphia only added fuel to the fire.

In an effort to stop the crisis, Cosby's lawyers issued a statement on the comedian's official site saying he would not be addressing “decade-old, discredited allegations.”

The combined effect of all the negative attention could jeopardize a planned NBC primetime series and an hour-long Netflix special, but so far neither have been scrapped. “NBC is going to take time to see which way the wind blows,” predicted Bragman.

Cosby settled out of court with one of his accusers, Andrea Constand, in 2006. So far 14 women have come forward claiming similar allegations. And that, according to Bragman, is far worse than any canceled sitcom.

“His best hope right now is that someone else does something really stupid that attracts even more attention and claims the spotlight.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Are Corporate Apologies Wearing Out Their Welcome?

PR professionals are well acquainted with the necessity of the corporate apology. It’s usually the first thing we insist upon after a client’s public and embarrassing gaffe.
Back in the day, apologizing was something CEOs and other public figures were often loath to do. It suggested weakness and served as an admission of guilt. The prevalent thinking was, “What the public doesn’t know won’t hurt them.”

Social media was a game changer in all of that. Anybodyexpert or notcan now voice an opinion on any social platform of their choosing. The collective impact can be devastating to a personal or organizational reputation.

To that end, the public is now regularly subjected to the grand mea culpa, often staged in the form of press conferences and accompanied by heartfelt phrases of apology. There are even sometimes a few tears for good measure. Witness NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's widely covered apology over Donald Sterling’s racist remarks or even Canadian politician Paul Calandra’s tearful response when accused of evading a reporter’s question.

Sometimes, a quick tweet of retraction is employed, fueling public response and continued backlash that will hopefully burn out after 48 hours. Such was the case when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s asserted that “karma will compensate women with better salaries” and quickly issued an apology.
With the elevated frequency of public apologies, is the public even buying into this “I’m sorry” strategy anymore?

“Audiences are onto the mea culpa tour and the non-apology/apology,” says PR and marketing strategist Karen Swim. “But a sincere apology will stand the test of time. Our mothers knew the difference between genuine remorse and 'I'm sorry I got caught,' and so do our audiences. If you're going to say it, mean it, and if you really mean it, back it with tangible actions.”

Julia Joy of Z Group PR agrees. “An apology must be followed up with a plan of action to provide restitution. Is it a change in company culture? Is it a solid program or an internal audit? This is what consumers are looking for. They want the whole package.”

What about the media’s perspective? They are often charged with covering such apologies when it propels an ongoing story. According to Lauren Strapagiel, news editor at Canada.com, the key is to not to apologize for having offended someone, but apologize for having been offensive.
“We’re perfectly aware when an apology is a hollow, hasty attempt to save face,” she says. “The story will reflect that because we can go to a source and ask what they think of an unimpressive apology.”
Some apologies do go off the rails, and there can be many factors that play into why: The person charged with delivering the message may not be comfortable with public speaking, have yet to experience what it’s like to be in the eye of a crisis, or have language or cultural differences wit the audience.

Is there any other way to publicly express regret? There are many audiences to consider, both external and internal, who may need to hear “I’m sorry” before being able to move on.

“In this day and age, a genuine corporate apology is still a necessity,” says Barbara Laidlaw, executive vice president and group head of crisis and issues management at Edelman in New York. "The relationship between a corporate entity and its consumers, employees, and stakeholders can be damaged by unforeseen events. A genuine apology, including acceptance and acknowledgement of wrongdoing if appropriate, is still part of the healing and/or rebuilding process."

“While it may be altruistic, I’d like to believe the less-than-genuine apologies are the exception, rather than the norm,” Laidlaw says.

Swim says she offers her clients this advice: "I counsel clients to not do stupid things. But, if they do, or if something is misinterpreted, own up to it and fix it."
-By Elissa Freeman, PR Daily

Monday, October 20, 2014

Three Rules for Media Interviews

I started my working life as a journalist and eventually became director of communications for the media publishing company. Soon, its presses started breaking down, and then it became involved in a strike.

If there was a degree in “Media Trouble-R-Us,” I had earned it.
As a result, I developed three rules for media interviews:

1. In media interviews, always have three key messages.
The biggest error most communicators make when facing the media is they go into full-on defensive mode.

Instead of vowing to “survive” the interview with a minimum of damage, convince yourself it’s your job is to convey your own three messages.
(Once you accomplish this, congratulate yourself on your success.)
The best defense is always a good offense.
So, why only three messages?
The same reason there are three little pigs, three stooges, and three musketeers. And the same reason I have three rules for media interviews.

