Defamation public relations

Defamation and Legal PRDefamation PR – reputation and the law

Clients engage Chelgate because they recognise that a legal victory is not always enough to protect a reputation.

Indeed, sometimes a victory in court can be woefully insufficient. A badly-managed victory in court may leave the client looking pedantic, small-minded, vain or only partly-triumphant. Effective reputation protection extends far beyond legal battles. We are sensitive to and understand how contempt of court restricts a PR campaign, and are engaged by lawyers who recognise that legal victory is not always sufficient, and who value our assistance when handling intensive, intrusive media attention.

Legal assistance is not always needed. We have no obligations to any law firm, and advise from a position of disinterested experience. Chelgate is frequently able to assist clients handling defamatory claims – whether online, in print or on social media – without resort to expensive legal assistance. But we are quick to recommend that clients seek legal advice when we believe it will be valuable. Our senior staff have worked on a range of legal assignments, including professional misconduct, criminal negligence and defamation.

All of our work is carried on a professionally confidential basis.

Criminal prosecution

Criminal prosecution is one of the most harmful challenges an individual or corporation’s reputation can face. Even if the final court verdict is favourable, the damage can still linger, ruining lives, careers or businesses.

In some cases, criminal defendants may have access to PR support through their normal profession – for example, in white collar cases, through their own firm’s PR department or contractors. But many defendants are uneasy discussing these sensitive matters with people they do not employ directly, or who are not experts in this kind of acute issue and crisis work.

When these situations arise, we are engaged to help in a number of ways.

  • With the client’s lawyers, we plan communications strategies against all possible outcomes and, where required, provide operational support in the delivery of those strategies, once any case is concluded.
  • Again, with the client’s lawyers, we are also often asked to help with reputation protection strategies during the particularly difficult period when an arrest has been made, but a charge has not followed.
  • We can help provide media relations support to families and other closely concerned members of the client’s inner circle. At times, this may mean dealing with aggressive, intrusive, “door-stepping” media activity.
  • While being properly sensitive to any issues of potential Contempt of Court, we are often able to ensure that there is a proper media understanding of context and background – even if we do not communicate directly relating to the criminal charges. This can have a direct bearing on advance media publicity, and on comment and reporting following the conclusion of the case. Even during a case, even though the media may be unable to comment, an essentially sympathetic journalist may report on a selective basis quite different from that chosen by a more hostile one.

Online attacks on reputation

Our reputation protection practice has brought us into confrontation with leading global news outlets, from British tabloids and broadsheets to globally-active broadcast-only sources of news and comment. In recent years, however, we have come into more frequent contact – and confrontation – with online threats to reputation.

Unlike in the traditional media, online threats to reputation are decentralised. These attacks on a reputation can come from unaccountable, even unidentifiable sources. Managing online threats requires experience with the medium (with the particular platform in question, from Twitter to Mumsnet), but also with the “protagonist” in question, and with their motivations.

The age-old PR question applies: should an issue be tackled, or should it be denied the “oxygen of publicity”? Understanding whether a provocative online voice is a “troll”, an impassioned, principled activist, or an experienced journalist is vital when answering this question. Chelgate therefore seeks to provide information about the sources of an attack, working when necessary with skilled technical partners to gather information about a “troll” or “attacker” through legal means. It is on the basis of this information that we often advise our clients on the proper response.

A supportive relationship

We understand the unique personal stresses and pressures that come with being traduced in public, and shape our practice in this area of work accordingly. Our reputation protection service is highly-personalised. Reputation protection clients will liaise with one senior Chelgate Crisis executive throughout their work with us, and though other staff members may assist with their case, that one-to-one relationship will provide the bulk of support and advice the client will receive from Chelgate.