No Two Situations Are Alike—That’s the Challenge
“How fast can you get to…”
“Let’s see. I just got back from London. We’ll be there tomorrow.”
As our founder John Quinn says, “We pack our bags and we go.” Quinn Emanuel always works
as a team. You are our clients, not one particular partner’s—everyone and anyone, from John Quinn on, will jump in as needed to offer advice or deliver a message.
But there are certain first principles that experience teaches.
Keep It as Small as You Can
The first goal in a crisis is to contain it—ideally, to prevent it altogether. You know your product may have a defect. Call us. You think the Government may be investigating you. Don’t wait. Your competitors are on the firing line. Who is next? A crisis is a lot like pain: if it gets too far ahead of you, it’s hard to catch up. Do a risk assessment. We’ll do it with you. In this climate, always assume someone is looking. Why do CEOs come and go so fast? Or perhaps, why don’t they go even faster, considering the enormous pressures? Even if you face litigation or especially when you face litigation—our goal is to limit its scope and nature, cabin the consequences and potential damages to make sure that nothing you do now contributes to punitive damages later. Whatever is coming, let us address it.
Get the Facts
Not every crisis is real. Rumors are regularly reported as news. The first step in a potential crisis is to collect as many facts as you can as fast as you can. Given the speed with which news—good and bad, true and not-so-true, unfortunately—spreads, you can’t afford to be silent for very long. It often takes time to collect all the facts, and you need a message before you can conduct a full investigation. Often the message is just that: “No one is more troubled by what we are hearing than the hardworking men and women of this company, from the CEO to the temporary employee. We will get to the bottom of this. If there is wrongdoing, we will find it. If there are amends that must be made, we will make them…”
Remember Your Audiences
Not just the reporters who call you, but all the people who need to hear it from the company or its lawyer first—directors, customers, suppliers, bankers. No news during a crisis is bad news, so we’re ready to reach out on a variety of fronts—bloggers, opinion leaders, the academics who are going to tell the reporters that you’re right. We work with senior government officials in the United States and around the world. We cover both sides of the aisle in Washington with relationships extending back decades based on friendship and mutual respect. We don’t wander the halls of Capitol Hill with a different issue every day. We represent you. We resolve your dispute.
If you’re being smeared, have your lawyer say it and have others back it up. Silence is not golden. An unanswered charge is assumed to be true. Having no comment may make it true. Being unavailable for comment means you are intentionally avoiding the reporters, which is almost always a bad and utterly ridiculous idea if what they are reporting is not true. If you can’t deny each specific allegation, then deny the conclusion. “That is not the man I know.” The days when lawyers could avoid speaking to anyone but the judge and jury are gone, at least in big cases.
Define Your Message
Every dispute has a story to be told—to the press, to the opinion makers, to the prosecutors, to the court and to the jury. The story has to be told in the right way at the right time. We have built our reputation as a firm that is willing to be aggressive when needed, willing to put ourselves on the line when needed, willing to stand by you when others are heading for the hills. We have longstanding contacts in the major news and social media organizations. We know who to call and what to say. We know the importance of being credible.
Accepting Responsibility Is Not the Same as Accepting Liability
When you’re in charge and something goes wrong, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. We’ve heard many executives say, “But it wasn’t my fault. Someone should have told me.” This is all very important for the court case, in which duties and responsibilities will be individually defined, but not when you’ve got a frightened public or an angry Senator. Crises demand leadership. Sometimes, there are things you can’t admit, and we all have examples. But the best approach to the problem is not always going to be the one we should take in court. Don’t lowball damages—going up every day is worse than saying, “We don’t know the number, but we do know this—we will fix the problem.” Bring in the best technicians in the world, compensate the injured, rebuild what was destroyed. These are not legally binding commitments that you are liable for x dollars in damages. Showing compassion and leadership, getting to the bottom of matters, and committing to solve a problem—whoever created it—turns down the heat. Do the opposite of what is being done to turn the heat up. The rivers are full of snakes.
Don’t Be Defensive
That may be the table we will be sitting at, but being defensive will make you sound guilty. The best companies—with the best workers and the best technology—are still run by humans, who are capable of errors and vulnerable to the acts of hoodlums, disasters of mother nature, and risks of the real world. Every company and every CEO has problems. If you’ve got critical directors on your board, they generally don’t go away by ignoring them, and the same goes for angry customers and bottom-feeding lawyers. Define the problem. Outline your strategy. Be as transparent as you can be. Get as much news out (especially bad news) on the same day as you can. Remember, the public has the attention span of a gnat, and today’s paper still does wrap some of tomorrow’s fish. Having a strategy, hanging in, hanging tough, doing your politics, eating humble pie when needed followed by dessert—all of this will make a better meal. And nine times out of ten, the cover-up—if you go that way—will cause you more problems than whatever you’re trying to hide.
Finally, remember, Congress (and similar bodies) are courts of public opinion, not courts of law.
Be Proactive and Think Long-Term
As author Steven Covey says, “begin with the end in mind.” That means figuring out the end-game from the very beginning: what your goals and objectives are, who your audience is, what benchmarks will help define success and provide opportunities for expansion, and where the obstacles and landmines are buried that must be avoided or overcome. As your strategic and communications advisers, we will help augment your strengths and identify and help sure up any potential legal risks and liabilities. We will anticipate issues, conduct internal reviews, and work with you to develop effective strategies to tackle some of your most perplexing and elusive challenges. Our goal is not only to get you out ahead of the curve, but to be the curve—the standard by which all your peers will be judged.