Monthly Archives: August 2012

Leveraging Your Reputation: Watch what you say in the court of public opinion

Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at The Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

When attorneys speak for their clients, they have to be careful what they say. It seems like an obvious concept, but I think the attorney in a Globe and Mail news story wasn’t thinking before he made comments about a case that he was working on.

The attorney was defending a man who abducted a toddler from his home. His attorney said that he should not be considered dangerous because he returned the child four days later unharmed, and because he has “the maturity and manner…of a child.” If his client is deemed dangerous, he could spend the rest of his life in jail.

Of course, the attorney wants to prevent his client from being imprisoned forever, and there is probably legal reasoning that makes sense in a court of law, but in the court of public opinion, this attorney is losing.

He should have considered how parents would feel about the situation. All kinds of people are reading the story, and they probably don’t care about legal definitions. What they’re probably thinking is fear: they would be very upset if their child was abducted, and to read the attorney’s defense of the kidnapper seems insensitive and cold. The fact is, his client still abducted the child. A parent reading the story automatically would think, “This guy is dangerous; let’s lock him up for life.”

If the attorney had considered how he appeared in the press, he would have thought about the audience’s feelings and how they would respond to his case. He should have at least acknowledged parents’ concerns by saying, “I understand that most parents feel upset about this situation, and I understand that they would want justice.” And then he could go into his defense of his client.

It’s a lesson for any attorney: before you speak in the press, consider what the readers, viewers or listeners might think, and address their concerns so that they don’t see you and your client in a negative light.

Attorneys in Transition: Twitter’s future and what it means to you

Nick Augustine is the principal of Augustine Legal PR and he helps law firms and their staffs attract more clients and tell their stories about the legal industry. Nick’s marketing, advertising and media team helps attorneys share their knowledge, skills and abilities. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School where he is an active Alumni Board member.

Twitter is going through some growing pains as some critics oppose corporate control by the social networking site partners who invest significant revenue to increase the site’s use and value to users and advertisers. Twitter is at a point in the business cycle where it needs to generate income and that may affect key components and how lawyers look at Twitter for marketing and publicity generation.

Recent partnerships to increase traffic could earn Twitter a top spot among a dynamically changing social networking arena where goliaths do battle for their share of users and revenue.

When Twitter first arrived on the social network scene, people praised it as being a simple means of communicating microcontent on a simple platform. Almost anyone could figure out how to tweet from their mobile device, and many did including members of Congress and the entertainment industry. The influx of attention on celebrity tweets may have caused critics to shut the door on Twitter, leading some business critics to do the same. The financial community, however, embraced Twitter and many stock traders to date rely on Twitter first for newsfeeds and tips on stocks from veteran traders.

Twitter’s value to advertisers is based on the site’s ability to establish data, especially their users’ ability to connect Twitter with other apps such as Instagram (photos) and Tumbler (blogs). Recent criticism of Twitter focuses on its engineers’ removal of the ability to connect to Twitter. If my main communication channel to my network is Twitter and I want to take a picture and share it, Instagram is only as good as its ability to post and share the picture to Twitter followers. Who does Twitter want you to use instead of Instagram?

Large media companies are battling for market share and power in social network media. As I researched this article, I saw an advertisement by AMEX – they want us to tweet certain hashtags to receive offers on things we love. NBC also brought a display of Olympic teasers (some say spoilers) to remind us to watch the events live, during prime time (to boost viewership and increase value).

All is fun and games until Twitter and its recent partner NBC create a ‘new Twitter world order’ where NBC is able to suspend the Twitter accounts of critical journalists, and to block access to the official NBC Twitter Olympic hub, to anyone outside the U.S. corporate ownership and censorship might cause some to object, but others praise the increased traffic and revenue associated with major media endorsement. Most Americans trust NBC. When NBC uses Twitter to communicate with us during the day we ‘should’ increase brand loyalty.

What’s in a name?