People remember things more easily in groups of three.

This will help you remember the messages yourself and will ensure your audiences remember them, as well.

When developing the key messages, make sure they answer the main questions reporters are likely to have about your story.

If your train has derailed, express concern for the passengers and describe your company’s commitment to safety.

If you’re laying off staff, explain why, and describe the (generous, we hope) severance packages.
If your CEO has died, express regret for the family and detail your succession plan.

Most important, make sure your key messages address these questions: Why? How? Where?
Then, use those messages to answer all the questions you’re asked.

2. Have some ‘turning phrases’ ready.
When a reporter asks you a question you can’t or don’t want to answer, have a few phrases that will allow you to turn the question and provide the key message you have ready.
Here’s a handy list:
· The more important question is… [return to key message]
· I find, what people really want to know is… [return to key message]
· The crucial issue in front of us today is… [return to key message]

Don’t answer questions with other questions, as that will make reporters see you as belligerent and provocative.

But you can redirect, if you do so in a respectful and friendly fashion.
Memorize the phrases above, or develop others so that you aren’t always “turning” with the same words.

3. Remember: The microphone is always on.
Print reporters know they always get their best material after their notebooks are closed, and TV reporters know they get their best stuff if the subject is unaware the camera is still running.

Consider this 2012 example from President Obama and then-Russian-President Dmitri Medvedev:
Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space.”
Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…”
Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

Following what was widely viewed as Obama’s gaffe, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized the remark.
He said:
President Obama signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be “flexible” in a second term.

It was a stupid mistake and one you should avoid.
You might have a cordial relationship with certain journalists , but they have a job to do, and it doesn’t usually involve helping you.
Always regard anything you say in the presence of a reporter as something that might appear on the 6 p.m. news. Edit yourself accordingly.

What rules do you follow in order to make sure you’re getting the media attention you deserve?

Daphne Gray-Grant is a former daily newspaper editor, a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book "8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better." Via her website, she offers the newsletter "Power Writing." It’s weekly, brief and free.

A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cyber Liability Coverage - Believe it or Not Its Here

Article by Alan R Lyons, Ronald J. Levine and Barry Werbin
In today's modern world, data breaches are a fact of life.  Last month, Home Depot confirmed that hackers broke into its payment systems and stole debit and credit card data for more than 40 million customers.  With that attack, Home Depot joined a growing list of high-profile companies, including household names such as Michaels, P.F. Chang's, Wyndham Hotels and Neiman Marcus that have had sensitive customer data stolen or compromised via cyber-attacks.

Although data breaches affecting large, well-established companies have grabbed the headlines, a data breach can happen to any business, large or small. All businesses that transact business online and store sensitive data on a network are susceptible, and the range of customer and employee data that could be exposed by a breach makes the potential fallout significant. This data includes customer lists, credit and debit card information, employee social security numbers, intellectual property and trade secrets, records, receipts and tax documents.

Traditional business liability insurance policies do not fully address cyber exposures, however cyber liability insurance can fill that gap. Cyber liability insurance can help businesses safeguard against data breaches, computer hacking, computer viruses, theft of information and employee sabotage.  Here is a summary of the various types of coverages available under this type of policy:
  • Privacy Liability
    • Covers liability arising out of a company's failure to protect personally identifiable or confidential corporate information in its care, custody or control, or by others on its behalf.
    • Provides coverage for regulatory proceedings brought by a government agency alleging the violation of any state, federal, local or foreign privacy legislation.
  • Network Security Liability
    • Covers liability arising out of:
      (a) the failure of a company's network security to prevent computer attacks, including unauthorized access or unauthorized use of corporate systems resulting in deletion, corruption or theft of data;
      (b) a "denial of service" attack -- an attack which makes a network unavailable to its intended users; and
      (c) the failure to prevent transmission of malicious code.
  • First Party Coverages
    • Covers the following types of expenses incurred by a company as a result of a data breach:
      (a) expenses to retain a computer forensics firm to determine the scope of a breach;
      (b) expenses to comply with privacy regulations;
      (c) expenses to notify and provide credit monitoring services to affected individuals;
      (d) expenses to retain legal, public relations and/or crisis management services to restore the company's reputation.
    • May also cover regulatory fines or penalties incurred because of a data breach.
    • May also cover business income loss when business operations are interrupted or suspended as a result of a security breach.

There is a wide variety of policies and levels of protection available.  Policies can be tailored to fit the needs of a particular business, including its size, sector, number of customers and type of data. In short, no two policies are identical. More importantly, the policy terminology can often be confusing.

