Yesterday a jury rendered a “not guilty” verdict in the high profile Casey Anthony murder case. The decision sent shock waves through much of the nation as everyone from legal analysts to regular citizens expected a guilty decision.
While I will not attempt to analyze or unravel the legal decision, there are key takeaways in the case that we can apply to our public relations and communications strategies.
Post verdict, two members of Anthony’s defense team, Cheney Mason and Jose Baez gave a statement. Mason took the opportunity to gloat while Baez offered a toned down approach that acknowledged there were no real winners. Baez had the smarter PR approach. Casey Anthony’s defense team won big for their client. If she had been found guilty she would have faced the death penalty. The team obviously had reason to celebrate a life saving victory. However, an innocent child is dead and the public, who has passionately watched this case, largely agrees that justice was not served. In business, you may face an unpopular decision that requires a sensitive and balanced response to mitigate the negative PR.
Even in the best of circumstances, no one likes a sore winner. Mason seized the moment to retaliate against the negative criticism of his client. His statements further isolated him from the public and added to the negative perception. When you win an unpopular decision, you may be tempted to raise your glass and do a happy dance, but it is smarter to temper your victory celebration with a nod of respect to the opposing team.
Communications requires that we look ahead and consider the long term impact on our brand and reputation. Baez seemed to partially understand this in his initial response. In business your opponents could be your customer base, and while you may need to fight for an unpopular win you have to manage the relations with your customers. It is a tricky position that requires sensitivity and balance.
Nod to the other side. Baez indicated that the case had no winners. He brought the focus back to the core of the case, the death of a child. It established a neutral foundation, a place of agreement that could pave the way to rebuilding some public good will.
Educate on the win. Baez discussed the win in relevance to the workings of the justice system. Throughout he balanced his happiness for his client with his sadness that a little girl had died. You may not immediately turn an opposing crowd but you can leave them with key points that allow them to focus on the process and diffuse some of the negative energy of their passion. You can shift the focus and give your audience an alternative way to consider your victory.
Growing up my mother would often remind me that “the people you meet on the way up, are the same people you meet on the way down.” It was an old adage that reminds us to keep our egos in check and take no one for granted. Mason allowed his ego to take center stage. He used a critical PR moment to assuage his hurt feelings and lash out at opponents. When you find yourself the “hated winner” check your ego at the door, and focus on laying the foundation to build a bridge of forgiveness. Whether your “haters” are justified or not, focus on engaging them rather than widening the gap.
Even a victory can require a crisis communications strategy. If you remain focused on creating good will with your audience, you can begin the road to recovering from negative perception. One statement or action will not cure the situation but can set the tone for reconciliation and demonstrate your brand’s commitment to professionalism.
Have you ever had to manage negative fallout from a victory? What lessons did you learn?
- Video: Casey Anthony not guilty (cbsnews.com)
- Casey Anthony lawyer: “There are no winners” (cbsnews.com)
- Casey Anthony lawyers slam “media assassination” (cbsnews.com)