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal-injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

The Illinois Supreme Court, in Rogasciano Santiago v. E.W. Bliss Company et al. 2012 IL 111792, recently handed down its decision with respect to the filing of a complaint using a fictitious name without leave of the court. Also discussed was whether the circuit court should dismiss a plaintiff’s cause of action with prejudice as the plaintiff’s amended complaint with the correct name does not relate back to the initial filing.

The issue in this employment law case involved a complaint filed under the name “Juan Ortiz.” The plaintiff was known as “Juan Ortiz” by his employers. When the plaintiff was being deposed, he stated his name was “Rogasciano Santiago,” but that he also used the name “Juan Ortiz.” Santiago assumed the name Ortiz to gain employment in the United States. Santiago had a separate ID card for Ortiz with a different date of birth. The circuit court allowed the plaintiff to file a second amended complaint to add the name “Rogasciano Santiago” as the plaintiff’s name.

The defendant’s motion to dismiss was denied when they argued that the plaintiff’s complaint was null and void as it was not filed in the plaintiff’s real name. The appellate court was charged with deciding if the case should be dismissed with prejudice as a sanction for the misfiling or if the case should be dismissed as the limitations period has expired and the amended complaint did not relate back to the initial filing. The appellate court held that where a plaintiff intentionally files a case under a fictitious name, without the permission of the court, then the court must dismiss the case as the original complaint is a nullity, the limitations period has expired and the amended complaint cannot relate back to the initial finding.

The majority of the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the appellate court and remanded the case to circuit court to determine on the facts of the case if the plaintiff showed deliberate and continuing disregard for the court’s authority. The circuit court is also to decide if a finding of lesser sanctions is inadequate to remedy both the harm to the judiciary and the prejudice to the opposing party. Regarding the validity of a complaint filed under a fictitious name, the Supreme Court held that the original complaint is not a nullity, per se, and an amended complaint rectifying the complainant’s name may relate back to the initial filing.

Justice Robert R. Thomas in his dissenting judgment stated that the original complaint was a nullity as it is in derogation of the common law and so there is nothing for a subsequent complaint to relate back to. The majority view was that dismissal of a complaint is justified only when (1) there is a clear record of willful conduct showing deliberate and continuing disregard for the court’s authority; and (2) a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate to remedy both the harm to the judiciary and the prejudice to the opposing party.

Litigation PR: Microcontent and online display copy

Nick Augustine is the principal of Augustine Legal Public Relations and he helps law firms and their staffs attract more clients and tell their stories about the legal industry. Nick’s marketing, advertising and media team helps attorneys share their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School where he is an active Alumni Board member.

Web copy writing is a specific writing style requiring a keen eye for the right message and the experience to understand what motivates readers to become engaged in your content.

The Public Relations Society of America article, “Lift Your Ideas Off The Screen With Microcontent, Or Online Display Copy,” by Ann Wylie (find it here: http://comprehension.prsa.org/?p=4990&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feed_prsa%2FHDIP) points out a few research results on how most of us read copy on the Internet:

  1. Half of us scan our content;
  2. 80 percent of the words on a page aren’t read;
  3. The 10 second rule applies to people reading website pages; and
  4. 10 percent of your viewers stick around more than two minutes.

When writing microcontent, I start with my call to action. What do I want the reader to do? Do I want them to click a link? Maybe I want someone to “share” a link on their wall … if I want the reader to act, I should make the request clear and concise.

Here’s an easy call to action: “Click here to learn more about…”

Use your 5w’s plus “how and who cares” and earn readers’ respect. The best microcontent quickly tells us who says what about where and when and why you should care about what they have to say. Short “Mother Goose” sentences get the job done. Try writing a paragraph of very short sentences and see how succinctly you can share information and promote your message.

Don’t forget pictures and video

When you post on Facebook, the likelihood people will read stop and look at the title of your link increases when your post contains a picture or video. Images are also useful for many people when they create memories of what they are viewing. Later, if your reader sees the same article, you hope they will remember something about what they read. The more this happens, the more people remember the author.