Many companies analyze their insurance policies only after a data breach occurs. However, it is often advisable to obtain legal counsel prior to the purchase of cyber liability insurance to ensure that the scope of coverage is tailored to meet the company's specific needs, and to avoid common insurance purchasing pitfalls.  There are many questions and issues that should be considered during such an analysis, including: 
  • Does the policy provide sufficient sublimits for legal, computer forensics, public relations and/or crisis management expenses?  Many policies include those coverages, but only at low sublimits.  Those fees can often be substantial and can exhaust the sublimits very quickly.
  • It is recommended that the policy contain "prior acts" coverage, to ensure that coverage applies in the event that the insured's network has been breached before the policy was purchased.  In many instances, a breach can occur over a long period of time without the knowledge of the business owner.
  • The exclusions must be read carefully -- for example, be wary of an exclusion for attacks through unencrypted laptops or mobile devices as many cyber-attacks have occurred through those devices. 
  • Some policies contain a "wild virus" exclusion, which means that coverage would only apply to a cyber-attack targeted at the insured entity itself.  However, many viruses circulating over the internet are "wild" in nature and not directed at any particular entity.
  • Does the policy provide coverage for regulatory fines or penalties?
  • Does the policy provide business income coverage, and if so, is coverage triggered only by a complete suspension of business operations, or would a mere interruption in business operations be sufficient to trigger coverage?

Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Top Grossing Law Firms in the World

The Global 100 continues its cautious post-recession recovery. Gross revenue was up 4.3 percent and profits per equity partner were up 5.4 percent among global firms, though revenue per lawyer was flat. It's still a challenging environment, and firms continue to look abroad for growth.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Dallas Ebola Patient Could Prove Toxic for Hospital Lawyers

, Texas Lawyer
 

As officials diagnosed the first case of Ebola in the United States at a Dallas hospital, it may be creating "a nightmare" for the hospital's in-house lawyers, said the former general counsel of a large hospital system.

One of the potential legal issues: There was a two-day delay between when the Ebola patient first visited Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and when the hospital placed him in isolation.

ED BARKER
"I think sweating bullets is probably the right term. I would be concerned," said Ed Barker, who for 25 years was the chief legal officer for SCL Hospital System, which operates facilities from Kansas City to Santa Monica.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ebola patient arrived in Dallas from Liberia on Sept. 20. The person was not sick or contagious on the flight, but developed symptoms on Sept. 24. The patient sought treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 26. On Sept. 28, he showed Ebola symptoms and the hospital admitted and isolated him, according to the CDC.

"The general counsel of Texas Pres[byterian]—or any general counsel for that matter—will be going back and looking at that first point of contact with that patient to make sure the CDC hospital checklist for Ebola was followed," said Barker. "You have to treat somebody—until you have the test results back—as if they have the potential of an infectious disease, especially if they came from a West African country."

JOSEPH GERACI
Joseph Geraci, a health care law attorney who represents hospitals and other health care entities, noted that federal law requires a hospital to screen and stabilize anyone who visits an emergency room.

"Screening is the most important piece there," said Geraci, a Husch Blackwell partner in Austin. "If it were my client, what I would probably want to do in this new environment of Ebola, which is terrifying everybody ... I would want to review the screening process and to the extent we are not asking patients where they had recently traveled ... maybe that's something we would need to incorporate into the screen."

The Ebola patient told health care workers on his initial hospital visit that he had recently been in an area affected by the deadly disease, but that information was not widely shared, a hospital official said Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. The man explained that he was visiting the U.S. from Liberia, and was sent home with antibiotics, according to the man's sister, the AP reported.

Dr. Mark Lester, who works for Texas Health Resources, the parent company for Texas Health Presbyterian, said a nurse had asked the man whether he had been in any part of West Africa, where Ebola has killed thousands. But that "information was not fully communicated throughout the whole team," the AP reported.

Charles Boes, the general counsel and executive vice president for Texas Health Resources, did not return a call or email seeking comment. According to its website, the company "is one of the largest faith-based, nonprofit health systems in the United States" and has more than 20,500 employees at 25 facilities.

Other Legal Issues

When an epidemic draws national and international attention, hospitals must balance two considerations: the risk of litigation based on failure to diagnose and the need to prevent bottlenecks at facilities due to admittance of patients who have fever or other symptoms but no likely Ebola infection, said Charles Bailey, the general counsel of the Texas Hospital Association, a nonprofit Austin-based group of some 450 membership hospitals.
"The Ebola issue is very, very serious, because with this disease, it's deadly," Bailey said, "but I don't know that the legal issues are different with it than with any other type of communicable disease."

