Winning in the court of public opinion: Exploring public relations–legal collaboration during organizational crisis

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Corporate Communications: an international journal, 2019, 24 (1), pp. 96 - 114
Issue Date:
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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore how public relations (PR) professionals develop co-narratives with legal counsel when formulating crisis communication strategies. Understanding how PR practitioners work with their legal counterparts may help lead to more advanced and effective PR practice in the area of crisis communication and management. The authors attempt to do so in this study through interviews conducted with PR practitioners in two Asian countries – South Korea and Singapore. Design/methodology/approach In total, 11 semi-structured interviews with PR consultants, 6 in Korea and 5 in Singapore were conducted between May and August 2016. Data analyses revealed key points of interest for PR practice. Findings First, PR consultants in both countries reported increased collaboration with legal counsel in times of crisis. Second, PR consultants report that legal professionals have begun to realize the significance of winning in the court of public opinion. However, the process by which PR–legal collaboration takes place to develop co-narratives followed extremely different patterns in the two countries. Research limitations/implications This exploratory study is not exempt from limitations. The findings from this study may not be applicable to other countries. As data collection in both countries relied on snowball sampling techniques, the participants in the interviews may not be representative of PR consultants in South Korea and Singapore. E-mail interviews had limitations due to their lack of richness and details compared to other forms of interviews (i.e. face-to-face or Skype interviews). However, computer-mediated interviews including e-mail interviews can still create good level of understandings about the phenomenon in question. Originality/value This study was an attempt to understand PR–legal collaboration particularly in times of crisis and contribute to the development of Asia-centric models of PR practice. There has been little research that explores how legal and PR counsels actually collaborate to devise optional crisis communication strategies for their clients (or organizations) in the times of crisis. Given that crisis communicative strategies have been shown to affect publics’ perceptions of an organization’s credibility and trustworthiness, it is important to understand how PR work with legal practitioners to develop co-narratives for optimal crisis management, and understand how their different professional perspectives, practices, and approaches affect the collaboration.
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