Page 1

The Burson-Marsteller approach –

Our services:

the support we provide Corporate litigation should involve more than just

Strategic communications consulting and

legal strategy. Communication with the media, with

message development

consumers, investors, staff and other target groups can

– developing communications strategies

be just as crucial for a successful legal outcome as it is

– drafting effective courses of action and planning

for protecting the reputation of the company. Based on

suitable measures

Burson-Marsteller’s experience in the field of corporate

– composing core messages

litigation, we apply the following principles:

– target-group-specific “translation” of complex issues

– Activities should be managed by an experienced

– incorporation of litigation communications in the

public relations specialist who understands the

overall communications strategy (reinforcement of

special dynamics of litigation communication and

corporate brand and specific brand elements)

knows it from first-hand experience. – The communications team must work closely and

Media relations

smoothly with the company’s legal advisors

– compiling information appropriately for media use

to ensure consistency between communications

– contact programmes

measures and content on the one hand and legal

– media training

strategies and objectives on the other.

– media monitoring and creation of quick reaction

– Proactive communication with specific target groups should only come into play when there are very persuasive arguments for it, i.e. if it is a

teams – handling day-to-day media relations in matters concerning the case in question

question of achieving the desired objective, of protecting the company’s reputation or of complying

Internal communications

with corporate disclosure requirements.

– information and dialogue programmes for staff

– How a process and its individual steps are to unfold must be known in detail and must be inco-

– development of tool-kits for internal communications

porated in the communications strategy. – Strategy and messages must be coordinated to fit in with the individual stages of the legal process. – Major influences and developments with a high

Internet communications – creation of special websites or adaptation of existing sites

level of visibility must be anticipated in order to

– development of ready-to-release “dark sites“

exploit them or to react to them.

– monitoring the Internet communications of other stakeholders

Investor relations

Burson-Marsteller has provided the communications

– ad hoc publicity in compliance with the various

skills behind a large number of litigation projects both

legal and securities exchange regulations

in Switzerland and on the international front. Topics


have included asbestos claims, shareholder suits, civil

– message development for statements to investors

cases involving breach of contract and claims against tobacco companies. Client confidentiality and the spe-

Crisis preparedness and management

cific circumstances surrounding individual cases re-

– auditing and evaluating possible scenarios

quire that we do not make public any details of the

– issues monitoring

cases dealt with either in our publications or in agency

– check lists/crisis manual

presentations. And we undertake to treat all future as-

– scenario plays

signments with the same high level of confidentiality.

– on-site support Public affairs

Among our consultants specialising in litigation

– networking

communications are:

– lobbying – developing alliances and platforms

Marion Starck Head of Corporate & Financial Communications

Reputation management – CEO positioning

Marie-Louise Baumann

– measures to reinforce the brand when preparing

Head of Public Affairs

litigation communications Roman Geiser Chairman of the Executive Board



Burson-Marsteller was established fifty years ago in the


USA and has for years been a world leader in the de-

Grubenstrasse 40, 8045 Zurich

velopment and management of communication plans

Phone +41 (0)1 455 84 00, Fax +41 (0)1 455 84 01

and strategies. The company has 47 offices in 24 coun-


tries on five continents. In addition, Burson-Marsteller

Weltpoststrasse 4, 3000 Bern 15

works together with 44 affiliated offices in 30 further

Phone +41 (0)31 356 73 00, Fax +41 (0)31 356 73 01


Burson-Marsteller employs forty communications specialists in Switzerland at its offices in Zurich and Bern and is thus one of the leading PR and communications consultants in the country. Burson-Marsteller provides services in the fields of corporate communications, public affairs, financial communications, healthcare and life sciences communications, media relations and in specific areas of advertising and creation.

B-M Information_

Litigation Communications When legal dispute endangers a good reputation

Legal disputes can thrust companies into the unwelcome glare of public scrutiny when the court of law becomes a stage for the media to present their interpretation of the facts. In the worst case, this can put the very existence of an organisation at risk – particularly when protracted lawsuits are involved and when substantial sums of compensation are under discussion.

If the plaintiff succeeds in casting the company it is suing in a bad light, this immediately means that one of the company’s central assets is at risk – the good reputation that it has so far enjoyed.

Such cases can prove fatal if the management of the companies concerned should rely solely upon the skills of their legal representatives for their defence strategy. Of equal importance is effective communication tailored to the legal strategy being pursued, this both protects the company’s reputation and helps en-

There are many reasons for legal disputes

sure the maximum possible room for manoeuvre.

to arise

Whether we like to or not, the growing legal orientation of economic life continues unabated. Firstly, state controls in various areas of economic activity

– Product liability claims – Disputes about patents/intellectual property rights

have steadily increased over recent years – and all the

– Fraudulent business activities

signs point toward this continuing in the future. Sec-

– Disputes concerning unfair competition

ondly, there are fewer inhibitions today about initiat-

– Suits about environmental protection, toxic

ing both civil and criminal proceedings against com-

hazards, etc.

panies and organisations. In the USA, this phenomenon

– Product recalls

has long become an industry in its own right, and the

– Accidents, sabotage, extortion

trend seems to be catching on more and more here in

– Cases before national and international

Europe. Thus, there is a growing danger of a company

arbitration tribunals

suddenly finding itself the focus of public enquiry – a

– Civil contractual disputes

disagreeable occurrence for which most companies are

– Appeals against construction projects

often inadequately prepared.

