In today’s delicate business environment, your next major crisis could be just around the corner. And if the unthinkable happens, in the fast-moving world of instant news, what once might have been kept in-house today can more easily leak out, heavily affecting your share price and damaging your brand in the blink of an eye.
Such a public scenario presents a significant business challenge. But, as with any significant challenge, it brings significant opportunity, too. A significant opportunity for in-house lawyers to demonstrate the commercial value they bring to their business.
So, what’s your role as GC?
Number one: be prepared. No matter what the crisis – cyber breach; employee behaviour; regulatory scrutiny – you need to get a crisis response team in place, and quickly. And there’s a strong argument to say that the GC should be leading that group. Of course, many of today’s more sophisticated organisations will have established response teams and plans agreed and rehearsed in advance. But it’s surprising how many don’t. If you fall into the latter camp, the time to be getting your protocols in place and establishing leadership is now, not when the challenge has arrived.
And you should assume that, no matter how hard you might try to contain the situation, it will become public at some point. You might be pleasantly surprised; but if the media does come calling, you need to know how best to handle them. This is where, once again, having the right team in place can reap benefits. Dialogue with journalists needs input from the PR or comms team, so prior identification is helpful.
And then there’s the potential for a select committee requesting an appearance. Many of us will have watched select committees play out on TV, thinking “there but for the grace of God”. If you do find your company put through the wringer by a group of MPs, then the best advice – no matter how much you might not want to – is likely to be to play their game, in your way. And as with any game, preparation is key. And understanding the rules of engagement is critical. Turning up with an army of lawyers rarely goes down well. And coming out swinging is high risk. You may need to prepare your CEO for the fact they might have to take one or two blows.
Crises are unpredictable by nature. The role of the GC – and, frankly, where the GC can add great value to the business – is to try to mitigate that unpredictability by being as prepared as possible for when the problem strikes.
Jeremy Drew is head of the commercial, IP, technology and media group at RPC. A version of this article was previously published by the author on LinkedIn.