Be personal and interesting

Nobody wants to read recitations of fact for fun. Make it fun and interesting. Be personal and relate your story to a current event. Think about microcontent writing as telling the shortest story people will remember. If you’re personable in your writing, your readers will get to know, like and trust you and likely what you have to say.

New law protects social media passwords

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal-injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

Gov. Patrick J. Quinn recently signed a bill into law that prohibits employers from asking employees or job applicants for their online account passwords. The law comes in response to the growing trend among employers seeking log-in details of employees’ social media accounts, especially Facebook and Twitter. This has been viewed by some employees and civil liberties activists as a serious invasion of privacy.

Illinois is only the second state to enact such a law after Maryland brought in a similar measure earlier this year. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013, and penalties for employers in civil cases would start in the $100 – $300 range.  

The doctrine of employment at-will in this country has a lot of advantages. However, one of the main disadvantages is that it is open to abuse in certain cases. The legislature has obviously intervened to prevent discrimination by employers based on race, sex and religion. Allowing an employer to fire an employee for not providing the employer with the means to access a potentially huge amount of the employee’s private personal information is an example of a scenario where an abuse of the system can take place. Indeed, asking for the details in the first place may facilitate discrimination where an employer learns something private about a candidate’s religion, for example.

The prevalence of social media and the wealth of information social media accounts contain about users make it easy to see why employers would want to access the accounts of their employees. It is not uncommon to research a potential employee online even before a decision has been made to interview.  Interestingly, one-third of employers who said they research job candidates’ social media profiles said they have found some negative information on social media accounts that caused them not to hire certain candidates.

Employers cited a large number of reasons for checking social media profiles, including whether the candidate presents himself or herself professionally, whether they would be a good fit and whether the candidate is well-rounded. Reasons for not hiring particular candidates included the posting of provocative content, evidence of alcohol or drug use and posting of discriminatory content.

However, when the content is publicly available, job candidates can only blame themselves if a potential employer sees it. This is not the case when an employer seeks access to information the candidate/employee may not have disclosed to anyone previously. Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno has compared employers asking for online account passwords to asking for the keys to a person’s home.

This is a positive development that is necessary to protect people’s privacy from infringement in the digital age, and several other states are now considering following suit. Particularly in the current economic climate when jobs are already hard enough to come by, job seekers may feel forced into giving away very private, personal information. This law offers them a measure of protection.

Where is the next Sandusky?

Elizabeth Yore was special counsel to Harpo Inc., Oprah Winfrey’s production company. She also served as child protection counsel on a range of matters, including at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa. Yore was general counsel of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She served as the general counsel and director of the International Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia. She consults on child protection issues with corporations, non profits and international child abuse cases and issues.

Remember when sports pundits called the Penn State football program squeaky clean?  The famous Joe Paterno creed, “winning with honor” served as the high standard for collegiate football. Then, the Sandusky scandal erupted. The proud and pristine tradition of Penn State is now forever tarnished by its child predator, Jerry Sandusky.

Where and when will the next Sandusky emerge? Sadly, Sandusky is not an outlier, unique to Penn State.  Although he was a prominent defensive coordinator who served under the nation’s most revered college coach, his criminal behavior mimics the classic pedophile profile. Sandusky, stripped of his title, is your garden variety child perp.

While the country was focused on Penn State,  a number of colleges were dealing with their own child sex scandals. The stories are numbingly similar; knowledge of predatory behavior and delays in reporting child predators to law enforcement. It is time for universities to start paying attention or face the loss of reputation and endowment in the process. Here is a the troubling lineup:

University of Michigan
The Board of Regents recently ordered an external investigation of the six-month reporting delay of child pornography discovered on an employee’s thumb drive.  The employee, Stephen Jenson, was a University of Michigan Hospital pediatric resident.  At least eight university employees, including a university lawyer, knew of the child pornography allegedly on Jenson’s computer in May 2011, but did not notify the police. The matter was reopened in November and finally reported to university police after doctors at the University of Michigan hospital read about the Sandusky scandal.  Jenson is now charged in a federal criminal complaint with receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography. The U.S. Department of Education is also investigating the University of Michigan for the delay in reporting the crime. Sound familiar?