– Suits brought by shareholders – Sanctions by stock-exchanges for infringements of companies’ duty to inform (ad hoc publicity) – Potential infringements of insider-trading regulations – Suits by employees for discrimination, unfair dismissal, harassment, etc. – Cases arising from whistle blowing (improper dissemination of confidential information by an employee) – Slander, libel, malicious gossip – Class actions (especially in the USA)

What is called for is effective communications management that ensures maximum flexibility for manoeuvre at all stages of events on both the legal and communication fronts.

How to (re)act How should a company or other organisation behave in situations of this kind? What is called for is ef-

by the tabloid press, then screaming headlines and lowbrow talk-show coverage of the winners and losers are guaranteed.

fective communications management that ensures maximum flexibility for manoeuvre at all stages of events on both the legal and communication fronts. It

Particularly susceptible to the glare of the

is important here to weigh up the risk involved in a nar-

media spotlight are companies and

row interpretation of the legal issues against the po-

organisations whose legal disputes meet

tential damage that may be caused to the company’s

the following criteria

reputation. This is far easier said than done. Legal dis-

– Well-know individuals are involved.

putes can escalate to such an extent that public – or

– The company in the dock is a household

published – discussion ceases to concentrate on who is right and who is wrong. Reporting in the media frequently demonstrates a penchant for simple answers to extremely complex questions. Public opinion is

name. – The topic under discussion has a political dimension. – Plaintiffs are seen as being impoverished little

quick to reach – frequently less than impartial – judge-

Davids combating a corporate Goliath.

ment and tends to label the parties involved as “good”

– Certain professional groups – especially

and “bad”, or as “victim” and “culprit”. These mech-

corporate executives and politicians –

anisms are especially likely to come into play when in-

are under attack as a whole.

dividuals, NGO’s or the professional “protest industry“ (global environmental organisations, pressure groups, animal rights activists, etc.) take on a major corpora-

– Public opinion perceives clearly-defined victims and culprits. – The stories behind often tragic and disastrous

tion and create a David-vs-Goliath image – irrespective

events can be given a personalised and

of who really has the law on their side. If the plaintiff

emotionalised face.

succeeds in casting the company it is suing in a bad light, this immediately means that one of the company’s central assets is at risk – the good reputation that it has so far enjoyed.

Very often, legal advisors have the understandable reflex of attempting to combat this sort of media

Involving the media in these contexts is frequently

situation by dipping into their own juristic instru-

a deliberate strategy on the part of plaintiffs. The ex-

mentarium. And it is true that the media are subject

perience of recent years has shown that some sections

to legislation that provides for several ways of limit-

of the media are often all too happy to obtain stories

ing the incorrect use of media power.

about the above-mentioned groups, which they fre-

Article 17 of Switzerland’s Federal Constitution

quently report on uncritically and with insufficient re-

ensures freedom of the media and reporters’ right to

search into the actual facts. If the people enmeshed in

confidentiality of their sources, while Article 93 pro-

law suits or the subjects of litigation are suitable for

vides that radio and TV shall contribute to education,

the personalised and emotionalised approach favoured

cultural development, freedom of expression and enter-

tainment. The independence of radio and television and of programme planning is guaranteed. The most important regulations, however, are contained in the Swiss Civil Code (protection of the person, the precautionary measure of the right to make counterstate-

In particular, this means

ment), in the Code of Obligations (indemnification,

– Strategic communication planning

compensation), in the Criminal Code (criminal prose-

– Presentation of information in a form suitable

cution for infringements of protection of the person),

for the media, coupled with media relations

in legislation on unfair competition, in advertising law

and relations management

(Advertising Standards Commission) and in the law governing radio and television. In addition, there are the Swiss Press Council, the Independent Complaints Tribunal for radio and TV and a number of ombudspersons, all acting as official controlling bodies for the media. Experience has shown, however, that legal action leads only to indirect success at the best and from the

– Meticulous coordination of legal and communications strategies – Appropriate preparation and planning of possible scenarios to take account of developments in the media – Tailoring of legal tactics to the perceptions of the media and of the general public – Training of all parties involved in contact with

point of view of communications should only be under-

the media, particularly those acting as

taken as a last resort or after a dispute has been


brought to a conclusion. It is important to realise that the legal system in its current state is hardly in a position to deal with media functions and their impact in a manner that is appropriate to the situation prevailing today. There are no legal instruments available for dealing with the media that can be put into effect at

– Preparation of internal stakeholders (internal communications) – Conflict management with chairing, coaching and mediation – Crisis prevention and management (scenarios, issue management, etc.)

the time they are needed to produce the desired result

– Clear information channels and decision-mak-

(either the Press Council fails to condemn actions or

ing procedures determined well in advance

its condemnation comes too late to do any good; refutations published in the media either have no effect or

– Inclusion and preparation of top-echelon management

they are counterproductive; the media are not legally liable for the consequences of their reporting; court injunctions can have a counterproductive effect, etc.).

These measures contribute towards ensuring that

From the point of view of communications, there-

suitable responses to pressing questions are given to

fore, the response to media coverage of legal topics

customers, staff, consumers, media, investors, analysts

must be communicative rather than juristic.

and – where necessary – to the authorities and political groupings rapidly, accurately, clearly, credibly and in a form that is appropriate to the prevailing situation.

Litigation Communications_eng  

Corporate litigation should involve more than just legal strategy. Communication with the media, with consumers, investors, staff and other...