Speech is silver, silence is golden

Litigation PR Conference 2020

After being postponed from April to November due to the current pandemic situation, the 5th Litigation PR Conference took place as a purely digital event. Thomas Middelhoff, Patrizia Laeri, Christopher Hauss and Dirk von Manikowsky, among others, took up this challenge.

Patrick Krauskopf opened the 5th Litigation PR Conference with a review of past conferences. Already in 2015, the ZHAW SML had recognized how important the topic of “Litigation PR” was for business, society and politics and that a space for discussions and new ideas was needed for this. With this basic idea, the ZHAW SML has been able to welcome a good 100 experts and almost 750 participants from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to one of the conferences in recent years. Building on this success, the ZHAW SML will, on the one hand, expand its professional expertise in the field of litigation PR by developing continuing education programs. On the other hand, it will conduct and lead more interdisciplinary and transnational research projects to discuss important issues for business, society and politics in the field of litigation PR.

Patrizia Laeri: “SNB, Zalando and the future of business journalism”.

As the first key note speaker, business journalist Patrizia Laeri joined Patrick Krauskopf to discuss current issues and challenges. With regard to the state of business journalism, she said, there is currently the paradoxical situation “that the demand for content is high while, on the one hand, advertising budgets are decreasing, but, on the other hand, the willingness to pay for content is only slowly increasing.”

Key note by Patrizia Laeri: Link to video recording on YouTube

Patrick Guidon and Martin Steltner: “Litigation-PR from the perspective of the prosecution and the court”.

Sarah Fürlinger then discussed the perspective of the judiciary on current developments in legal communication with the cantonal judge and president of the Swiss Association of Judges (SVR-ASM), Prof. Dr. Patrick Guidon, and the senior public prosecutor and spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General in Berlin, Martin Steltner. The central question of the conversation was whether the judiciary, in the face of changes in the media and the increasing number of attempts to influence it via misinformation and disinformation campaigns, needs to communicate more actively itself.

Discussion with Patrick Guidon and Martin Steltner, moderated by Sarah Fürlinger: Link to video recording on YouTube

Christopher Hauss: “Lawsuit Industry vs. Companies – New Communication in Mass Litigation”.

The so-called “diesel scandal” with its hundreds of thousands of lawsuits has led to a gold-rush atmosphere among plaintiffs’ law firms in Germany and also in parts of Europe: A lawsuit industry has emerged. In his presentation, Christopher Hauss, lawyer and spokesman for Litigation Communications at Volkswagen AG, showed how companies must adapt their own communications strategy accordingly in order to counter the one-sided advertising promises of the litigation industry.

Presentation by Christopher Hauss: Link to the video recording on YouTube

Dirk von Manikowsky and Johannes Leuchte: “The pressure is on: Litigation PR trends from the perspective of strategic corporate communications”.

The second presentation was given by Dirk von Manikowsky, Partner, and Johannes Leuchte, Associate Director of communications consultancy Hering Schuppener Consulting. They explained why there is increasing pressure on companies to communicate more actively and strategically in the event of a legal dispute. There are three important trends: Firstly, public debates have become more heated, not least due to social media, so that reputational risks, for example due to legal disputes, are increasing accordingly. Second, the legal risks for companies in the DACH region would also increase, e.g., due to changes in the legal framework – for example, new forms of consumer lawsuits, new types of legal tech companies, or stronger criminal sanctions for compliance violations. In addition, there is a professionalization of litigation PR skills among all parties involved. Companies in particular are frequently faced with the challenge that legal disputes are often not recognized early enough as a corporate communications issue.

Presentation by Dirk von Manikowsky and Johannes Leuchte: Link to video recording on YouTube

Panel: Litigation PR and Corporate Communications

In the subsequent panel, moderated by Patrick Krauskopf, the participating experts analyzed their perspectives on the area of conflict between litigation PR and corporate communications. Mr. Florian Landolt, Public Affairs Manager at VELUX Switzerland and Austria, explained that the core task of a communicator is “to get one’s own interests across in an understandable way”, because if one “is not understood, not heard”, then being right ultimately does not help either. It is always helpful to build up a network of stakeholders, which facilitates communication.

Ms. Natasja Sommer-Feldbrugge, Director Corporate Affairs & Communications at JTI (Japan Tabacco International) Switzerland, agreed with this, emphasizing that the network must be built up according to a clear strategy in order not to become too arbitrary. In particular, it is important to anticipate future developments, which also requires appropriate multi-year planning and budgeting. In doing so, one must identify those stakeholders and interest representatives who can support one “appropriately if a major problem arises.

For Michel Rudin, Head of Corporate Communications at AGON PARTNERS LEGAL AG, it is precisely the tension between law and communication that makes litigation PR so attractive. Because what is sometimes forgotten by lawyers is that “communication is full of emotions”, especially when the public is or has to be involved, intentionally or unintentionally. This is why litigation PR requires interdisciplinary teams between different disciplines, whereby he advocates that companies do not simply build such teams together, but let themselves be found, as the resulting intrinsic motivation also increases success.

For Dominik Isler, Co-Founder of LINDEN Live Learning Labs, the basis is always a “clean, authentic position”, which is best combined “with an appropriate degree of composure”. Because what is the focus of attention today may already be displaced by other news tomorrow. But it is also important not to neglect personal exchange despite digital means and to include different perspectives. This could help solve problems before they escalate.

Panel discussion: Link to video recording on YouTube

Thomas Middelhoff: A personal litigation PR experience report

As the last key note speaker, Thomas Middelhoff presented his very personal experiences with the work and communication of the public prosecutor’s office and the court, especially in relation to the public. He said that it was his concern to point out what one has to pay attention to as a person directly affected, but also what the judiciary and the courts could do better in the area of legal communication from his point of view. He found it interesting that American companies had proved more resistant to so-called “campaign journalism” than German companies. The latter usually asked him directly to let the mandates rest, even though no conviction had yet taken place. Ultimately, the reporting led to a situation in which the public no longer knew what he had been accused of or “what Middelhoff had actually been convicted of.

Today, six years after his conviction, social media would play a more important role in litigation PR than in 2014. In addition, the reporting of the “mainstream media” would run itself to death to a certain extent. This is because “always wanting to exaggerate, always wanting to find the very special “scoop”, also leads to signs of fatigue” among the audience. It must also be said, however, that in Germany, business leaders who are accused of misconduct are singled out more than in the U.S., for example. There, after appropriate punishment, reintegration into social economic life is more of an objective. He would like to see such a change in mentality, also with regard to his own experience, in Germany.

Key note by Thomas Middelhoff: Link to video recording on YouTube

Patrick Krauskopf concluded the 5th Litigation PR Conference with a summary of the conference and a vote of thanks to the experts, participants and partners.

All information about the conference can be found on the  conference website.

Visit the Litigation PR Conference Webpage for more information.

Workshop Report

Summary “Framing, Gender & Litigation PR” – Workshop @ Litigation PR Conference 2020

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