Citadel University
Recently, officials at The Citadel admitted they did not do enough after learning that an employee who has been accused of sexually abusing at least five boys in recent years was brought to the school’s attention back in 2007.  An internal university investigation was conducted, but police were never informed. Louis ReVille, a 2002 graduate of The Citadel, was hired by the college as a camp counselor for three summers, from 2001 to 2003.  According to Citadel documents, he lured boys to his room with pizza and Chinese food to view pornography and performed sex acts. The former coach who once worked as a summer camp counselor at The Citadel military college was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse crimes involving 23 young male victims.  In November of 2011, the school said it had investigated accusations against ReVille in 2007 but took no action. Sound familiar?

The massive influx of children on college campuses
Nearly every university in the United States runs summer youth programs, everything from football to marching band camps. Every summer, millions of children participate in activities and live on college campuses. The recruitment of underage children to participate in and live on college campuses is big business for universities. These children’s camps generate huge revenue and provide a valuable recruitment tool for college teams. 

Until Sandusky, the public didn’t realize that universities were rife with children. What are children doing on college campuses anyway?

 The mission of universities is to educate young adults, by imparting knowledge and skills in a rigorous classroom setting and to prepare adult students for the world of work.  Colleges are not qualified to operate and house summer sports camps for 8-year-olds.  Yet, colleges opened their doors to children without the training and knowledge to serve and protect young children. These college summer camps are glorified employment agencies for grad students, coaches and professors.

Every university board of trustees and administration should be both vigilant and terrified that one of its employees might be a Sandusky.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Create a share plan

Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Some things seem so obvious, they’re not worth mentioning, but we might forget to do those obvious things, so we have to be reminded. One thing to be reminded of is to create a share plan. A share plan is necessary when you’ve done a speaking engagement, written an article, appeared in the media or have done anything else that you want to tell other people about. In order to boost your reputation, it’s important to let people know what you’ve accomplished and to share helpful information along the way.

It’s best to create a plan before you share your expertise publicly through the media, at a conference or in a publication. That way, you won’t feel overwhelmed trying to think of places to share the link, video or whatever you want to show your network. Some attorneys get a publicity-related project done, then quickly forget to follow up by sharing it with others because they’ve moved on to their next task and deadlines are looming. You might also feel like it’s a burden to promote what you’ve done because you’ve put so much work into your article or have spent a lot of time and effort to be prepped for a media appearance, you don’t have the energy to do anything else. However, it’s important to do, and you’ll save yourself time if you think ahead and create a plan before your activity.

For instance, if you have a speaking engagement coming up, take a few minutes to create a share plan. Actually, it can be just a simple list, such as this:

  • Date of speaking engagement: Sept. 5
  • One week before: send out an email to your contact list and mention it on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or other social media you use.
  • A few days before: send a reminder to people who would really be interested in attending.
  • After the speech: send a thank you card or e-mail to the hosts of the conference and offer your services for future opportunities.
  • Enter interested attendees’ contact information in your newsletter and contact list.
  • Upload the slides to Slideshare.com or another sharing site you use, and share the link with people in your social network.
  • Add the Slideshare link or any related link to your e-mail signature.
  • Post any video or audio from the presentation online to YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud.com or other media sites you use.
  • Post any photos on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram or wherever you share photos online.
  • Update your website and blog with photos and links to your slides, video, audio, etc.
  • Create a bulleted list with important ideas from your presentation and share it as a special “paper” in LinkedIn groups or wherever you want to share your helpful information.

You can modify the above list for other things you do, and add tasks to what I’ve listed. If you have other ideas, let me know. The bottom line is to be organized, and you’ll see your publicity efforts pay off even more.