Bailey said hospitals must focus on both patient confidentiality and concerns about failure to diagnose. He said he expects his member hospitals will be taking extra steps so staff can identify patients with communicable diseases, and, specifically as recommended by CDC officials, asking about patients' recent travels.

Bailey also addressed concerns about the possibility of panic spreading among medical staff on the front lines of potential Ebola cases. A hospital staffer who refuses to work in such instances could provide grounds for termination, Bailey said, adding that he hoped "it wouldn't come to that." He noted that an Ebola infection is "difficult to transmit," requiring "direct contact with blood" or other bodily fluids of a contagious person. At the same time, Bailey said, Ebola is hard to diagnose because its initial symptoms resemble those of other illnesses, including simple flu viruses, and he is unsure how many days it takes for blood test results to confirm an infection. Therefore, he said, "a very legitimate" concern exists about claims of "failure to diagnose." He noted that hospitals face such claims "everyday" about hard-to-diagnose ailments.

But with the Dallas Ebola case, Bailey said, the question becomes: "Are we potentially isolating every patient that comes in with a fever and that would cause a bottle neck?"

Barker guessed that Texas Health Presbyterian's legal staff may be struggling with the duty to answer the public's questions while protecting the Ebola patient's privacy rights. He said the hospital's lawyers will likely want to fill an advisory role for the clinical team by answering questions and educating staff. Also, the lawyers must formally notify the state and federal governments that it has an Ebola patient, as well as send notices to anyone who came into contact with the patient.

Geraci said the hospital's lawyers might be spending a lot of time on employment matters.

"You are asking your health care workers to be put in harm's way. What is you liability to those health care workers?" he said. "The health care workers that are treating this person and that were exposed to this disease—like the people who did the first screens—what are you doing as far as testing them? Are you going to quarantine them? What about their families? I would guess that would be eating up a lot of time."

Geraci added that although there might be various legal issues involved in treating an Ebola patient, he wouldn't want those legal matters to disturb the "larger public health issue" of minimizing the risk that Ebola might spread.

He noted that both federal and state law gives the government "pretty broad" power to stop the spread of disease by quarantining people who were exposed and isolating those who become ill—whether they agree to it or not.

But while dealing with the public health emergency, Geraci said, the authorities should also "respect to the extent possible the rights of the individual."

He added, "The greater good, of course, is making sure this does not become a public health disaster, but there are ways you can do it while still respecting our core fundamental beliefs, as a society, of privacy and self determination."

Lisa Hernandez, the general counsel for the Texas Department of State Health Services, did not return a call for comment.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ten Point Plan for Healthy Marketing

A legal news aggregation website called LawFuel.com recently ran a post with a 10-point checklist of how law firms can gauge the health (and effectiveness) of their legal marketing programs.
Here’s the list -- how are you performing?

1.  Does your firm encourage cross-selling among attorneys?  If you have multiple practice areas and lawyers who specialize in each area, then those lawyers should be cross-selling your services.  Make sure all your attorneys understand your total offerings.

2.  Is your staff involved in marketing?  Your legal marketing efforts should touch every member of your staff, who are your ambassadors to pass along your expertise to their contacts.

3.  Do you have a program for keeping in touch with former clients?  This is a no-brainer.  Add them all to your monthly e-newsletter list and establish a system for sending out keep-in-touch emails that doesn’t require any babysitting from busy lawyers.

4.  Are all your lawyers engaged in business development?  If not, implement a training program on your marketing messaging and encourage them to get out and network.

5.  Is your website current?  An out-of-date website tells prospects that your firm is out of date.

6.  Is anyone managing your online reputation?  Reputation management is critical for law firms. 

You should have this task assigned to someone (internal or external) who regularly conducts online searches for your firm name and attorney names. If something bad pops up, you should have a process for dealing with it effectively.

7.  Are all your attorney bios up to date online?  Every attorney should have a complete and current bio with a professional photos on LinkedIn, Avvo, Martindale, etc.

8.  Do you have a blog?  A blog is one of the best ways for you to market to your niche, highlighting your practice areas and pumping out fresh content that showcases your expertise in each.

9.  Are you providing added value to clients?  Providing clients with value above and beyond what they are paying for will keep them coming back.

10. Are you micro-managing the client experience?  Do clients have to wait when they show up for an appointment?  Are you offering them something to drink and making them feel at home?  If not, you need to take another look at how your firm treats clients because they are measuring you not just against other law firms but against every service provider they know.  And if they don’t like the fit, they won’t be back.
© The Rainmaker Institute, All Rights Reserved